Life After The Closet

There’s no good way to come out to your parents.

I tell mine on a Thursday night, after sitting through my least favourite episode of Sherlock with them so I can get them before they go to bed. Before bed seems like the best way to go about it, a clear and easy escape route. I’ve been planning this with intent for about a week–which, if you consider my personality, and the fact that I’ve been thinking about it for over a year, is downright spontaneous for me. During that week I type and print a heavily edited and peer-reviewed series of dot points–not a speech, that would be weird–of what I’ll tell them.* I print out a 64 page pamphlet, ~How Not To Fuck Up Having A Trans Kid~, that they can read at their leisure. It’s a way to control as many variable as possible. I know exactly what to say. I plan for every possible eventuality. I plan everything.

When it comes to it, the words “I’m transgender”, arguably the most straightforward part, are surprisingly hard to articulate. They cling to my throat on the way up.

As soon as I say them I want them back.

I make it the rest of the way through my speech and look up. I planned for every possible eventuality: anger, crying, it’s a phase, you’re wrong, get out. So wouldn’t it be delightful that their reaction was none of those anticipated possibilities.
Mum starts to hyperventilate. Dad is, for the first time in my memory, at a loss for things to say. I sit, horribly aware I may have just broken my family. There is nothing, really, to be said.
I go to bed, they stay up and talk. The next morning I hide in my room until everyone leaves. Dad rings to say he wrote me an email. The email says that they both love me but they’re not ready yet. “What if she’s wrong?” Dad says they’re scared–not of me, but for me. He had to clarify. I have a panic attack, because nothing will ever be the same ever again. I go to a party at a friend’s place, and when I come home everything is Normal. Everything is the same. We don’t talk about red rimmed eyes, or how it feels like someone died.
***
People talk about the catharsis of coming out, the relief that comes with not hiding.
For ten months I haven’t felt anything but regret.
***
Month One
Dad and I have several conversations, all of which end in my comforting him. He gets overwhelmed by the details, the viscera. He doesn’t know how to ask if I’m gay or straight, and I’m not sure he knows what either of those things would mean for me any more.
I’m told not to tell my grandparents, like I’m new to this. I’m asked if I want to tell dad’s brother and sister, when I’m going to tell my brother. I’ve only done this once and I’m already so, so tired. I don’t want to all over again. We don’t talk about telling the other side of the family because that would involve bringing mum into it.
Everything’s still Normal, everything’s still the same.
Mum doesn’t say anything about it. The pamphlet I gave them stays unread.
***
For a process about self-actualisation, about vocalising who you are, coming out is overwhelmingly about how other people feel. I’m supposed to pick the right time, I’m supposed to say the right things, I’m supposed to break the news easy, I’m supposed to make myself easily understood. I’m supposed to tell people because I love them, not because they love me. Coming out is not a thing you do for yourself, it’s a thing you do for others.
If it were ever about me, someone would have told me not to do it.
***
Month Two
University tutors call me the right name as soon as I ask them to. Some of them even call me “he”. I write an article for a student publication about Laura Jane Grace and, like that, I am out in print for the first time. I go to Mardi Gras, I come home late and flying. I forget about waiting for them to be ready, just for a bit, and start to think maybe I could start living instead. I make new friends, and the number of people who have never heard my legal name grows every week.
Month Three
My parents have started say my legal name more. I’m not sure if it’s just paranoia causing me to notice it more than I usually would, or if they’ve subconsciously started using it more, calling me “she” and “baby girl” more. Like they could remind me of who I used to be, or who I’m supposed to be. Like if they say the name enough they can conjure up the person who went with it. Like Peter Pan, if they believe hard enough she’ll be real again, she’ll be real at all. Like they’re talking about a ghost.
I begin to understand what it’s like to be mourned because my whole fucking house is a funeral.
I write a poem about coming out and read it and everyone tells me how sad it was. I win a poetry slam because I do a poem about being trans and everyone tells me my parents are the worst, just the worst. I don’t know if I feel sad so much as disappointed. I don’t know that I will ever not feel disappointed by what happened.
***
Depending on how it goes, Coming Out is a different part of the shitty indie movie, the queer bildungsroman. If it goes badly, it’s somewhere in the middle. If it goes well, it’s at the end. It doesn’t ever not feel like something’s ending, though. It’s hard, even in the most accepting of spaces, to feel like you’re not failing someone each time.
It makes me so unbelievably furious that it’s an expectation of being queer that you tell people. That you put “personal integrity” above your own safety. That you go through the terror, the humiliation, the danger, so that people might be able to try to understand you, respect you.
That it doesn’t fucking work.
Month Four
 
Dad tells my brother one day while I’m out with friends.
He sends me a text that starts “hey Charlie”, and the rest is unimportant. I cry a lot into my gelato, and it’s the first time I feel truly sad about everything else.
Dad calls me “Chuckles”, once, in a text. Chuckles is not my name, it is not a name, it is not even a nickname. It is what you do when something is a joke.
 
