This is not going to be a blog post about how/when to tell someone important to you that you are transgendered, a crossdresser, or whatever. I may (or may not) discuss that in later posts. Rather, this is an exploration of why we feel the need to tell people at all. I have always maintained that there are as many ‘types’ of trans* people as there are trans* people. We are all unique and our motivations, desires, needs, wants etc are all different and of course this affects us and plays out in our behaviours. However, I think we can possibly discern two main types (at least in relation to the topic at hand).
The ‘closeted’ and the ‘out’ person. The closeted person is often terrified of being found out. They are concerned that their romantic relationship/s, family relationships, societal and professional standing would be damaged if anyone knew that they were in any way trans*. There may also be some (latent) homophobia at work. The last thing a red-blooded heterosexual male wants to be thought of is gay and of course wearing panties and stockings must mean that you are gay mustn’t it? The evidence of this fear is to be seen in the way that so many crossdressers vehemently deny that they are gay even when posting anonymously on a discussion board. Of course I am not sure how you can call yourself ‘100 percent straight’ (as many do) when you like dressing in at least some way as a person of the opposite sex and I am not sure why this is even relevant, but again that is a matter for another post. Of course there are closeted homosexual crossdressers and transgender people as well and I suspect they may have similar fears to the heterosexual: ‘if most crossdressers are not homosexual and if I tell my partner I am a crossdresser, will he think I am secretly straight?’ may well be a concern. It is equally ridiculous but I understand the fear on both sides of the relationship. This is a confusing situation for all of us.
Other closeted people are more specifically afraid. They may know that their workplace is transphobic and that they will lose their job if found out, or they may live in a very conservative, small town with all the intolerance that that implies and of course there are those (myself included) who do not want to risk damaging the people in their families who may not be able to cope with the revelation that their son, father, brother etc is not all that they seem. These people (such as myself) may be ‘out’ to some people (my wife and one or two other trans* people), but not to others. Some may know them for who they are whilst others will not, some will only know them as one or the other gender, some will know that they are trans* but will only ever see them expressing one gender, others may see them in more than one gender expression. This is probably all about trust, rapport, degrees of acceptance (both internal and external) and comfort levels. Of course this ‘semi-closeted’ state exists on a spectrum.
Then there are those that are ‘out’. Again there are some degrees here and this too is a spectrum and there may be some overlap with the semi-closeted group. You may be ‘out’ to the whole world but there are certainly some people from your past who may not know this. You may be ‘out’ to most people but prefer for some people to only see you in one or the other gender expression. You may be ‘out’ everywhere except at work or maybe some acquaintances (eg a sport) may be too intolerant to accept this and you choose to keep this hidden from a small group of people. Finally there are those that are fully ‘out’ and do not care who knows or who sees them. Note that for the sake of this post, I am not considering transexuals who go from being ‘out’ pre-op to being closeted post-op.
One characteristic that I believe nearly all these people share is the desire to be ‘out’ to at least some people. Even the most closeted crossdresser (in almost all cases) wishes that they could tell their spouse or a good friend. I believe that we are fundamentally honest beings and we do not like keeping secrets. We want to be open about who and what we are. This is especially true of those closest to us. We want to share the truth of who we are with the people we care most about, yet conversely,the fear of rejection and abandonment leads us to withhold the truth from those who are closest to us.
This leads us to first reveal our true selves to strangers. Many of us are happy to reveal our crossdressing (or whatever) to the owner of a beauty salon, a wig sales person, a psychologist or other counselor etc or anonymously on online forums. This is almost certainly part of a process of self acceptance. By revealing the truth about ourselves, even anonymously, we come to accept the reality of that truth. Once we have accepted ourselves, I think many of us feel compelled to tell our spouses or other romantic partners. Some of us will do so, whilst others want to do so, but are too afraid of the risks.
This is obviously a highly personal choice and the choice is made for a variety of reasons. Having told our romantic partners it seems many of us are happy to stick with the status quo. Some may start venturing out into the world (if they have not done so already) and will necessarily meet other people. This results in a degree of ‘out-ness’ depending on the levels of trust etc I alluded to above. Others however will start feeling the need to tell more and more people. I have seen this need expressed on a number of occasions on various forums and I too have felt the desire to be more open.
The question I ask is why do we feel this need? I can only speak personally here. On one level I think it would make my life much easier. If I was not afraid of a family member seeing my wife and I walking through a shopping centre I am sure I would feel less anxiety and thus have even more fun when doing so. Also, if my children (for example), knew about this other side of me, I could get dressed more easily and finding the time to be me would involve less logistics and less cloak and dagger activities.
