The Kindness of Strangers: An older woman comes out of a quarter century in the woodwork to discover Trans Pride
So, I happened to be in Seattle, and had just learnt that there was to be a Trans Pride event Friday, 24 June 2016 — a kind of pre-roll to the big Pride march that Sunday.
I wasn’t going to go, and then I was, and then I wasn’t…and then I realised:
I was really scared.
Sure, the massacre in Orlando has us all shaken and scared. Sure, the public bathroom onslaught has us feeling under direct attack by a hostile cisgender majority. And it certainly didn’t help that, just two days prior, a transgender person had been assaulted and badly beaten only blocks from the event. But these aren’t what had me so scared.
What was making me shake was, quite simply, fear of being out of the closet.
You see, I transitioned almost thirty years ago, during the latter part of the trans ‘dark ages’. There were very, very few of us transitioning back then. Help was very hard to find, and what little there was, was controlled by medical and bureaucratic gatekeepers who had very specific expectations. The vast majority of cisgender people didn’t know we existed, and when they ‘clocked’ us, assumed that we were some kind of sexual perverts and treated us with violence. Many still do.
We got through transition as quickly, as safely, and as completely as possible. We had to have proof of a year of so-called ‘real life test’ and proof of surgery before we could get permanent documents. After transition we no longer called ourselves ‘trans’, we considered ourselves to be ‘former trans’. We were taught to pass for cisgender and to assimilate into cis society, often by relocating in a way that severed us from our past.
And I did all those things. You could say that I stepped out of one closet and into another.
For the past quarter century I have lived the life of a cis woman — I’ve been married, raised my child, had a career, gained weight, got divorced, lost weight… The people in my life don’t know I’m trans, and I don’t know any trans people. I’ve been living in the woodwork for so long that, in a way, I’d forgotten that I’m not cis.
Only recently have I become aware that people are talking about us. A lot of people. Prominent public figures have come out as trans. There are books and television shows and movies. There are conventions. There are new laws.
A man asked me if I was trans. I nearly shit myself. This is what we call ‘getting clocked’, and it hadn’t happened to me in nearly three decades. Something has changed.
I started paying attention. I realised that I now had a problem, a problem I thought I’d left behind. Even as I remained ‘in stealth’ (living trans-incognito, woodworked) in my ‘real life’, I began reconnecting with the trans community online. Much has changed whilst I’ve been away. I am faced with a difficult choice.
And here was the next step in sorting out that choice.
Chip is the long-time friend of Misty, a trans woman I recently met online. A cis gentleman, Chip was going to be attending the Trans Pride event in Seattle, and offered to meet me there. I went.
I arrived alone, and wandered through a crowd of hundreds upon hundreds of trans people. I felt dazed — I’d never before seen more than a handful of trans people together in one place. I was utterly overwhelmed and couldn’t get my bearings.
I called Chip on my mobile and waited by a landmark for him to collect me. I’d no intention of participating in the march, I thought I’d stand by and watch. From the woodwork. But Chip was with friends who were already queued up and about to set out, so there I found myself, disoriented, being introduced all round, hugs and kisses from strangers, waiting to march.
The mass of trans people and their friends, spouses, children, allies, flowed out and onto the street, and I was carried along with them.
It wasn’t like the major Pride marches, with huge masses of marchers and spectators stretching for miles. There were probably well under a thousand people marching, the route was perhaps seven or eight blocks long, the sidewalks weren’t jammed with spectators. But the onlookers were there, in groups, scattered along the parade route, clapping and cheering. It was the oddest feeling, to be there, surrounded by what I guess I should now call ‘my people’, being celebrated by cis people. OK, it wasn’t as if the streets were lined with straight cisgender people, cheering us on — these were mostly queer folk in the queerest neighbourhood of a pretty queer city. Nevertheless, when I transitioned, back in the day, there was no T in the queer alphabet soup. Gay men tended to clock us as femme gay men (awkward) and cis lesbians were often hostile (painful). And now, to some significant extent, this had changed.
I’m walking in the street, surrounded by more trans people than I’ve ever seen, whilst clusters of cis people shout and applaud from the sidewalk. A man runs out with an armful of bottled water and hands me one. I break into tears. Chip puts his arm around me. I’m now weeping uncontrollably. In my 59 years, I’ve never felt like this.
Read about how things used to be in My experience during the Trans Dark Ages.
Read about transfeminine gender transition in What is gender transition?
Read about what it’s like to be Allison in What’s it like to be a trans woman?
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