Month Five
 
The thing that convinced me to come out when I did, the thing which clinched it, was finding a letter my parents had written me while I was away on a camp in Year 6. Towards the end of the letter they’d written: “above all else we pray that you will always love yourself, be proud of yourself, and be a confident, happy person”. As a trans person, I am becoming these things. I thought they would understand that. I thought they would respect that.
I realise that my parents love me, but they don’t respect me.
I crumple that letter up but I can’t bring myself to throw it away.
Mum still hasn’t said a word to me about it.
Month Six
The last night I housesit for a friend, the cat sits next to me on the couch and leans on me as I cry. I tell the cat I don’t want to go back.
When I move back to my parent’s house, I realise I have stopped thinking of myself as someone who has a home.
Month Seven
Staying out late enough that I have to pay $40 for a taxi home starts to seem like a favourable alternative to just, being home. Coming home late and drunk and waking up more and more tired seems easier than having empty conversations with my parents where we don’t say anything that matters. Acting out seems easier than saying “hey, I’m not going to do the dishes until you start calling me by my fucking name.”

You give someone a part of you, you know, you say “this is me, have this”, and they raise their palms and say “I don’t want this.” It’s hard not to feel hatred, just a bit. It’s hard not to feel hated.

***
The thing about telling people you’re queer is it’s not something that can be elegantly brought up. As a fundamental part of your identity that should, in a less disgustingly normative world, be so everyday as to not warrant mention, there’s just never a great time. I still haven’t worked out the right moments to say something, the least uncomfortable ways to say it. Even at uni, the only place where people actually use my name, the words “I’m transgender” feel heavy and alien on my lips. I haven’t stopped feeling like it’s the wrong thing to say. I haven’t stopped hearing my mother’s ragged breath.
Month Eight
I haven’t spoken to dad about it in several months. I haven’t spoken to mum about it at all.
Maybe they’ve forgotten. Maybe that’s alright, I think. Maybe that’s easier. Maybe we don’t have to bring it up.
I realise my mum never even said anything about it the night I told her. She never said anything at all.
***

There’s no good way to start an argument with your parents. How do you begin a conversation after eight months of silence? Remember when I told you I was trans, guys? Remember when you irrevocably fucked that one up? Yeah. Good times. When does it become a good time to demand respect for your humanity? My parents love me, but they don’t respect me. Respect is not an easy thing to earn from people who haven’t bothered to learn your name.

The easiest way to make something not exist is to stop saying its name.

***

Month Nine

Dad reads “HE / HIM / HIS” off the bracelet on my wrist and says “oh.”

I tell my parents I want to move out, they say “oh.”

It occurs to me that I could tell them most things and they would respond with equal feigned nonchalance. For the first time I understand this normalcy as an illusion, forced. It’s oddly freeing. I stay out late, I catch taxis home, I sleep until everyone has left the house. Uni finishes for the year, and it becomes strange to be home for dinner, it becomes strange to be home sober. I’m a beligerent little shit, a lot of the time, because if they’re not going to talk about it, why should I?

The easiest way to make something not exist is to stop saying its name. It’s easiest if I don’t exist, in my parent’s house. I make it not my home, because I stop saying its name, too.

***

Thinking about ten months ago still makes me anxious. I hear conversations, I watch movies, I see my play, and in my head I am ten months ago in my living room and the world is falling apart all around me and I can’t speak, the words clinging to my throat like they did then. It didn’t even go that badly for me, all things considered, and it still feels like this, it will always, always feel like this.

The thing about coming out to anyone is that you are transparent, and people will see what they want to see in you like it’s just behind where you stand. The thing about being transparent is you start covering yourself with opaque things. The thing about being honest with my parents ten months ago is that it made me more secretive. The recurring realisation that I trust my parents less, now, after telling them, that I don’t trust them at all, is terrifying. I love my parents, but I don’t respect them.