On another level I think I may want to be (more) honest with these other people too. I love and value them so why would I want to lie to them? I rationalise it and say that I am not being secretive, I am just being private. We don’t tell our children what we like sexually, so why do we want to tell them about our crossdressing or transgenderism? I think that the issue may be that at some point, for some of us, this becomes more significant than any sexual kink or sexual preference (please note I am not conflating these concepts, I am merely making a comparison). Being trans* may or may not have a sexual dimension for the person, but either way, it is a very real expression of who we are (at least in some way, some of the time) and when this realisation kicks in we start feeling that we need to be more honest and that the privacy versus secret argument starts looking a bit thin.
The conundrum however is this: what will revealing our true selves achieve and what harm (real or putative) will be done as a result. In my case, revealing the feminine side of my personality will almost certainly result in at least some confusion for my children. My eldest is in the process of defining her own gender identity and I would not want to create confusion in her life. On top of this, once you have told a child you have to be prepared for her to tell her friends. This is where things get really tricky for the parent. I have no idea how her friends and her friends parents will react. In the worst case her friends will tell their parents and these parents will think I am some kind of pervert out to abuse their children (obviously not true, but some prejudices linger). They may then ostracise my child, prevent their children from seeing her, stop them from coming to our house etc. I am not concerned with how this affects me but I would hate my child to lose friends because of who I am. I therefore think that keeping this private is the best bet for now.
I have seen a number of my trans* siblings posting on forums saying that they have come out to their adult children. This to me seems a safer bet and may fulfill the need to be honest with the people you love whilst minimising the potential harm done by the revelation. Presumably the adult child (does that make sense? I think you know what I mean) will be able to process this information without damaging their identity. But then I look at the damage that can be done to spouses who start questioning their identity and sexuality when we reveal this to them and I wonder if an adult child will not also be affected in some way?
I also wonder if this is even a good idea? are some things not best left as private matters? On the contrary, of course there is always the question of what happens when you die? Someone has to go through your stuff and this is usually your children (assuming your spouse is not there to do it). There is a fear that if I do not tell my children then they will be shocked to find my size 8 stilettos, wigs and bras that are clearly not Mom’s. There may well be something in this and it is possible that the realisation could do major harm to them. This is especially true if the one side of you is incongruent with the other. That is, if the male ‘you’ is homophobic, transphobic and intolerant then the child may be simply unable to reconcile this with the evidence of another ‘you’. They may well believe that you and everything you stood for were a sham and that everything you taught them has been invalidated. Of course if you have integrity and are congruent, if you are tolerant and have empathy and if you have lived these values and taught these values to your children, then they will feel less confusion. At the very least however they will have some questions. They may wonder if your spouse knew. they may question your sexuality (so what if they do) etc. My considered opinion is that provided you have lived with integrity and have lived a congruent life then you can probably get away with a post-mortem explanation by way of a letter of some sort.
This may be a somewhat cowardly approach, maybe I am just too scared to tell them, maybe I fear their reaction, but right now I think that this makes the most sense and may be the kindest thing to do. If I pre-decease my wife then they will probably never need to know. If someone else goes through my stuff, they may similarly never need to know, but if they do need to know then that is when I will tell them. of course if events dictate that I need to tell them when I am still alive then I will do so. I will be honest with them and explain as much as they need explained to them, but until that time I will keep this part of me private. The same applies to my siblings, parents and parents in law.
Work colleagues are an interesting set of people. For some of us they are the very last people we would want to know because we fear the possible professional repercussions, or we are concerned that they may use this against us in office politics. Others may want to reveal themselves to their colleagues because they are virtual strangers in that they come and go out of our lives on a regular basis. Whilst still others see colleagues as ‘super’ friends, almost on a par with family in that we spend so much time with them that we know them better than our own families sometimes.
In any event, I understand the desire to reveal. I think it is natural and shows a very positive side of our personalities, but I fear that, like so much else of the trans* personality, it can become an inherently selfish act. I worry that by revealing the truth we unburden ourselves but in so doing pass the burden on to those that we love. This burden is not theirs to bear and they certainly did not ask for it. Perhaps we should be even more circumspect in revealing ourselves but rather than doing so out of fear of being discovered, we should do so out of fear of hurting those we love. Not because they reject us but precisely because they accept us.