Tomorrow, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day. Ten years ago on that day, I put on an ankle-length skirt, put my hair in pigtails, and for the first time ever, I went to class as a girl. I was incredibly nervous but it was a non-event. Nobody said a thing, which was one of the best possible outcomes. I returned invincible.
From that day on, I lived out as a woman. It lasted about a year before I was forced back into the closet through a variety of forces. It would be another seven years before I transitioned for good, but I learned an incredible amount during the year I lived as a girl.
That year was a rollercoaster of events and emotions, with huge highs and some of the lowest lows. There was the 2004 election, the first presidential election I could vote in, with the added lens of being an out transperson, that shaped a lot of my political views.
I spent a lot of my time getting to know some of the transwomen I idolized online, which culminated in meeting many of them later the following summer.
And there was the added factor of navigating the murky gender politics and expectations put on women and transwomen especially. What things can I do to pass better as a woman, versus what things are verboten? What are the things that out me? How should I dress, and how can I afford all these clothes?
Important was the universal, instant, loving acceptance from my friends and many of my professors. But it was not all clear skies; many things were also taking a huge toll on me.
I was still not out at my job, which complicated things. I spent my year fighting for tolerance from the rest of my classmates and arguing (unsuccessfully) for equal rights with the highest levels of administration at my college. My family was not accepting at all, and having decided to move back home and commute to school for senior year, I was forced to deal with this every single day.
It was heartbreaking when I de-transitioned, but I felt like I was given no choice in the matter, and I continued to feel that way for a long time. While I say that I de-transitioned, I did continue some aspects of living as a woman. I always introduced myself as "Alice" to strangers I met online and outside of work. If questions were asked, I had answers, but I was never satisfied with them. It made things very complicated. I always knew I had do it again, that it was inevitable, and as I got older it felt like time was running out.
Making the decision to come out the first time was easy. I had no doubt it was the right choice, and I felt fearless. Having the real world step in and put me back in its place made doing it the second time a lot harder. Now I had a professional job, with coworkers who I would surely have to educate, and there was more at stake. And the family factor, that was the main reason I de-transitioned in the first place, was still there. I would have to face it again and this time I needed to win.
Thankfully, once I took the first step, it happened very quickly. I found a therapist who specialized in gender issues, who told me that really, I did not need to see her since I was mentally prepared for transition and understand what I am getting myself in for. Having been told for years that you needed a letter from a therapist to start transition, that you needed to say the specific code words that signaled you really had gender dysphoria, being told I could do it whenever I wanted was huge.
Next I applied for, and received, a legal name change. So now I was actually "Alice", which meant so many fewer complications. I told my family that they had no say in the matter, that I was doing this and they could not stop me. I no longer cared if they accepted me or not. We came to terms and life went on.
Lastly, I told my boss at work (who was accepting), and we started to work out a plan to tell everyone else. That is, until I was laid off about a month later and had to find a new job. This was a blessing for a number of reasons, the largest being that I no longer would have to come out at work. I found a new job where I was hired as a woman, and that was that. I drove across the country and arrived in New York as me, actually me. I fucking did it.
As an aside, here is a not-great analogy: transitioning if you are trans is kind of like losing your virginity. You are really nervous before it happens, there is so much build up to it, but once it is over (for a varying degree of "over", I said the analogy was not great) you instantly feel a lot of that stress and anxiousness melt away.
This is why most of the trans narratives we are seeing now on TV and in the media are a harder pill for me to swallow. The thing I have realized in the last year is that these stories are not for me. Sophia on Orange Is The New Black, Against Me!'s Transgender Dysphoria Blues, now Transparent on Amazon: These put me right back in that awkward place, one that I no longer occupy, and thank God. I do not need to watch or listen to stories about transition because I already lived them.
I am so happy trans issues are receiving some of the attention they deserve, and I hope these stories help more people understand how difficult it is coming out and living as a transperson. But I worry that the prevalent narrative that all transpeople are just starting transition, or exist just to be victims of harassment (or worse, statistics of violence or suicide) can be as harmful as it is helpful.
I am ready for the stories about transwomen living their lives. Characters who are five, ten years past transition, who are still finding little struggles to overcome and big victories to celebrate. What are their lives like? I am ready for those. I have enough transition stories of my own.
And this is Homecoming Week at the Yearbook Office, so here is mine. It was one of the highlights of my year as a girl.
For some reason, my college had a Homecoming dance. It made no sense for a variety of reasons: they had it in December, we did not have a homecoming week, we were a Division III NCAA school without a football team.
Despite all this, I was adamant about going. I only went to one dance in high school, also a homecoming dance, and it was the worst night of my life. But now I was a girl with a fresh start, and I was entitled to do all the girl things.
I had a date, who was a nice boy a year behind me, and we went with a bunch of our friends. I wore a long black gown I bought off eBay, and a pair of strappy high heel sandals. My hair was a mess, a friend came to my dorm room to find me in disarray, but we had no time to fix it.
The dance took place in a conference room in a nearby hotel, the kind that looked like it normally hosted management seminars, and was not well attended. But we were there, and we danced, we sang, we drank punch.
When the night was over, we walked back to the dorms. My date escorted me to my room, and I spent the rest of the night eating ice cream and watching a DVD from Netflix. Like most other aspects of living as a girl, it was everything I wanted.
After everything else that has happened in the ten years that followed, I am so happy I made it back to where I am supposed to be.