I’ve written before about how being in the closet makes us insecure and undermines our political power. There’s another aspect to it: we resent it, and we rebel. When we rebel, we can wind up hurting ourselves or innocent bystanders.
When I was younger, my parents didn’t want to help or support my feminine self-expression, and I got clear messages that the establishment – the universities I attended, the government, the local street gangs, didn’t either. Even the famous LGBT Center of New York told me in 1995 and again in 2000 that they had nothing to offer me if I wasn’t going to transition.
As a result I kept my transgender feelings and actions a secret throughout my teenage and college years. Coming out was a huge help, but even then I avoided directly telling anyone I didn’t trust. I repressed my desires, and the more I repressed, the more resentful I felt.
I didn’t really blame my family members who told me not to let anyone see me in a skirt, not to even talk about my desires. At times I agreed with them; sometimes I still do. But at other times it was easier to say to myself that they were wrong, and that they were holding me back.
The more that resentment built up, the more tempted I was to rebel. I felt alone and misunderstood, and powerless to fight even the LGBT Center, much less a gang, a college or the government. So my rebellion took childish forms, along the lines of, “You said I couldn’t do it, but I’m going to do it anyway! I don’t care if I get hurt. And I don’t care if you get hurt!”
I was lucky. I didn’t get hurt, and I didn’t really hurt anyone around me. Eventually, I began to grow out of this childish rebellion. After being out online for years and still getting work, I came to the conclusion that there are plenty of people who just want the job done and don’t care if I’m trans. I made connections with some people who were helpful, and the general cultural climate for trans people has improved.
Today I still have restrictions on my gender expression, and I still sometimes feel a desire to rebel against them. It helps to remind myself that they are my restrictions. I have thought through the pros and cons and made the decision to place these restrictions where they are, and I own them.
Unfortunately, those reminders are not always enough. This is why I need to manage my gender expression and avoid feeling like I’m restricting myself too much. Because restrictions and repression lead to resentment, and resentment leads to rebelliousness.