Why I Decided to Do the Scariest Thing I’ve Ever Done

I felt if I didn’t come out soon, the world would do it for me. So I came out by Medium post. But I didn’t expect my story to go viral.


(If you haven’t read it yet, you’re welcome to jump over and read my post here. You don’t have to read it to get anything out of this post, although it would probably enhance it.)


Background

First of all, if you haven’t read the blog post above, I’m transgender (or trans for short). I’m at the best point in my life I’ve ever been. Happy, successful, things are going wonderful. But not without an immense amount of depression and mental torture to get here.

It was probably April of 2015 when I started to think about seriously coming out of the closet. I had been out some before I went back to finish my degree in 2011. When I started back at my university, I went “stealth.” Stealth is a term trans people use to say that they are just trying to blend in with the rest of the world and not really out themselves. It was easier this way to try to get involved in geeky school activities and not be in LGBT activites anymore. It actually was refreshing to feel like I was just one of the women there (which I was), but I did start to have a growing nagging feeling that I needed to come back out.

In May, I ended up joining a Slack chat group called LGBTQ in Tech. This group included some of the first trans people I had interacted with in a long time. And they were in tech, the field I loved! It was great. One thing I did notice though was a lot of them were out from the beginning of their transitions and nothing bad really was happening to them. All of the things I feared about being really publicly out didn’t seem to be a thing with them. And even as I slowly told more real life friends about my trans status, I was just getting entirely positive comments.

I had been a member of PFLAG-Kansas City for years. (PFLAG is basically a support group for parents of LGBTQ folks.) It’s been a wonderful and warm supportive group, like “walking into a hug” as one of the members puts it. In July, they had asked if I would consider being vice president or president. I love supporting all of the people I can, but I knew stepping up to such a high leadership role would mean needing to be more vocal in the community. I thought on this for a couple of days and realized I was okay with this.

After starting to follow LGBTQ people on Twitter, as well as having my conference talk from June be so successful, and having a couple of viral posts on Twitter, I started to notice my circles were squishing together fast. I really started to worry that if I didn’t come out, someone would do it for me, and I knew that wouldn’t be good.

I needed to come out. But I… didn’t really want to JUST come out.

Planning

I needed a plan. #ILookLikeAnEngineer popped up and went viral, and I started to see the power of telling one’s story and the potential impact it could have on people. Friends have told me before about how brave or courageous they felt I was when I came out to them, and others have told me I’m an inspiration to them. So going on these ideas, I decided to wrap my “coming out” story into something I hoped would be inspiring to others. At the same time, I wanted to make the focus more empowering and less on the actual reason why I had to come out.

Over the next couple of months, I thought about how I could write out this idea. If I was going to write an empowering story, I wanted it to reach far and wide. It would (hopefully??) benefit me to also be public about myself. Less hiding, less watching my words, less fear if I followed someone on Twitter or favorited a post that it would out me somehow.

Implementation

Early August: I started writing my first draft. I sent it to 2–3 friends to proofread, and they offered thoughts and sent it back

Mid-August-Mid September: I went through about 5 more revisions, each time sending it to another 2–3 people. The last revision was probably read by 12 people, some who didn’t know my story yet.

September 27th: I uploaded the final draft to Medium. Sent it to another 2–3 more people and had some great last-minute addition ideas.

September 28th: This was the original date I wanted to publish but hadn’t made those last changes yet. Tweeted out that I was writing out my story and expect it posted tomorrow. Many friends, who knew this post was coming, eagerly waited. Many friends who didn’t know what was coming, also eagerly waited.

September 29th: Before I went to lunch at work, I asked my coworker friend Katie if she could do a favor for me. I showed her my blank paper with a rainbow on it. I asked her if she’d help take a picture of me holding it. I wrote out the saying on it, then we went on the roof of one of the downtown parking garages. I took that picture holding that sign while potentially a thousand people looked at me through office windows. I was secretly scared. Katie knew.

How many photos does it take to make one blog post? Apparently a ton if you’re nervous and scared and have all of downtown watching you. These are ONLY the photos where my eyes were open.

I came back from lunch and knew I had to post this. I put the picture on Medium. I hit Publish. I had my 4 tweets pre-written. I posted those. DONE.

