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The Peaks, Valleys and Trauma of Finally Living Authentically as Gender Nonconforming

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Coming out of the closet isn’t a point-in-time event — it’s something you continuously do (or don’t do) in various spaces, depending on the space. There are two kinds of coming out — coming out to yourself, and then coming out to others. Both journeys can happen at different times and that’s totally OK. No two journeys look the same, and each can be filled with peaks, valleys and trauma.

The first time I came out as gay was almost 10 years ago — I wasn’t mentally ready to, and I regretted it almost immediately. I kept second-guessing myself since I had never been in a relationship. I think some part of me still really wanted to be straight. I was worried my friends and family would look at me differently — I didn’t have any queer friends. I pulled away from friends that are female-identifying, afraid they would think I “liked” them. But as time went on, I became more comfortable with my sexuality. I feel so lucky to say that I’ve never had a negative experience with coming out as gay. I later met a couple of great queer friends who introduced me to a whole new world of LGBTQIA+ acceptance.

I came out again over a year ago as gender nonconforming (GNC) and switched to they/them pronouns. I always knew I wasn’t cisgender, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t have the language or understanding of various gender identities. It wasn’t until I met queer friends, some of whom are trans, gender fluid, and non-binary that I started to think, “I’m not the only one!” Having that door opened to explore my authentic self was exhilarating, overwhelming and confusing. I was thrilled to discover this whole new world! At the same time, while I was exploring all this internally, I wasn’t ready to come out to anyone else. I rushed it the first time, so I wanted to go slow and move at my own pace. I tried to navigate what would bring me internal comfort versus external discomfort or vice versa. I knew the rates of violence against trans folks was significantly higher, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take those safety risks.

I started to explore my gender and masculinity within the safety of my own home. I remember buying boxers and looking at myself in the mirror and not feeling horrible about what I saw. It felt so good and comfortable to have the freedom to explore without fear of judgment, shame or misunderstanding. Coming out to myself as GNC, and allowing myself to pursue my authentic self, is the greatest act of self-love I’ve ever committed.

Telling others was harder than when I came out as gay. I came out to a couple of queer friends by asking them to switch to using they/them pronouns for me — both of whom were so lovely and understanding and supportive. I felt on top of the world when I heard them switch with ease.

Coming out to straight friends was a bit harder — many of them didn’t understand and needed to be educated. What came after that was really difficult. Being the only GNC person they knew, or the only person who used they/them pronouns in their lives, meant I got misgendered a lot. Almost always. Many close friends still do. I found that more exhausting and hurtful than I ever imagined. I was fine with she/her before I came out, but after coming out each time someone misgenders me — it cuts a little. Sometimes I feel like they don’t care about me enough to make an effort; other times, I feel like they don’t see me as how I am because of unconscious transphobia or otherwise. It’s also a burden and weight to be the only one correcting others when I am misgendered.

At work, I didn’t feel comfortable having a conversation about it but chose to add pronouns to my email signature. When applying for jobs, I added my pronouns to my resume. And when I started a new job, I added pronouns to my display name, email signature and anywhere else. But no one used the correct pronouns. I never had to correct people about me being gay, but suddenly I was in a position to constantly correct others, both in my personal and my professional life.

I have cis-passing privilege — when I need to or want to, I can pass as a cis woman. I often do this with strangers, or in spaces where I feel I won’t be accepted. While there is privilege and protection in passing, there is also the pain of invisibility and invalidation, and of feeling the need to hide and “pass” in the first place. While my parents and extended family were so accepting of me being gay, most don’t respect or acknowledge my pronouns and gender identity. It’s hurtful to see the double standard applied to being different kinds of queer.

Ultimately the peaks outweigh the valleys — like the time I decided I didn’t want to wear dresses anymore and splurged on a bespoke, custom suit. I was ecstatic while getting fitted and loved how I felt. Shopping as a larger, curvier person who prefers to dress masculine makes it hard to find clothing that works. But with accepting who I am and living authentically, I’ve become more comfortable with buying men’s clothes or looking at clothing designed specifically for trans men or non-binary folks. The euphoria of being correctly gendered or seen as how I am by others, and the confidence I get from dressing in ways that align with my authentic self is a feeling I wouldn’t trade for anything.

As Armistad Maupin wrote in More Tales of the City, “being gay has taught me tolerance, compassion and humility. It has shown me limitless possibilities of living.” Being authentically myself means that I am no longer abiding by limits set out by others on how to live. And while it is unfortunate that we live in a world where being authentically ourselves can be dangerous, isolating, frightening, exhausting or traumatic, living our truths despite all that makes us that much more beautiful, worthy and magical.

Photo by aranprime on Unsplash

Originally published: June 25, 2021
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