The Value of Being Out

Tonight I came across this interview about GLB issues with Barack Obama, and one passage in particular resonated with me:

A college professor of mine helped me to see the lives of LGBT people from a different perspective. He was the first openly gay professor that I had ever come in contact with, or openly gay person of authority that I had come in contact with. And he was just a terrific guy.  His comfort in his own skin and the friendship we developed helped to educate me on a number of these issues.

I, too, had an experience like that: a fellow student of mine who was willing to tell anyone and everyone that he was gay.  Steve wasn’t an authority figure (although I would meet plenty later), but still an example of pride and self-acceptance who inspired me to reexamine and discard my homophobia.  I had known many closet cases and “don’t ask, don’t tell” gay men, lesbians and bisexuals, and their own shame and fear had given me license to judge them.  I just couldn’t do that with Steve, and after a while I realized that I couldn’t do it with myself either.

This is the reason why I think we non-transition-track transgender people (transvestites, cross-dressers, etc.) should practice some verbal hygiene on the term “out” and stop using it to describe someone who cross-dresses in public settings that are still anonymous, and who doesn’t disclose their transgenderism to their family, friends, neighbors or co-workers.  Of course there’s such a thing as too much information, but there are times when people need to know that we’re transgender.

Clearly our next president benefited from the information he got from his professor, and more importantly, from his professor’s own self-acceptance and self-respect.  The gay and lesbian communities have benefited from Obama’s acceptance and respect.  If transvestites ever hope to be accepted and respected, we have to accept and respect ourselves, and be out of the closet.  And this kind of “out” has very little to do with clothes: we can be out to our friends and neighbors without them ever seeing us in a skirt, wig or maid costume.  All it takes is these three words, “I’m a transvestite.”  Could you say them to Barack Obama?  Could you say them, with pride, to a student who might some day be president?

Update. August 2009: I just discovered that Steve’s husband died tragically in March.  Steve wrote for Americablog about how some of his experiences afterwards highlighted the connection between being out, marriage equality and respect.  Last week, he wrote about how it related to his lexicography work.

Coming Out at American Express

(Originally posted January 24, 2004)

From the moment I first slipped on a pair of my sister’s nylons when I was eleven years old, I knew that my cross-dressing was a shameful, dangerous practice, and that people would rather that I kept it secret. When I was twenty-four, I decided that I was tired of hiding, and I just wanted to be able to be who I was. I wanted to be able to join in the conversation when I heard women talking about clothes, not turn away. Mostly, I just wanted to stop feeling ashamed.

In the winter of 1995-96, I was living in New York in an apartment I shared with an old friend. In the previous two years, I had come out to two gay male friends, two girlfriends, my father, my apartmentmate, one bisexual friend, and one straight male friend. Everyone had been relatively accepting and supportive, so I decided to come out to the rest of the world. I had decided to post to transgender newsgroups under my real name, and I knew that it was impossible to hide that. I had started carrying a picture of myself cross-dressed in my wallet. I knew that at some point I would have to come out at work.

My work then consisted of temping for Vanstar, an outsourcing company at the offices of American Express. We were working for American Express, but we were twice removed from most of the benefits of being actual American Express employees. The American Express employees resented us for taking their jobs, and the Vanstar employees looked down on us for being temps. But the money was decent, and it was good experience. Continue reading “Coming Out at American Express”

Some Transgender Principles

As I have time, I’m going to gradually migrate my writings from my old transvestite website to this new blog, revising and updating them in the process. I’ll also write new articles as the muse strikes me. Many of them will relate to this list of principles that I developed in 2005 and have been expanding since.

For the past two and a half years I’ve been participating on the (en)gender Message Boards, moderated by Helen Boyd, author of My Husband Betty, and her husband Betty Crow. It’s a really good group of people, with lots of interesting ideas about transgender phenomena, but over that time I’ve found myself saying a few things over and over again. This page is written in part to save myself some typing on this message board; the next time one of these comes up I can just link to Principle 3. Kind of like the joke about the comedians’ club.

Right now I’ll just write a little blurb for each principle. As time goes on I may expand them into full-fledged articles.

1. No one really knows what’s going on
Discussions about transgenderism are often full of generalizations: “Transgender individuals are like this,” or “Transsexuals are like this, but cross-dressers are like that.” The fact of the matter is that nobody’s done enough research to prove this, so everyone’s going on hunches. Unfortunately, hunches can often be wrong. The bottom line is that nobody has information beyond the people that they’ve talked to. Except in Sweden. Continue reading “Some Transgender Principles”