Today is apparently “Coming Out Day” – at least that’s what Twitter and Facebook keep telling me, so it must be true. I’m not entirely certain what coming out day is supposed to be. Is it a day to share stories on “coming out” as LGBT, or is it a day to encourage people to come out? If it’s the former, I think it’s a nice idea; if it’s the latter I think it’s a dreadful idea: people should not feel pressured into doing something they don’t want to do, or when they don’t want to do it, and being open about who you are can be very difficult, and it can be painful.
In recognition of “Coming Out Day” – regardless of its intended purpose – I would like to discuss something that has been bugging me for a while: coming out as transgender.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that “transgender” is not a synonym for “transsexual“, but can refer to either the broad trans* umbrella, or a specific identity. Nevertheless, when the press report that someone “has come out as transgender” – Chelsea Manning springs to mind as a recent example – there is almost always a note that the person is or will be having hormones and/or will have gender surgery.
Overlooking the fact that someone’s medical situation is no-one’s business but there own, I think this is problematic. It reinforces the idea in the public mind that transgender means transsexual, and it instills a sense in the press that transsexual is okay (with sufferance), but other transgender identities are not. By reinforcing this misunderstanding of transgender, it makes it harder for people who do not want to transition – or for whatever reason cannot – to “come out” and be happy and open about their life.
Transition with the aid of hormone replacement therapy is a big thing. It’s a medical process and, like all medical processes it is not something that everyone who is transgender can do. Furthermore, in the UK, the transgender person gets no say in whether they can get HRT or not; it is generally down to the opinion of a Gender Identity Clinic (they are sometimes referred to as “gatekeepers” for this very reason).
When I first came out to most of the people I know via Facebook I did not have a strong view one way or the other whether I would like to undergo HRT or not. I wasn’t even certain whether going full-time was something I wanted to do. To be honest, I wasn’t even comfortable leaving the house expressing as female! But I was tired with having to hide a huge part of my life.
“Coming out” for me was hugely important, and has had a huge effect on my confidence, but I did get a sense that people assumed that “trangender” meant “transsexual” – because that’s the only exposure to the trans* community the media generally offers – which meant I occasionally had to deal with some unfortunate misunderstandings. As it happens, I am now exploring the possibility of going “full-time” but transgender identities are just as valid whether someone is full-time or not. A person doesn’t cease to be transgender if they – for whatever reason – are not able to express themselves full-time, and people who are not full time shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about still leading open lives.