***
Being in the closet means fitting your life around other people’s. Being out hasn’t felt that much different.
It’s not the kind of thing you just encourage anyone to do. It’s not the kind of thing you slap a “bravery”sticker on and applaud. It’s not something that ends when the conversation is over. It’s the kind of thing that alters the landscape of a life.
I can’t imagine I’ll ever not regret telling them when I did. It will always seem better to have waited, moved out, not said anything at all. If there’s a thing I don’t regret, it’s knowing what they think of me.
***
Month Ten
I’ve started thinking maybe it’s gotten better. They use my legal name less, they call me “girl” less, they stop telling me off for being home so late, always always.
I treat my home like my job, populated with people who I can vaguely tolerate calling me the wrong thing as long as I’m only there the absolute minimum I have to be. I have my brother, who calls me his brother, I have my friends, I have moving out. I start an internship where everyone calls me Charlie and I’m out before the interview is even over. I start thinking maybe things could become okay.
I come downstairs the morning after the preview of the show I’m directing and dad asks how it went. At a loss for words that could pin down the euphoria I feel, I grin.
“Was it not good?” Dad calls at the silence.
“She’s smiling,” my mum replies.
There is no good way to start a fight with your parents, and, still, I don’t.
I regret this.
*The word document, which still exists, is titled “do_you_think_mackleman_could_turn_this_into_a_rap_i_could_make_$$$.docx”

175 thoughts on “Life After The Closet

  1. I am personally really proud of you for coming out and being who you want to be. I myself am young, so maybe I don’t understand completely, but I know that coming out as a lesbian to my parents was one of the hardest things to do. I felt like they wouldn’t love me as much or something but everything turned out okay. Obviously, you are older than me (so maybe you don’t want to hear this from me) but I just want you to know that you are you and no one can change that. If someone, anyone really, doesn’t respect that, then screw them. Never, EVER, let someone oppress who you are. Don’t be what anyone wants you to be, but who YOU want to be. Things will get better.

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  3. Hi. I read what you wrote (you write beautifully) and I just feel for you. I’ve told my own mum about something pretty important about me (not my trans identity) and got the same treatment. She just allowed maybe 5 seconds of embarrassed silence then she redirected the conversation on something else, not realizing how violently rejected I felt. It was 3 years ago and since then we never spoke about it again. It’s as if I said nothing. And my dad is even worse. You say your parents love you but don’t respect you. I even question now if mines love me. It feels as if the person they love is a construction they shaped with their own desires and expectations. The person they love is not me. I find this thought very depressing. I don’t plan to tell them about my trans identity anymore, I’m too hurt by this first reaction to my other big secret. Think they well could react the exact same way. Anyway we don’t have much choice other than to move forward, with or without them. I know how it hurts though so I compassionate to your experience..

  4. What an amazing, emotional, read. You are an incredible man and i hope it gets better for you.. You deseve it.

  5. Nice to meet you Charlie! Your a very descriptive writer. I am deeply sorry for your pain, and as the mother of a son I can tell you with great sincerity you are the kind of son every parent would be proud to have. Is it possible that your parents just need more time to come to turns with the loss of their daughter before they will be able to build a new relationship with their son? The older we are it seems the longer it takes us to adjust to new ways of seeing new circumstances. Sending you, and your parents positive thoughts. With deepest respect! G-uno

  6. Raw and moving… Keep Standing Charlie… Just be you!

  7. I bet all parents would react like that. Mine was a simple case of moving from maths class to sociology class and yet these folks don’t seem to get over it. Just let them know you are like who you are and they don’t have any say on that. They will come around eventually

  8. Reblogged this on Escape From Enlightenment and commented:
    I want to write something, but I am at a loss for words … this is so raw and real.

  9. I wish there was something I can say, something I can do to make it all better, but I know I can’t…. I’ve not witnessed it, might never witness it, and don’t know what’s it’s like. Yes, I was close to it once, when I told my parents about whom I want to marry, and my dad didn’t talk to me for a few months. But things are better now, though they too don’t talk about it. She is never mentioned, as if she doesn’t exist. And I always feel like they’re ignoring her existence, though sooner or later, they will have to accept her.

    It’s an odd feeling. Tears that were in my mom’s eyes, anger and sadness on father’s face. I know at times I wish I can go back there and fix it, but that will mean leaving a part that is very dear to me, a person who means my world to me, and I know I will never do that.

    Good luck for your journey. I hope things will get better. I hope, cause that’s all I can do…

  10. Stunningly written Charlie, thanks for sharing. I hope your parents learn some day, but whether they do or not I hope you have the happy life you deserve as the real you.

  11. I’m crying. You are amazing. Amazing.

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