Some thoughts on ‘the reveal’

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.

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8 Comments

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  1. Man, so much to think about here. I’m out because … I can’t see the point otherwise. Getting dressed up, embracing my femme self – it all feels so empty if I can’t walk out the front door.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What a superb thought provoking post. You seem to be tapping into my own sub conscious with many of the thoughts and pointers you highlight. Funny enough I would gladly tell the whole word about Michelle but those that I really fear the most of knowing of Michelle’s very existence are those closest to me, my four adult children. Should they reject me that would be something I could not live with. I would not be surprised if Mrs M suspected something, but in my own mind I would be much happier knowing she knew about Michelle even if that were something she did not wish to see. We do live such complicated lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Really good post Daniella. I am obviously in the closeted group with family, friends, and work and intend to stay that way. My struggle is with the issue of honesty vs the pain/discomfort I feel would affect my family, when the issue is mine. Right or wrong, warranted or not, that is how I personally feel.
    -ValS

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A very interesting and thought provoking post. From my personal experience the reason to reveal myself to everyone is mainly because I spent most of my life denying and hiding that part of myself that I feel this urge to shout it out to everyone. That by doing that I am saying to myself that I am no longer in denial or hiding who I am.

    I think when it comes down to it, it is an very individual thing to each person who they reveal this aspect of themselves and to who. I know consider being transgender just another aspect of myself. I don’t reveal everything about myself to everyone I meet. I don’t hide it or keep it a secret the aspects I don’t tell people. Sometimes there is no reason to tell the person those aspects of me and one of them is being transgender.

    I can be Michelle without people knowing I am transgender for the most part so what would be the point of telling them. To deal with the stereotypes, assumptions, hatred and bigotry and everything else all for telling something about myself that doesn’t really have an upside to it. Like those other aspects of myself, if I feel the person should know I am transgender then I will tell them without hesitation. At the same time if someone where to come up to me and ask me if I was transgender, I wouldn’t deny it either.

    Because I feel it is a very individual decision about who we reveal being transgender and why, we should respect those decisions by the person. To think it is as black and white as being a secret or not is naive in my opinion. It is not up to me to pass judgement on why another transgender may or may not reveal being transgender and to who. They have their reasons for their actions in the matter just like how they express their gender and I am last person to understand those reasons let alone judge them. I am happy to discuss it with another transgender but in the end what they decide about how they express themselves and who they reveal themselves I will respect and go along with.

    It is good to have discussions like what you posted because expression and revealing ourselves is a complex subject and hearing other transgender’s views on the matter helps clarify for myself and other transgenders and also see other options. In some cases think of things we never considered before because we where never exposed to that line of thinking. But in the end, we should allow each of us to make our own decisions about it and respect what the other transgender decides.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think the whole “reveal” thing is very much a cost/benefit thing. It’s a balance between how valuable the impression of an “untainted masculinity” is to you (both for selfish reasons and out of respect for the feelings of others who are invested into your masculine self) as opposed to how pressing is your need to express your feminine side so to speak.

    As such it is a highly situational and personal thing. However, one pattern that I have seen very often is one where young men jump head over heels into a stereotypical male existence to get rid of their transgender feelings only to realise later in life that that those feelings don’t go away, but that they are now so heavily invested into their masculine identities that the cost involved in showing those feelings outside an extremely limited context is just too high.

    Let’s be honest here, our society is still geared very much in a way that not exhibiting proper masculine qualities is seen as a bit of a failure if you happen to be born male and therefore admitting failure to oneself and others is not a decision anybody would or should take lightly once they have managed to successfully convince the world of their value as a man.

    Which also explains why dealing with your feelings properly in a constructive and positive way is usually easier when you are either too young to have properly established yourself as a man in the world or old enough to have done your bit as a man.

    tl;dr: The “reveal” is highly dependent on personal circumstances and as such it is inappropriate to make value judgements and blanket statements about advisability without knowing the individual circumstances.

