Something that I have a lot of internalized shame about is how long it took me to figure out that I was trans and act on that. Looking back at my childhood, all the signs were there, though they certainly weren’t obvious at the time. And a lot of that is because I didn’t know that trans people existed. I assumed I must be the only one who felt like this and that there was nothing that could be done about it, outside of a miracle.
But the more I learn about psychology, sociology, trauma, and all that other brain and social determinant stuff, the more I realize that there were plenty of good reasons that I didn’t come out until I did. My brain was protecting me, keeping me safe until I was in a place where I could be myself without as much risk of harm. Or at least it was trying. Sometimes you just reach a breaking point and you can’t avoid it anymore no matter what your situation.
After my very conservative childhood where I was isolated from knowing any out queer or trans people, I went straight into a conservative college. I started to meet gay men and even some queer women, but I didn’t know anyone who was trans. The first out trans woman I met had a more binary path than me and I still had a hard time imaging following that path. I did start to think about expanding gender a bit around that time as I began identifying as gender non-conforming. But I still thought that meant that I was a feminine man.
I feel like I was on the verge of finally figuring out my gender and sexuality when I got sucked into a relationship with my then best friend. It was one of those unhealthy relationships from the start where she demanded all my attention and frequently alienated me from my friends. Partly because of my own lingering baggage from the form of Christianity I was still coming out of and partly because I needed a way to pay for school when my parents tried to control me, we got married after only 11 months of dating. But as soon as we got engaged and she no longer felt the need to woo me, things went downhill fast.
From my wedding night on, my life became about compromising who I was to make her happy. I no longer had any energy to figure out my gender and sexuality because I was fighting just to keep my head above water and try to figure out what was wrong with me and my marriage. I spent 6 more years like that, struggling with crippling anxiety and depression as the abuse continued and my mental health was shamed. She loved taking advantage of my feminine traits when they suited her, like manipulating me into doing most of the cooking and cleaning and emotional labor. But she had a vested interest in keeping me from going past the point she wanted.
During that time my brain didn’t allow me to think about my identity. I hid the most vulnerable parts of myself away deep inside a shell to protect them from the violence in my relationship. I spent most of what little free time I had avoiding any deep reflection. I had finally escaped religious abuse only to find myself in a much more intense form of emotional abuse.
But eventually I reached a breaking point in my relationship. We went to couples therapy for 5 years and finally after 4 years of making no progress on how to make an asexual person and an allosexual person compatible sexually our therapist suggested opening up our marriage and exploring polyamory. My ex had no interest in dating but she begrudgingly allowed me to date because she knew at that point it was the only way to keep me. It was a terrible place to be dating from but it did allow me to finally get farther out in the real world outside of her influence and eventually meet queer and trans people.
It was the first trans person I dated who really helped me think about how I might be more than just gender non-conforming and how to expand how I viewed genderqueer identity. And once I started to unravel that ball of yarn I couldn’t stop. I wasn’t safe yet but that catalyst was all I needed to start myself on the journey to where I am now. Having that person (who is still a dear friend of mine) give me permission to think about the thing I had been avoiding for all my life allowed me to start to think outside the trauma I’d been experiencing.
My ex didn’t like that however. When I came out to her as genderqueer and bi she immediately told me not to tell anyone else because she “didn’t want to have to answer awkward questions.” That was the beginning of the end for our relationship. I had finally taken a huge step forward in becoming myself and all she could think about was herself. She was also deeply biphobic because she was convinced this was me becoming only attracted to men (which doesn’t make sense when I’d wanted sex with her for 7 years).
Shortly after that though I started dating the queer woman who is now my spouse. And she showed me what it felt like to be truly loved FOR who I am, not despite it. She has been the most gender affirming person I have ever met and at each step of my transition she has made it clear that she loves me no matter what direction I go. She doesn’t have a specific outcome in mind for me except that of becoming my most authentic self.
I pretty quickly realized I need to leave my ex so I moved out 4 years ago this month and came out publicly shortly thereafter. I have now filled my life with other wonderful people, cis and trans, queer and straight, who affirm me like that as well. If you had told me only 5 years ago that I would be here now, I would have either laughed or cried. It felt so impossible to imagine ever being on a pathway to happiness at that moment.
So when I see people come out, especially later in life, I feel so much love for them. They have finally broken the chains of their trauma and societal expectations and set themselves free. I don’t hold any judgement for how long it took them because I know that often times that was for their own safety or lack of resources. They had the courage to not let their past define their future. Which is a lesson I think everyone could learn from.