I’ve talked before about the value of being out of the closet – the global political value. But being out can be valuable in a more direct, immediate way. It can save us from the closet.
When I first started cross-dressing, I knew that it was not acceptable. I had heard so many people making fun of transvestites that I didn’t think that anyone would value or support me if I told them I was one. For over a year I did my cross-dressing in secrecy and isolation.
One day my mother came into my room and said, “This closet is a mess! I’ve given you so many chances to clean it up. Now I’m going to do it.”
I said, “Okay, Mom, but just don’t open the top drawer.”
“What’s in the top drawer?”
“Just don’t look in it.”
“Angus, what’s in the top drawer?”
After a few more rounds of this, I told her. Her response was not as bad as it could have been (the horror stories we’ve heard about teenagers being rejected by their parents, thrown out of the house, beaten, or even killed), but it was not encouraging. I won’t go into too much detail, since she apologized for it many years ago, but she was ashamed, and worried that I might be gay. She insisted that I go to therapy, which was probably a good idea, but I didn’t even mention cross-dressing to the first therapist. The second one was helpful in various ways, but not with regards to this issue.
I avoided talking to my mom about cross-dressing after that, until I came out in general. That meant that I was pretty much alone in the closet for another fourteen years. And that time was hell. I don’t know which was worse, the feeling of shame when I cross-dressed, or the feeling of relief when I purged. Every time the topic came up in general conversations with anyone other than my mother I had to remain silent, afraid that I would be ostracized if anyone found out. The chronic fear of being found out was a source of discomfort throughout my teen and college years.
Since I’ve come out, I know that there is a group of people that I can rely on, who have shown me that they support me no matter what I’m wearing. I don’t need to feel ashamed around them. Even if I don’t feel comfortable telling absolutely everyone, it’s still liberating to know that there are many people who don’t judge me for my gender expression.
Unfortunately, it took a long time for me to feel comfortable coming out. I had to tell one person at a time, until I knew that there were enough people who supported me. This is why one of my goals is to encourage widespread, open, vocal support of non-conforming gender expression, so that the teenagers of tomorrow can live outside the closet.
A simple thing you can do for trans people is to say something supportive every time the topic comes up. You can do this for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, cyclists, or any disenfranchised group. You might want to have a handy phrase or two ready ahead of time. And if you can’t think of anything supportive to say, educate yourself!