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  6. I truly enjoyed your piece on revealing.  “Enjoy” is a very specific choice of words.  That’s because I find it gratifying that someone as insightful, spiritual, and understanding shares this aspect of being human.  I think of our compulsion to dress as the ultimate expression of our humanity.  What do I mean?  As a Catholic/Christian I truly believe in the message of Christ that we are both “Beloved sons and daughters of God” and we are sinners.  We are no more or less sinners than we are beloved.  The deeper message of Christ is that rule-keeping is not our ticket to salvation.  When Peter was asked three times whether he loved our Savior, he was told, “Tend/Feed My Lambs.”  In other words, as in Matthew 25, what we do for other, we do for Him.  

    I am sorry to wax theologically, but what I’m getting at and what I unwrapped from your piece is this.  We will be right with God and (I hope) our loved ones if we behave with kindness, tolerance, empathy, and genuine love.  Here’s the thing, though, we have not been told to simply behave as though we loved others.  We have been told to actually love them.  That means ALL of them.  And if we love (and accept) other, we will likely receive more than adequate love in return.  

    I will not likely ever tell my adult children or my long-time friends.  They have an idealize view of me that was molded (at least in part) by the way I have “tended” to them.  Asking them to redefine how they see me is more than I think is fair.  If someday before or after I die, they discover that I enjoyed wearing women’s clothes, I will trust them to think of my kindly for my own struggle and for not burdening them.  But, I know they will not see me as incongruent (love your word choice).  They will remember that I spoke and behaved with kindness and genuine love.  They will remember me as an advocate for life and freedom.  They will remember that I challenged discrimination and spoke against those who vilified the less fortunate.

    Living privately or with (I hope) the confidence of a spouse, is maybe a sacrifice most will have to make.  Accepting this part of ourselves should cause us to examine how we engage with others.  Based on how I observe those around me, I think many of my friends will remember things about me like:
    –  He never jumped on the bandwagon when conversations went to the criticism of others.
    –  He tried to find the bright side when others obsessed about conflict.
    –  He reminded us that our treatment of others defined us, not them.
    . . . and beyond that:
    –  He did seem unusually (for a man) concerned about the way his clothes fit, how his nails were trimmed.
    –  In hindsight, “Were those women’s jeans he used to wear?”  “He seemed to wear a lot of pink and other pastels.”

    Right now, I don’t think many I know suspect that I crossdress.  But, if they were told, I don’t think they would find it “Incongruent.”

    More later,
    Falecia

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for the very kind words and positive feedback, much appreciated. It certainly motivates me to know these things are landing for people. Also, thank you fir your contribution. You seem to have really understood what I was saying and I appreciate your take on things. It certainly gave me food for thought. Thanks for taking the discussion further.

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  7. Hedda makes a good point in her 2nd-to-last paragraph:

    “Which also explains why dealing with your feelings properly in a constructive and positive way is usually easier when you are either too young to have properly established yourself as a man in the world or old enough to have done your bit as a man.”

    When I was young man and had not established my career (the 70s), I was comfortable dressing in whatt they called “Mod” for lack of a better term. We wore hip-hugging jeans and slacks with wide, often decorative belts. There were high-heeled shoes and boots made for men. Think “Mama Mia!” I realized that I could wear women’s clothes and shoes that totally blended with no one realizing they were feminine. And, while many of the items worn by young men were not completely acceptable by ALL of society, it was the 70s and I was young. Wish I still had my platform and cork wedge sandals. They’d fit with a lot of today’s styles.

    But, once I began to advance in my career, my children grew, and community leadership called, i had to tone it down a bit. Suits, ties and oxfords ruled the day. I had several pair of side-zip boots with a modified Cuban heels that were in style, but even those lost their appeal and thus availability. My CD went underground for 20 years. Just as Hedda implies, I did not really venture out (so to speak) again until “I had done my bit as a mam,” When My accomplishments were in-the-bag, I could again display some fashion choices that were more “avant garde,” and raised only interest, not ridicule. Like, “Where’d you ge those shoes? Are the Italian?”

    I guess I’ve run the gantlet and am liberated again. I wish!

    Falecia

    Like

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