When I was about ten or eleven years old, I first heard the word “transvestite”. I truly cannot remember the context in which I heard it, but I remember picking that word apart in my mind for a few days, feeling that it somehow described me. (My fascination with language developed at an early age, and I loved — and still love — to dissect words to get at their root meaning.)
Eventually, I sought it out in a dictionary and had my first real “a-ha” moment. Not only did it describe me, but I realized that, if it was in the dictionary, there had to be other people out there like me. It would be many years before I ever actually became aware of such a person. When it happened, it was because popular culture adopted them (us) as curiosity-of-the-week (decade, actually).
I quickly located myself on the spectrum I saw on the afternoon talk shows. I did not hate my genitals or want to have sex change surgery or want to trick men into sex, so I wasn’t a “transsexual”. I was just fascinated with women’s clothes and wanted to wear them. I was rather relieved to place myself down a few degrees from the most visible talk show examples. Eventually, my self image evolved into that of a “happy crossdresser”.
But it was clear from the very first moment I heard any of the terminology — and even before — that this was a part of myself I simply had to hide. Under no circumstances could I let anyone else find out — ever. I went to extreme lengths to cover up my activities, and devised completely foolproof methods of determining when I would be alone and for how long. I knew to the second how long it would take to get undressed if someone interrupted me, and I always had a plan of what to do should that happen.
It only happened once, and my plan worked flawlessly. On several other occasions I’ve had close calls, but never anything that I could not wriggle out of.
Through the years, to this very day, whenever I get dressed, I make sure to have an emergency plan: how to get out of the clothing quickly, where to stash it temporarily, what excuse to use for why I’m in some unexpected state of undress, how to clear the computer screen quickly of research materials.
To realize this, and to think of it now makes me profoundly sad. There is a substantial part of myself which the world does not know because I have locked it away. It’s very possible that I’ve hidden the better part of myself.
Some people know about this part of me now, but only because I’ve told them. I resolved along the way that I would not make any relationship commitment without divulging at least the existence of this part of me. That type of deception would make for a very shaky foundation for any relationship and I couldn’t bear the thought that, were I ever discovered, a major bond of trust would be broken. (My resolution to come out if necessary may have been a factor in going so long without committed relationships.)
So I’ve come out to all of the women with whom I’ve had meaningful and/or long-term relationships. One of those women convinced me, temporarily, that hiding this side of myself from other members of my family was deeply deceptive, so I came out to my parents and siblings, albeit in a very quiet way. It was long enough ago, however, that the subject has essentially slipped back into the shadows. It is, quite simply, never discussed.
But I’m again feeling like the time has come to end the deception — this time for good.
I am inspired by a simple phrase spoken recently by Lana Wachowski in a speech given before the Human Rights Campaign (video, transcript). She told the story of coming out to her mother, and included a nugget which resonated deeply within me:
“When I told my mom what was going on…she confessed that she had been afraid to arrive and grieve the loss of her son. But when she arrived she found it wasn’t so much a death as it was a discovery. That there was this other part of me, an unseen part, and she felt it was like a gift because now she could get to know that part of me.”
I have that other part, which remains unseen, shut deeply away from the rest of the world. No one really knows it.
Given its size, keeping that part of me hidden is just not acceptable anymore. The deception has become so routine that its depth, when I really consider it, is staggering. To say that I have “lived a lie” doesn’t quite catch it, but the me that I’ve given to the world is a shadow of who I really am, and that must end.
Now I know that I’m not just a “happy crossdresser” and never really was. I am so much more than that, and my relationship with the world cannot be whole until I begin the process of letting my whole self be seen.
Lana’s courage is admirable. She appears to wear her personhood with grace and dignity. I’m grateful for her willingness to sacrifice some anonymity in order to help others. She has helped me.
Thank you, Lana.