There is a special place in my memory for first times. The first time I wore femme clothes out into the world – far too twee and soft a silhouette for me in hindsight, but sans my modern knowledge of frockery; the first time I told a friend, on a sofa bed, facing away from each other in the dark, barely above a whisper in case they were asleep, or wanted to pretend to be.
A moment is held in my throat too, the bob of a choke, for the first time telling my parents I was trans, the fear that clouds your wholeness being exposed. By this time, I had known for years that I wasn’t what the doctors proclaimed me in those first cold, wet minutes, but the world looked different than it did today, and the words I wanted to use seemed the domain of late night dial-up forums and daytime soaps.
I was avoidant, terrified. I wrote it all down in a precocious email the length of a university essay and sent it into the unknown, unable to hold onto this truth by myself any longer. One week ticked past, then one month, then another, and another, and I was beginning to wonder if they had received it at all, or if our house was taking part in a war game, light on strategy but heavy on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Coming out to someone is an act of trust: I want you to believe me, even if it feels difficult; I want you to care for me, even if you’re not sure how to just yet; I want you to love me, despite the misgivings or misconceptions you may have about this revelation.
To bare yourself to someone in this way — especially a loved one or a parent — you enter a perceived hyper-reality. Time stretches and feelings elongate like the spaghetti suck of a black hole, extruded through a filter of hope and fear. It’s naturally an emotional hyperbole, but it also ended. We sat down together, we shared our fears, we talked about our hopes, and the months of living in the unknown softened until we were just people who loved each other.
When I tell people how this went, I tell them I feel lucky, but it shouldn’t be an act of luck to be loved, even when it can be an act of trying. I chaired a panel a number of years ago and asked the assembled, what is the first thing they would do if a child came out to them as trans, and one answer has stayed with me since. “Before you do anything else,” a panellist answered, “bake them a cake.” Start with celebration, and the rest will follow. Say thank you, and I love you, and the rest of the words will fall into place.
I think back to that expanse of unknown a decade ago and imagine what this would be like, how so simple an act could convey everything my parents hoped to tell me. That they did love me, that they were scared, but from a place of wanting me to be safe, and from understanding that the safest I would be was while being true to myself.
We talk about this time now, my parents and I. We are close, and there is an abundance of love around our dinner table, but our hindsight of those weeks and months lends perspective we could not have understood then. They took their time because they wanted to get it right, to do their research — resources were not really a thing back then, and so they did their homework, but it left me hanging for what felt like an eternity. And really, all I wanted was them to hold me and tell me they loved me.
I talk to parents almost every day now, both cis parents of trans kids, and parents who are trans themselves, and the world looks a lot different than it did when I was figuring myself out, but some things never change. At some point, every young person feels like their parents or families are strangers, but queer and trans kids are unique in having an identity that is likely not shared by their kin.
Every day too, I see people taking that leap, of sharing themselves with me, with each other, and with the world, and the world grows brighter each time we do. Every person I know who starts from a place of uncertainty reports back to me, sometimes only months or weeks after the fact, that they couldn’t imagine not loving this beautiful trans person in their life, that they are better for helping them to live that truth.
If this is a call to action, it’s a simple one. If someone shares who they are with you, bring it back to what it means: I want you to believe me, to care for me, to love me. If coming out is an act of trust, how easy is it to say yes?Image: Liz Duck-Chong