Why Bother Coming Out?
Over the years I have read many good articles about the process of coming out. Some of these articles advise caution when disclosing. Others advise kicking down that closet door, coming out, and yelling "I'm a transgender person" to the whole world. Either approach may work for you depending on your circumstances. Personally, I've always preferred to disclose sensitive information cautiously. However, I encourage those individuals who are seeking instant notoriety to be mindful of the consequences, and to most certainly wear their best high heels or wing-tipped oxfords. Whether a person is deeply closeted, living privately, or not certain whether coming out is timely, this article takes a look at reasons for not coming out. In doing so it addresses issues that will be of interest to persons who crossdress as well as those who intend to live in role.
There is one particular circumstance, where if at all possible, an individual should not come out or disclose their gender issues to others. I am directing this statement primarily to individuals who would like to disclose in the workplace or within meaningful relationships, but who know nothing about coming out. In these situations careful planning and forethought should go into disclosure. Generally speaking, the party you disclose to is likely to be affected by this new information, and it would be in your best interest to make a positive presentation. Therefore, I suggest that these disclosures occur without drama, overwrought emotions, self-deprecating statements, or for the purpose of coming out in order to validate yourself without taking into consideration others needs.
As a quick refresher course on "coming out," I would like to remind my readers that after building a gender-specialized support team, the best personal motivation for disclosing to others would be to improve the quality of a relationship. In disclosing, it is important to prepare for your discussion. You may do so by sharing your fears about coming out with people in your support group or with your therapist. When you are ready, then it is time to ask the person if it is possible for a pre-arranged, private meeting. During your meeting, validate the relationship and ask for confidentiality if necessary. Having done this, share facts about your needs and transgender identity in an easy-to-understand manner. Also, invite questions. If you don't have all the answers, that is fine. You can always provide more information as you learn it. After your discussion, seal the communication with appreciative and supportive words.
Coming out in some circumstances will be easier than imagined. Overall, however, it also can be hard work. This article is titled, "Why Bother Coming Out," because before doing so an individual must balance risks, consequences and potential outcome. In many circumstances the benefits of coming out may not outweigh the to come. Considering that coming out may damage a person's career, family and friendships, doing so demands that one ask difficult questions before committing to changes.
Would you care to flex your gender-knowledge muscles? Guess what is one of the most common questions crossdressers bring into counseling sessions? You are correct if you guessed it is regarding a person's decision to come-out to a spouse or introduce crossdressing into the home environment. Disclosure within a personal relationship is an extremely difficult process, even when done with planning. Also, contrary to the opinions of many "out" individuals, coming out to a spouse, or introducing crossdressing into the home environment, may in some circumstances be the worst mistake a person can make.
In the decision-making process before coming out, it behooves the individual to ask questions about how exactly this disclosure will affect others' lives. In doing so it is generally wise to take into consideration other people's current health, home stability, religious background and openness to accepting differences in others. Thus, if a person's significant other just lost employment, is extremely religious, and constantly voices bigoted statements toward gays and lesbians, this would suggest several things. First, announcing difficult to accept changes after a spouse loses a job, would be very poor timing. Also, at the very least, if an individual has very conservative views or is downright bigoted, it first needs to be determined if the individual can be taught that others have differences, and to be accepting if they cannot understand these differences. Then, only after the individual has learned how to accept differences in others, would he or she potentially be open to hearing about crossdressing. Transgender men and women do need to be mindful of one point. For every spouse that is successfully educated to accept gender issues or crossdressing, there are others who cannot be reached.
Holidays, family reunions and birthdays are also not necessarily a good time to come out. These events can be filled with additional stress, and introduction of such a serious issue may ruin a good time for all. Consequently, I suggest avoiding disclosure during these events, save your news when you can relay it privately and an individual basis.
Within both society in general and the transgender community, there tends to be numerous dramatic tales of "The Wife Who Immediately Sought Divorce After Discovering Her Husband's Secret Crossdressing Desire." I extol my readers to not become caught up by such fears. The fact is, at least within my experience as a careprovider, those marriages which end solely on account of the discovery of a spouse's crossdressing is a rarity. At worst, a shocked spouse may react with anger and severe disappointment. However, in situations where a spouse walks out the door upon discovery, there are almost always other problems with the relationship. Crossdressing becomes just another reason to end the relationship. My suggestion, if your relationship is on rocky ground, leave that secret wardrobe well hidden and out of sight.
In deciding whether disclosure is appropriate within a relationship, crossdressers must bear in mind that it is possible to pursue this activity in a manner which has no effect on a spouse or others. This is particularly so for persons who only dress occasionally, and have no interest in living "in role" as a member of the opposite gender. While this arrangement may not meet the expectation of one's fantasies, it is possible to establish transfriendly relationships outside your marriage which provide emotional support, places to store clothing, and dressing opportunities.
If you have concerns about privacy, it is possible to visit or regularly attend crossdressing and transgender organizations, particularly because confidentiality is emphasized. These opportunities can help diminish the sense of loss the crossdresser may have as a result of not being able to share his or her "special secret" with a spouse. Additionally, being in touch with the transgender community can positively enhance an individual's communication and disclosure skills. He or she may listen to others' coming out experiences, hear how spouses reacted, and learn methods of educating people about the importance of accepting differences in others.
