Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Out

I just watched a wonderful video of a high school student coming out to his classmates during a school assembly. Maybe you saw it too, it was all over the Internet.  He was receiving an award for his talent as an actor, and during his acceptance speech, shared that he was part of the LGBT community, and now he didn’t have to act straight anymore. 
While his nervous voice was difficult to hear above the chatter of the teenagers, you could tell people wanted to listen to the deeply personal information he was sharing.  As he finished, the audience erupted in applause and cheered for the brave student.  What an incredible moment.

I'm writing this blog entry I attend the First Event transgender conference Peabody, Massachusetts, sponsored by The Tiffany Club.  The North Shore location might not be the most desirable destination for a conference, especially in mid January.  On the first night, I joined a few brave girls for dinner in neighboring Salem.  The cold wind howled through the streets of the bewitching town, and the wind chill made our adventure seem even more heroic than it already was.  As I learned at the Southern Comfort Conference in Atlanta, many of the girls at these events, are part-time, and these occasions are really special.  It is the gift of these weekends, sprinkled through out the year and across the country, that give many attendees a renewed spirit, and a chance to feel pretty. 

As the six of us sat in the middle of the spacious restaurant, we shared stories from our lives and learned a little about each other.  Their Boston accents were familiar to me, like old friends from my youth.  There was even a girl in our group, who had never ventured into public dressed as a woman before.  This was her big night.  And while we were mostly strangers, I felt honored to share in this special occasion.  I‘ve learned you can make friends relatively quickly with other trans women.  There is an unspoken trust between us, probably from a shared history that cuts through traditional social protocols, knowing we’ve got each other’s back.  After an enjoyable dinner, we returned to the hotel for a drink and some dancing.  During a conversation with another girl, she asked me how often do I dress?  I was a little confused, what did she mean, dress? Then it dawned on me; she doesn’t know I am full-time as Gia, but how could she?
 
Coincidentally, at a thought-provoking seminar the following day, a group of us discussed beauty, weight, passing, and living full-time.  There seems to be a lot of credence given to the concept of living openly in your authentic gender, as opposed to part-time or closeted, as if it makes you a better person.  I believe everyone’s path in life is unique, and no one is more special than anyone else.  One woman shared that she believes she’s been full-time her whole life, and posed the question, does it matter if you pass or not?  My identity is in a perpetual state of change and transition anyways, so I tend to agree.  The conversation got me to consider the various barriers that kept me from embracing my gender identity for years.  Many friends have asked; why did I wait so long?   

One of the obstacles that stood in the way was my concept of beauty.  I shared with the group, that I saw attractiveness as something unattainable for me as a transgender woman.   I never saw myself ever being pretty or beautiful.  This poor self-image had debilitating and harmful consequences on my wellbeing.  One of the dangerous side affects is my eating disorder, which I struggle with everyday. But since I’ve come out, I feel my self-esteem has improved and the concept of beauty for me is more genuine.  The slide into skinny oblivion has paused for now, but the reality remains, I rarely eat a meal or do a workout considering the potential impact on my body’s appearance. 
 
When I decided to come out, there was no assembly, applause, or Oprah interview, but that didn’t it make it any less special.  The sharing of my transgender identity occurred in very personal ways: at kitchen tables, in bedrooms, in cars and in bars, dressing rooms, at the beach, in classrooms, on the phone, in my parent’s backyard, on Facebook, in emails, and with hand written letters.  Like my transition, these ongoing experiences evolve with time. I tend to agree with the woman from the seminar, and believe I came out when I was born, nearly 46 years ago, (thanks mom), and again 35 years ago, 21 years ago, 3 years ago, last year, and yesterday.  

I remember as a confused young adult living in Boston, struggling to understand my both my sexual and gender identity.  I somehow got my hands on a magazine called Tapestry, put out by the Tiffany Club (one of the oldest trans support and social groups in the country).  They had regular meetings and an annual event.  The concept of getting together with other women like myself was overwhelming, and I remember fantasizing about attending someday, never believing it would ever happen.  While I carry a lifetime of regret,  I’m slowly shedding some of the burdensome weight each day.  I’ve to come to terms with my life’s path, trying not to allow the emotions of remorse and guilt to darken my spirit.  24 years later, after initially reading about the Tiffany Club, here I am, and I’m out, again.  Boston, you’re my home.   

Boston Common by Steve Tocci