Sandwich shares his many moments of coming out – to himself, to those who claim to love and support him, and to those who he’s never met.
Here’s the thing about coming out: you never stop coming out. Thinking back to the thirteen-year-old, antisocial, hyperactive kid I was when I came out as a lesbian, I’m grateful that I found peace in being open and honest with those around me. Because it was only the first coming out story.
It was the beginning of my obsession with Harry Potter. I spent forty hours per week learning Harry Potter trivia with an online community consisting of individuals of all ages from all over the world. Through sharing our time and ourselves, we created the first safe space I had ever been a part of – a place I felt I could be authentic to myself.
“We know,” they said. And just like that, I realized I was more than just a body, I was more than a confused jumble of thoughts and feelings. I had an identity which was visible and accepted by people who had never even met me in person. The experience set the tone for my attitude towards coming out – a blessing in disguise, if you will. Because it never got easier than that.
I remember entering high school and having senior students approach me to ask, “You’re gay? Really? It took me four years to come out.”
Of course, there was some pushback from some of my peers. With the support of friends, I was generally able to deflect snide comments with humor. As time passed, it became more apparent that this wasn’t a “phase,” and those people bothered me less and less.
In a lot of ways, I feel like I got lucky. I’ve lived in just the right time and just the right places to be relatively accepted by the small world outside of my household. However, my sexuality had to be hidden from my conservative stepfather from the moment I came out to my mother. She kept my secret, and we did our best to hide it under the rug, but inevitably he found out. Thus marks the first time in my life that I was afraid to be open and honest about my identity.
My household situation escalated to the point of bursting – leading me to my father’s home in southern Alabama. I walked into my new high school the same way I had walked into school every year – Here & Queer.
The backlash was terrifying. The situation was the exact opposite of the one I had left back in Louisiana. Now, home was the only safe space. In my loneliness, I began to discover a new facet of my identity. It wasn’t until I walked across the graduation stage in a dress two years later that I came out to myself: I’m not a lesbian. I’m not even a woman.
The overarching theme of my childhood was the correlation between safe spaces and my sanity. Whether at home, at school, or on the internet, there was always somewhere safe to be me. As a bushy-tailed, bright-eyed adult looking into the vastness of the world for the first time, I was uncertain if there was even such a thing as a safe space for trans* people. I had spent five years of my life firmly identifying with the label “lesbian,” so being without it was uncomfortable to say the least. Yet, I realized that ignoring who I now knew myself to be would be even more uncomfortable.
When coming out as a lesbian, I always had the privilege to come out to whomever I wanted. If I sensed that someone would not take kindly to my orientation, I didn’t have to tell them. What I first noticed when beginning to assert my gender identity is that I no longer had that privilege. At work, at school – in literally any social setting in which I could assert my pronouns and my chosen name – it would automatically mean that I would be coming out as a transguy. Often times, friends would ‘explain the situation’ to acquaintances as a way to “protect me.”
Honestly, constantly coming out to every person that you meet is very stressful. It’s been four years now, and when I come out it still gives me a little jolt of anxiety. There’s a strange balance of being happy in your skin and being uncomfortable with the possibility of others putting you in the imaginary gender box labeled “transgender.”
From the moment we pop out, we’re put in either pink or blue. The idea of genitals matching gender is instilled in us from birth. It makes sense that it’s so hard to explain to people the concept of sex, gender, and gender identity on a multidimensional plane. Through becoming transparent and visible to those around me, I realized that I am in a very special place to explain the infinite vastness that is the queer community.
Choosing When to Come Out
As my transition has progressed, and I am misgendered less and less, the privilege to choose when to come out has slowly been returned to me. Personally, this has made me realize that I not only have a responsibility to be open and honest with myself, but also to be open and honest with those around me so that they can truly understand the depth and fluidity of the queer community that’s already around them, and begin to appreciate and accept it.
Although it takes bravery, queer individuals – especially those with platforms – have a responsibility to perpetuate the ideals of the queer community in a way that will keep us safe and create social progress. I believe that, through my own small force of being a visible pansexual transguy, I can influence the people in my life to make progress, starting a ripple effect that will eventually create social change.
With all that being said, the focus of my column will be transgender visibility. In addition to other random musings, I will dedicate blogs to visible trans* or non-binary individuals across history and discuss the positive and negative concepts that their visibility perpetuates in an effort to open up a dialogue on the ideals we want to have as a community.
Ideally, I hope to highlight the multidimensional spectrum of sex, gender, and gender identity. If we can all find the power to demand peace and safety – inside and out – we can all fight this binary world together.