Monday, October 10, 2016
A Tale of Coming Outs: Coming Out Day Version 2016
Coming out often is not one event, but many events over many years. In my case, the normal labels became confused along the way. You see in this photo a child who is confused and a bit melancholy, though I learned early on to cover that up. During the previous year, I experimented with my first coming out. So I'd been visiting a neighbor girl, and we were having a tea party. I dressed up in her Sunday finest and I was the Mommy and she the Daddy. The year was 1950. We had been playing for awhile, and it all felt so fun and so right. Then we hear footsteps coming up the stair and my Mom walks in. She looks startled, and snaps, "Put on your own clothes and come home now! I did so and came home and she said nothing. Then that night, she came to tuck me in. She smiles as she tucks me in, "You're a good little boy."
"Mommy? I'm a girl..."
"No you aren't and I don't want to hear that nonsense ever again!" I'm 69 years old now, yet I still recall that look in her eyes. Anger yes, but there was something else I could not identify at that young age. I now know it was fear. I did not understand, but I did know there must be something terribly wrong about me. From then on my parents set out fully intent on butching me up. Cowboy costumes, guns etc for Christmas etc. I could only be my true self in private when nobody was looking. Don't misunderstand though. I tried really hard to be what they wanted to be. But always there was this little voice inside telling me a. something is wrong and b. it was probably me.
We moved to Tyler, Texas from Illinois and it was a whole new world. By the time I got to be in the third grade, I was getting beat up almost daily, and they were calling me queer and I did not know why and I felt so terribly alone. I fought back as best I could because if I didn't my Dad made it perfectly clear he'd beat me worse. But I did find some respite. Out behind the garage, I dug a pit, about 3 1/2 feet deep. Above it I took sticks and vines and used some of the red clay in which I'd been digging and created a small private hut that was My Space. I even built cubby holes into it, and there I could play the roles I could do no where else. I also would sit in that space with a notebook and I began early on to journal. I couldn't keep the journals. That was too scary. But I could write out my feelings at that young age, and I truly think it kept me alive. As puberty approached, I figured out not only was there this inner feminine, but that I was attracted to guys. I tried to avoid it, but it filled my hormone filled dreams and made life even more scary.
So I grew up. My dad passed away in 67. Soon after I dropped out of college for a year and took off traveling, like so many in that time, I landed in San Francisco. While I spent some time in the Haight, I was drawn to the Tenderloin where I found other people like me. But I could not stay, and I returned to Tyler, and my closeted life continued. Finally I decided to make my last ditch effort at being straight.
Like some other people I've met over the years, I married a lesbian. She was a nurse and over time a drummer in a lesbian band, but then we were making our way trying to fit into something that would be called normal. We gave it our best shot, and even had a daughter, but it could not last and we split up only 3 1/2 years later. I began to find my way to the gay bars more and more. No one person, just satisfying my need to be myself and to express that feminine side more freely. I wasn't really a drag queen though,although I had a number of friends who were, but where they often (not always) were just playing a role, my feelings were not a caricature but reality. I did meet other transgender queens along the way and the feeling grew that it might be possible. For a time though, most of this was in the fog of alcohol and drugs. It was not until I entered a program to become sober that the feelings and the realization that I would have to be true to self began the journey towards reality. Still while I could be out to many of my friends, I could not be to my family. Mom had once told me that if she ever found out that either I or my former wife were gay, she would go to court to get our child and we would not be welcome again. I loved my Mom, even with her feelings about either of us being gay. So with my family, I had to be on the down low. But Mom died in '88. I gave some time to mourn, and then gradually I began to come out to more and more of my family. I also met a man who I fell in love with.
We met at a Dignity Chapter and he was the greeter. Soon someone replace him so we could talk. And talk. We were like two schoolgirls, back and forth and we began spending all of our time together, then there was "that kiss", a kiss that sealed the deal and we were a couple. It was a time when I learned how to really love. This was the love of a lifetime and soon we were setting up house. But there was one thing I had to do. It scared the bejeezus out of me. I had to tell this man, the love of my life, that his partner would be beginning a journey to transition, to truly be how I feel. Here was a man who'd never dated a woman in his life. Yet I was asking him if he could stay with me as I became a woman. To my huge relieve, he said yes. So by bits and pieces, beginning with a rather familiar androgyny and then transition in earnest, my next journey began.
Coming out originally as gay troubled some, including my daughter. But when I began transition, I lost almost all of my extended family, including the daughter and my brother who slipped farther away. It was so much to deal with and the hurt was incredible. But even with the pain, at last I was being truly that person who always dwelled inside and it was the most wonderful feeling in the world. I managed to keep my job when I transitioned. Something else came up though. For the first time I noticed I was attracted to women. My husband noticed it too. With hormones something had shifted. I preferred women in terms of attraction to men. But, I loved my husband. Skip and I talked about it, and I sure wasn't going anywhere. Love is love after all. Then in '97, he became ill and a few weeks later he passed away. He had contracted viral encephalitis. Suddenly I was alone again. But with time I healed. With transition completed, I was attracted to women. I began dating, had some false starts along the way. I got lots of support from my MCC congregation in Houston.
My community held me up during this dark period. See I had come to a place when closets were not desirable besides impossible. I became involved with the community center, hosting a lesbian film night monthly. I volunteered with Lesbians in Business, worked my buns off for Annise Parker who ran for and became a member of city council. She later would become mayor of Houston. I was involved all along with TATS (Texas Area Transexual Support) and GCTC (Gulf Coast Transgender Community.) Then I met Robin. We fell in love, my second love in this lifetime. She and I embarked on a life adventure that led to a very public wedding in San Antonio Texas using a narrow court decision in that state. It was all in the papers, so for a time our lives were quite public and all remnants of a closet were gone forever.
I turn and look out at the world today, and I see young people coming out and transitioning and a level of openness in society I never could have dreamed of in my wildest fantasy. Still I know it is hard for some. Open-mindedness is not universal, and some states bend over backwards to discourage those who are anything other than the norm they visualize. It can take great courage to come out. I can only say, when you do make that decision, no matter who you are or how old you may be, there is a community of people ready to welcome you with open arms. In my life, I heard the call of Harvey Milk to come out. I did so not once but many times as the circle of self truth expanded. I can only say that in taking those steps, I found a freedom and happiness I could not have ever imagined. Yes I did so in an earlier time, and I lost a lot. But I gained so much more. So come out, come out, wherever you are!