I was on an LGBTQ panel a couple weeks ago and a friend who is a transgender woman said something that really stuck out to me. She said that when you are over forty and trans, basically society taught us to lie. We had to lie to be safe, we had to cover up who we were to survive. When a person spends their first forty years having to lie and hide who they really are, how does that effect every part of that persons life.
Wow, it is true that many people have had to cover up parts of who they are to be safe. What kind of lasting effect does that have on people? What effects does that have on our relationships? As I contemplate these questions, something inside me knows that this has had a deep effect on many aspects of my life and the lives of all who have lived that experience. The idea of don’t ask, don’t tell is even asking people to lie, to cover up. When we work and live in a world where others can have pictures of who they love in the work place and gay people could not, or have to play a game or a part that is not true to who we are each day by how we present in order to be safe and have or keep a job. Many people have had to hide who they are to be accepted. When anyone has to do this for years how can living a life of lies like this not change a person? Having to live like that is existing under a constant state of hyper-pressure. Living in fear of being found out and what the consequences of that would be. These are real fears as many have lost jobs, been kicked out of families, churches, circle of friends or worse.
I think of relationships that I had with good people who would say things to me like ” you don’t talk to me enough about the real stuff.” How can you when as a trans person, different from many of my gay friends, I did not think I could even share with partners what I was dealing with inside. How do you share or expect a partner or even close friends in the south in the 80’s to understand this? There was no support group where I was and the internet was not there yet to find community. We were very isolated at that time and before. This experience has stayed with me in many ways, like with trusting people or always wondering if people really understand you or accept you fully. Those parts of me that were trained for so many years to carefully navigate the world take a time to work through if one ever totally does, it is certainly a form of PTSD.
Then when I finally got out of the south and felt I was in a safe enough space to share there were close friends from the south who said things to me like, “why didn’t you feel like you could tell me.” It is hard not to laugh when people say such things. No matter how nice you were to me, you were nice as I presented, fitting into certain boxes that you were comfortable with. If I no longer fit into those boxes how was I to have any idea you would still accept me. How was I, or anyone like me, to know who to trust? Then coming out about being transgender and being very public about it, I have seen that people respond in many different ways. Some have come through and been able to talk with me and accept it and some have not, which is alright. I have to give others the same room to walk whatever their journey is, as I have asked for the safe space to walk mine.
It is a good thing that many young people today don’t understand this because we have been riding the wave of positive change in many ways. Much of the world is much more accepting than when I was a young person and I am glad for that. It is still important to understand that many of us did not grow up with that freedom and it has had lasting effects on us and our community. No one should have to live a life of lies to be safe or be able to have a job, love who they want to and progress in the world. If each of us let the people in our lives know that we want all to have the safe space and freedom to live authentically we can change this.