Tears of fear, happiness, anxiety, relief. Recognize the shirt and necklace from the pictures above?

Immediately I burst into a panic state, tears uncontrollably streaming down my face, and ran into the restroom at work. I posted a message on the #mental_health channel on that LGBTQ in Tech chat room: “Please someone tell me I didn’t just ruin my life.” Many people reassured me I did a beautiful thing. I still cried for about 30 minutes until Katie rescued me and took me to a coffee shop.

Within seconds of posting, friends, who were eagerly waiting, immediately started favoriting and retweeting. My phone buzzed and buzzed. Twitter notifications. Slack notifications. Text notifications. Email notifications. It didn’t stop all night. I had to silence my phone to even sleep that night.

1,162 views and 592 reads on Medium. That’s 592 people who read my post start to finish… I was astonished.

September 30: My phone was still going. Friends that missed it were catching it. I made sure to post this blog in the other chat rooms I was on, forwarded an email to the activities I was involved with. After all, I wanted to make this big. If I was going to come out, I wanted it to really empower people.

A couple of Medium publications wanted to repost my post. I authorized them. It got even MORE viral that day. 1,574 views and 765 reads on my Medium post.

To date (as of when I publish this), the post has had 7,058 views and 3,250 reads on Medium. Twitter reports that one tweet posting this story alone has 44,984 impressions, 1,959 engagements, 1,190 link clicks, 138 favorites, and 91 retweets. This doesn’t count others who have posted their own tweets about my post. This doesn’t count Facebook, which I don’t use.

I… I went viral. More viral than anything I have experienced in my lifetime. And it scared the s*** out of me.

Post-Publishing

It’s been about two weeks since publishing that post. It has been an amazing blessing.

First, the most heartfelt things people have said to me have left me practically speechless. So many people thanked me for sharing or called me brave or courageous. The ones the struck me the most were the ones that told me how strong I was or how beautiful I was. The two feelings I feel the least are the two things others seemed to find the most in me. I can’t begin to count how many messages I’ve received by tweets, email, texts, and more. They all hit me in the heart like a giant hug. It’s a bit overwhelming to get well over 150 virtual hugs in a short period of time. To hear so many people share their deep secrets with me because I shared mine with them. To hear stories of people who decided to come out too because of me . To hear SO many people tell me “thank you for sharing your story,” or “I’m so very glad you got to be who you really are meant to be,” or “your story, and you, are beautiful.” I’m practically in tears writing this just thinking about it. It was totally worth it.

The post I wrote to be empowering to others turned around and empowered me. It helped me feel less scared for the soul dump I posted online. It helped me feel like it’s OK that I’m trans. It helped me feel like maybe the horrible, awful past I had really somehow turned out to make me a wonderful, intelligent, beautiful woman. And THAT does put me to tears right now.

It fills me with joy to think my scary decision to blog about the scariest thing I’ve ever done has encouraged or empowered potentially thousands of people. I wouldn’t recommend anyone go through the gut-wrenching feeling like you just destroyed your life. Then again, maybe if you do, you’ll be blessed by a reaction you never could have imagined.

Final Thoughts

So my journey to coming out is only my own. There are millions of trans people out there and each of them have been through their own unique journey. Some have faced a lot worse issues than I have (including violence, rape, loss of housing or jobs or worse), and some have had it easier. I feel like I’ve had a comparatively easy journey despite it still not really being easy. Trans people have even lost their lives. So far 38 trans people have died in 2015 (as of this writing).

I wanted to share my story because I felt it was important to encourage others to be themselves, to pursue their dreams, to not let things hold them back. But trans stories NEED to be heard. There is still a lot of discrimination, a lot of hate, a lot of misinformation, and a lot of death (both suicide and homicide). I’ve been able to make it and have a successful life, and I continue to have wonderful things happen to me. There are many who are still afraid to be themselves, or afraid to be open with others about it. They need to be encouraged too. Several people have told me they felt more free to be themselves because of my original post, and I am very thankful. I hope many, many other trans people (or LGBTQ people in general) are able to get something out of my original story, or perhaps even this post, and are able to improve their lives.

As I’ve said before, let me know how I can help support you become who you are meant to be. Find me on Twitter at @geekygirlsarah or post a comment on here. Let me share my joy with you!