out of the closet

This story is from KUOW.org....

"When I opened the orange door leading into The Cloud Room and our first Curiosity Club dinner, I also opened a door that led out of a closet — a closet I didn’t even realize I was in.

I thought I was done with closets. Five years ago, I came out to the world as transsexual. I medically and socially transitioned from male-to-female, with the goal of blending into society as just another woman, a path referred to in the trans community as living in “stealth” mode. Thanks to hormones and surgery, I “passed” as female; no one I met was aware that I was trans unless I told them, and I identified not as “transgender” but simply as female.

I felt very fortunate; not many people get such a fresh start in life. I was eager to experience life as a woman, ready to have new adventures and meet new people as Jenny. And then I heard about Curiosity Club. I was intrigued. Who doesn’t love eating good food with interesting people while discussing surprising topics?

However, I wasn’t going to get a seat at the dinner table by identifying as a middle-aged white woman. Curiosity Club was looking for people from groups whose voices were under-represented in the mainstream media. In order to join Curiosity Club, I would have to identify as a transgender woman. And this brought me to a personal crossroads. I was stuck on the idea that self-identifying as trans was a step backwards.

But one day I had an insight: I realized that by living in “stealth” mode I had stepped out of my original closet and into a different one. By editing and censoring my past when I interacted with others, I had closed off 60 years of personal history, stories that represented a wealth of experiences, as well as a large part of what made me, me. I realized that what I feared most about being labeled transgender was being stereotyped, was being “othered.” But, I told myself, unless people actually meet someone “ordinary” like me, who just happens to be transgender, the media-generated stereotypes are all they’ll have.

I decided to confront my fear. I decided to join Curiosity Club and come as my authentic self, a transgender woman. That evening of the first dinner, it felt surprisingly liberating to be known as transgender.

Curiosity Club was a safe place that allowed me for the first time in my life to fully step forward in a social context and just be me. Just Jenny. No anxiety over “passing.” No need to compartmentalize and self-censor: For instance, I could tell a story about what happened when I was a boy!

I was stuck on the idea that self-identifying as trans was a step backwards. I had feared that people would stereotype me, but instead it was my very individuality, especially my personal history, that allowed others to move beyond any stereotypes they might have had. And I, in turn, got to enjoy the company of interesting individuals from groups unfamiliar to me and learn many surprising things from them.

Transitioning changes so much in life; I am still catching up to myself. Curiosity Club has helped me feel comfortable with myself as an individual whose identity has many facets, including being trans. I have stopped worrying about whether I am perceived as female and think of myself just as “Jenny.” I wonder if perhaps this is how cis-people feel all the time?"


Jennifer Hegeman

Comments

  1. As a Seattle resident I often listen to KUOW and just wish I'd known about Curiosity Club last Fall. I just sent them a message asking them to consider opening it up again. It looks like a terrific idea!

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  2. Joanna, this is perhaps one of my, if not just my, favorite of your blog posts. :) That this struck you as an article to "retweet," as it were, without comment, is its own kind of beautiful.

    "I have stopped worrying about whether I am perceived as female and think of myself just as 'Jenny.' I wonder if perhaps this is how cis-people feel all the time?"

    This glorious sentence conveys the happiness that is the dissipation of dissonance; the hugging embrace of "self" for which the word "passing" is, quite literally, a subjective roadblock. My own experience of this took a different path from this woman's, but I'll go even further than she will, and conclude that it is indeed - in some way - what "cis-people feel all the time." Not that we know what it is to *be* cisgendered - that would be as inappropriate as their telling us they know what it is to be trans (an illness, a fever dream, delusion). But it is the experience of *not having to worry about* gender in the way cis people do not. It is the freedom of pridefully revealing one's *full* self, hiding nothing about one's history or particular anatomical status without jeopardizing one's mental or physical safety.

    Of course, it depends on a certain kind of acceptance by others, the changing of hearts minds around us - in which we can take part. In a "support group," a transwoman who did not have the privileges that come with being mistaken for cis (which can at once be essential for survival *and* unhealthy), said out loud, and with resentment seemingly aimed in my direction, "I'm doing a lot more for the movement for trans acceptance that people who pass." I sighed for what struck me as myopic, without engaging this person in debate. Had I the wherewithal in the moment to express my better thoughts, though, I would have noted, somehow, that there is value in being mistaken for cis as long as one carries inner pride about being trans. As long as one does not lose sight of one's "full self," and is ready to express him/her/them Upon safely revealing our "full selves," with pride and no apologies, likewise emotionally mature cis people who perceived us as cis, *can* break through the barrier they might have in "seeing" or otherwise "perceiving" trans selves, thereby increasing not just our own quality of life, but *their* empathy from "tolerance" to "acceptance."

    To paraphrase Janet Mock's phrase, "Stop 'passing,' and start *being*!'" :)

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    Replies
    1. Caryn this is why this article struck a chord with me. It was the idea that the inner core of who we are is independent from the exterior which is used to channel who we are. I have stopped fussing about passing and just convey who I am without fear. If I am recognized as trans that's okay and if I am mistaken for a ciswoman that's okay too. I just dont want to spend many more life energy on concerning myself with it. As soon as I read her words I knew I needed to post this...😊

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    2. Meant to say much more life energy...doh

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