Deeply closeted crossdressers may be surprised to learn that the majority of spouses respond with moderate ambivalence when introduced to their partner's crossdressing needs. This is particularly so after the spouse becomes accustomed to the idea this is something that cannot be cured or changed. Naturally, many spouses wish the "problem" would simply go away, and would rather not deal with it. With resignation, they may even offer brief support, as long as they don't see it and the children do not find out. Therefore, with this in mind, it is my opinion that should a crossdresser not feel comfortable disclosing crossdressing issues to the spouse, then by all means do not. Particularly, if the crossdresser has no experience disclosing to others, has no emotional support system, or truly believes that disclosing would irreparably damage the relationship. At the very worst, if your spouse finds out, you can honestly state you did not know how to disclose and doubted that disclosure would enhance the relationship.
Living with a "secret" can be torturous. This is particularly so because many individuals become excessively obsessed with guilt because they believe their spouses need to know every aspect of a partner's life. Not necessarily! Many individuals have independent interests or needs which are not introduced into their relationship.. And, having independent interests or needs is not wrong. Especially, if these do not detrimentally affect others. As another idea to ponder, many spouses purchase clothing or personal accessories without seeking the other's permission. This should not be any different for crossdressers.
Recently I came to appreciate the term "hobby," which some crossdressers use to describe their personal activities. In the past I did not like the term because I felt it diminished crossdressing as an integral part of the crossdresser's self-identity. However, over the years I have come to realize that labeling crossdressing a hobby reduce the social stigma associated with crossdressing. Explaining to others the dynamics behind crossdressing can be difficult, and even harder for some to understand. Portraying crossdressing as a hobby, is less confusing and sounds less threatening. Furthermore, while crossdressing may not be quite the same as fishing or playing bridge, it is my understanding that like many hobbies, it can be relaxing, enjoyable, help reduce stress and create interesting situations.
The need to make wise disclosure decisions is also a concern for transsexuals and transgenderists, or those who live part or full-time as a member of the opposite gender. Where the crossdresser can choose to remain closeted, and even keep personal secrets from friends and family, doing so becomes considerably more difficult for persons who wish to undergo transition. There is a great deal of literature covering the initial coming out process for persons making transitions, therefore we briefly will focus on issues less frequently addressed.
Political correctness within the transgender community has its benefits. However, it has been my experience, as a careprovider and transgender woman, that not everyone needs to know I am transgendered. Maintaining privacy and choosing to disclose are each decisions one must choose for him or herself. Providing information about gender issues to others is important, but so to is peace of mind. Therefore, as an individual transitions and the glamour of having a transgender identity wears off, he or she may choose to disclose selectively. In my personal life, I generally choose to educate where it will do the most good, and otherwise not address the subject unless introduced by others.
I do not advocate that individuals hide their identity because they are ashamed of who they are, however, there are in fact many reasons not to bother discussing gender issues. In many social situations people do not need to know your complete history, transgender needs and personal interests. This is particularly so in situations where selective disclosure or not doing so at all may best serve you. For example unless a person is actually in the process of transition, within the workplace talking about gender issues may make an interesting topic for discussion. However, unless a situation arises because of your identity, discussion of gender issues may not be necessary unless it is part of your avocation. This would be so for gender activists, gender specialist, gender theorists, etc.
The major exceptions in favor of disclosure, are for legal and medical purposes. Obviously, if you are a person in transition, prior to changing documents to reflect your new name and gender-identity, you may have to disclose that you are transgender. If you are taking hormones, or are a post-operative transsexual and seek gynecological or urological services, it is also likely you will need to inform the physician of your transgender status.
Finally, the most common question I receive from post-operative transsexuals, goes something as follows: "Dear Gianna, I am a post-operative transsexual, and have been living in role for many years. Nobody in my life currently knows that I am a transsexual, including a man with whom I am having a relationship. The relationship is becoming serious, what should I do? Signed, Tormented." My readers, that is a difficult question to answer. In most circumstances I suggest that such individuals begin setting the stage for disclosure, and ultimately disclose to their loved ones. If they don't, they face the possibility of someday being rejected for having not fully disclosed their past. If they disclose early in the relationship, they face the possibility of losing their romantic partner. If that happens, I suggest you deserve better. Go find a partner who can accept you for who you are. Frequently people ask me what is the best time for a post-operative to disclose his or her transgender status. If at all possible, during the beginning of a relationship that appears to have long-term potential, right before having sex, much as one would discuss other personal information.
The art of disclosure is difficult. Many times individuals lose these skills after spending years in the closet. And, there are also others who have not yet experienced coming out in real life. Before doing so, be cautious. Explore which options best suit your needs, yet do not harm others. And, if coming out is not right for now, don't.
GENDER ARTICLES. This educational column authored by Gianna E. Israel is regularly featured on the 3rd Monday of each month in Tg-Forum, the Internet's most up-to-date, weekly Transgender Magazine <http://www.tgforum.com/>. Several weeks later each article is forwarded to Usenet and AOL <Keyword TCF>. Each column has been written to inspire contemplation and dialogue. Columns may be reprinted in any medium insofar as each article, its introduction, and the author's contact information remains unaltered.
GIANNA E. ISRAEL provides nationwide telephone consultation, individual & relationship counseling, evaluations and referrals. She is principal author of the Transgender Care (Temple University / in press 1997). She also writes Transgender Tapestry's "Ask Gianna" column; is an AEGIS board member and HBIGDA member.She can be contacted at (415) 558-8058, at P.O. Box 424447 San Francisco, CA 94142, or via e-mail at Gianna@counselsuite.com.
Copyright © 2001 by Diane Wilson. All rights reserved.