Throughout my process of coming out as trans over the last year or so, I’ve sometimes craved responses more like, “Oh, sure, that makes perfect sense. Why did it take you so long to figure it out?” I wanted my parents to think back to when I was a kid, and say “I can totally see that” or “we always knew.” I wanted friends to say “I was just waiting for you to figure it out! Of course I’m not surprised!” When trans* people tell each other our “how I knew” or “how I came out” stories, I’ve noticed we sometimes highlight those responses, we talk about the friend or the grandma or whoever-it-was that wasn’t surprised.
But the fact is, at least for people who knew me as an adult, “trans” probably isn’t the first thing they would have guessed, even if they could sense something was “off” or “different.”
I’ve craved more of these responses because, as much as I want to claim agency in my transition, a lot of the time, I still think this is kind of a crazy idea. The more other people see it as something “obvious,” the less responsibility I have to take. I have highly trained the rational part of my brain. For goodness sake, I have a PhD in mathematics. In general, in pretty much all of life, I really want things to make sense. But transition? I’m the one doing this. I’m the one who can see and feel how my life as changed for the better, and I still have trouble seeing this as something reasonable or rational. Is this internalized transphobia? Sure. Probably at least a little bit. But I think it’s also a marker of the reality that yeah, trans-ness is out of the ordinary. The fact is, most people don’t feel this way. In a way, this doesn’t seem like it makes sense because for most people, it doesn’t.
But as I progress through this last big portion of coming out at work, and have conversations with close friends through these next steps, a theme has emerged. I might not be getting that “Oh, of course!” response I thought I wanted, but I am getting responses like “Whatever you’re doing it’s working. You seem really good,” also comments like, “You do seem so much more comfortable” or “I can tell you’ve been really happy.” There’s also a theme of “You are different — I couldn’t have put a finger on what was off before, but this is clearly way better.” Those responses may not let me off the hook in quite the way I wish, at least at the times I don’t want to be in charge of this, but they do reflect how getting to this point has felt. Yes, I can easily look back now and see the signs. Yes, I can see critical timepoints, especially in young adulthood, when I shut this down out of self-preservation, and I can see all the ways I was working hard “not to know” — for a really long time. But even so, my process over the last year has been one of growing into myself, of finding a way to more completely inhabit my life, of discovering myself as a whole person, even though I hadn’t quite realized before that I was missing out on major pieces of the puzzle. This wasn’t a process of consciously knowing, and finally deciding or finding the tools to take steps, nor was it a process of acknowledging a self that somehow everyone except me saw clearly from the outset. I don’t think any of us really knew I was in here, but now that I’ve arrived, I’m recognizable — to all of us.