This is an essay I wrote a few weeks ago. After sharing it with several other transsexuals, it seems to speak to the experience of a lot of us. It’s my attempt to explain what life is like for us in the closet, before coming out. Hopefully it makes it a clearer why coming out is so important to us.
When transsexuals come out to their friends and family one of the most daunting tasks is explaining why they’re doing it. Why can’t they just hold it inside a bit longer to make sure they’re not making a mistake? Why aren’t they dissuaded by the negative effect it’s likely to have on the loved ones around them? Why not wait to see if counseling or medication can make the desire go away?
The questions miss what drives the decision to transition. People asking these kind of questions don’t comprehend life from a closeted transsexual’s perspective. This is an attempt to explain how transsexuals see life while “in the closet.”
The thing to understand about the life of a closeted transsexual is that they are endlessly putting on a show. Every day, every interaction, every time they even think they might be observed, a closeted transsexual is studying the situation hard, grasping for clues regarding what kind of behavior is expected of them in a nerve-wracking struggle to fit in. They’re not doing this because they want to. They’re doing it because, as their experience has shown, their natural inclinations for how to act are wrong for someone of their perceived gender; sometimes subtly wrong, sometimes glaringly wrong. When these “wrong” things come out sometimes it simply means an awkward silence… sometimes it means mockery and humiliation. It feels random and unguessable and leads to a deeply ingrained sense that they must never be their self around other people. And so their life, to the extent anyone else can witness it, is an endless and tiring acting job.
But living your life as an act has serious consequences, which only get more severe with time.
The first consequence is isolation. Because the act never stops, there is always some distance kept between the transsexual and everyone else in their lives. Parents, siblings, spouses, children, friends… none ever get to know the real person behind the act. Not truly. If anyone gets too close they might see behind the curtain… they might see that inner nature, which is the stuff of awkward silences, stares, and mockery. That thought is inconceivable to the transsexual, and so they pull away from emotionally intimate relationships in ways sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious. This leaves them intensely lonely, no matter how many friends and relationships they might appear to have. To the transsexual, all those relationships belong to the character they play… not to their real self.
Which brings us to the second consequence, indirectly implied above – self-loathing. No one hides so deeply in a closet because they desire it. They hide because they fear being found out. Some think of it in terms of hiding their “secret.” But it’s quite a bit larger than that. What they’re hiding is their true self – their real personality; their honest opinions and thoughts; their very sense of who they are. But the act of hiding only deepens the sense that their true self is hateful, loathsome, and terribly unworthy. Better to let others be fooled by the act, lest they glimpse this shameful truth. This tends to be something not thought about in rational terms while in the closet. Rather it’s a gut-level sense of guilt that never goes away and which the transsexual can’t bear to scrutinize logically.
Over time these items are about as self-destructive upon mental and emotional health as one can imagine. Every success is tinged with a sense they didn’t deserve it and wouldn’t have achieved it if people really knew who they were. Every social event is a new sub-plot in an ongoing and ever-more wearisome act. The closeness they observe in others around them is like salt in an open wound they cannot ever mention. Over time they develop hobbies they despise and feign disgust at things they love because their decisions about such things are driven by a desire to seem “normal” to others while avoiding “slipping up” by getting too honest about their self.
Eventually, as one might guess, this becomes too great a burden. This drives many to severe substance abuse, depression, and eventually suicide. The rate of all of these things is shockingly high among the transsexual population, and that’s only counting those who have come forward and finally admitted their transsexualism. It’s impossible to tell how many are driven to this in silence without ever telling another soul about their secret transgender-fueled demons.
It’s very hard for someone who has lived with this stuff their whole lives to explain it easily to those who have not. To others the coming out part seems like a bizarre act, and a selfish one at that. But to a transsexual it’s the first time they’ve ever actually stopped acting and finally expressed them self honestly. No matter how it looks, it doesn’t feel the least bit selfish. And the notion of going back to pretending they are the person they portrayed while in the closet seems nonsensical. The whole purpose of that act was to avoid revealing the same truth they’re openly admitting by coming out.
When a transsexual has reached the point that they are willing to come out it is only after a long and increasingly desperate struggle to overcome a lifetime of isolation, self-loathing, and deception. It’s not an easy step. Many people kill themselves rather than ever take it. If you truly care about such a person the worst possible thing you can do at that point is to try to push them back into their closet by suggesting they wait, or hold it in for others sake. All that does is validate the notion that people would despise their true self if they ever dared to reveal it. That’s not some transient fear to a transsexual, it’s a debilitating phobia they’ve struggled with all their lives.
Hopefully this helps to explain a bit more about life in the closet from a transsexual perspective, and makes the coming out aspect more understandable to those in their lives.