Last Friday I did something that was either very brave or very foolish, and only time will tell which it was. I came out as transgender to a work colleague. I hadn’t planned on coming out in this way, but circumstances and conversation conspired to give me the perfect opportunity to let someone I trust know about my true nature.
I work in a large office environment in a financial institution. For the last couple of weeks we have had auditors in our office checking our team’s work. So far so dull. One of these auditors is a very camp and effeminate (as opposed to feminine) man whom everyone assumed to be gay. Of course we shouldn’t make such assumptions really, and since I’m writing this blog wearing a red and white mini-dress and a pair of 4-inch heels I’m probably not in a position to call anyone else camp or effeminate, but there you go.
(A quick note for anyone outside the UK and Ireland: Just in case this particular usage of the word “camp” hasn’t travelled, it is descriptive of a stereotypically theatrical way for a gay man to speak and act. Liberace would be a good example)
Anyway, Mr Camp called my boss, who is a woman, into a side office to discuss some of his findings. Just after she closed the door behind her my colleague Lauren, who is someone with whom I have always got on extremely well, announces loudly
“We should have sent Bob in there instead, he’d have got a better reaction”.
Everyone looked round at her and then, looking at me, she added
“You know, because you’re a bit camp”
Everyone had a big laugh at this, apart from me. I have never thought in my male guise I was remotely camp, and couldn’t help but wonder if my relatively recent escalation of my female side was starting to affect how I acted as Bob. So while everyone was having a good laugh at my expense, I took the comment a little bit to heart.
Once the general commotion had died down, I shuffled over to Lauren’s desk and asked her;
“Do you really think I’m a bit camp”
“No, not at all. It’s only a joke. Why, do you think you’re camp?”
“Well I didn’t think so but I wondered if you had picked up on something about me that everyone else had missed”
This comment of course was more or less the point at which I had sort-of-decided to let the cat out of the bag. It wasn’t necessarily as conscious as that, but I knew which way this conversation was going. Anyhow, we carried on talking…
“What has everyone else missed?” she asked
“Just something about me that nobody else knows”
“Does your wife know”
“But nobody else?”
“Some other people know, but they don’t really count” (referring to my fellow members of the Butterfly Club)
“What is it then?”
“I can’t tell you. I would be afraid of what you would think”
“It can’t be that bad. Would I be shocked? Are you really gay?”
“No, I’m not gay. I only fancy women”
“Have you been having an affair”
“No, I only sleep with my wife”
“Well it can’t be that bad then. It’s probably not that juicy at all”
“If this got out about me, it would probably be the juiciest piece of gossip ever in this office. I don’t think it’s bad at all, but there are definitely people in this office who would be disgusted and would never look at me in the same light again. Some of them might never speak to me again, or maybe even refuse to work with me”
“Well I’m not easily shocked. You know I’m broad minded and you know I have gay friends. I promise whatever it is I won’t ever tell anyone, not even my husband”
At this point she could see I was becoming a bit uncomfortable so she changed tack a bit and decided to inform me what she would consider unacceptable. Her unacceptable list was short, but was pretty much a list of sexual activities with an unconsenting and vulnerable partner be it child, adult or other species. Obviously being transgender is not part of that list. So she finished her list and said;
“If it’s not on that list or something like it I promise I will be fine with it, and I will never tell anyone unless you give me permission”
“If you knew the truth, you would never look at me the same way again and I can’t be sure how you will react”
Then the guessing games began
“Are you gay”
“Are you into gimp masks and leather?”
“Are you into animal porn?”
“OK maybe not that then”
“Look”, I replied, “it’s not about sex. It’s about who I am”
“Do you have a vagina?”
“No I don’t. Although you’re actually closer now”
“Are you really Roberta not Bob?”
“Er, not exactly”
“What do you mean ‘not exactly’? Are you a drag queen?”
This then precipitated a quick lecture from me on what exactly a drag queen is, and how I am not a drag queen. However, by this stage the guessing was getting so close to the truth that I finally came out and said it;
Probably the scariest three syllables I have ever spoken to another person. She looked at me, eyes wide, and asked
“What does that mean?”
So I drew an imaginary line in the air. At one end I said were transvestites or crossdressers, men who enjoy wearing women’s clothing but who continue to identify exclusively as male. At the other end were transsexuals, people who identify as women, were born in a male body but live or want to live permanently as a woman. These are the two ends of the scale, but the whole scale encompasses being transgender. I told her I was somewhere in the undefined grey area between the two extremes, and I quite often feel more female than male. I told her I had only just started going to a transgender support group, and I wanted to spend more time as a woman.
She looked at me, eyes wide open, smiling and slowly shaking her head.
“Wow. I would never have guessed that about you”
Then there was a barrage of questions. Do I dress at home, or do I go out too? What does my wife think? Do I use a different name when presenting as female? She seemed to be genuinely interested and sympathetic. Then she apologised profusely for calling me camp in case I had been terribly offended, which of course I hadn’t. Anyway, once the questioning had died down a little she then said to me
“You have to be who you are, not who others expect you to be”
Isn’t that a great philosophy for life? Sadly, being who I really am could potentially bring great problems to me and my family if the wrong people found out. Certainly there are people in my office, and in fact in my own team, who are from the highly judgemental strain of evangelical Christianity and who wear their homophobia on their sleeve. I have no doubt that they would be equally transphobic. There are also people in my office who live quite near to me, and if they knew about Kirsty then word would be around the neighbourhood before too long. Most people would probably be tolerant, but a very small minority could make life extremely difficult not just for me, but for my entire family.
I asked Lauren if she would like to see a picture of me dressed, and she enthusiastically accepted my offer. This is the first picture I showed her, which had actually been taken the previous evening. She stared at it for a while, and then said
“You look great, and so different from how you are now. I don’t think I would have known it was you. Who did your make-up?”
“I did it myself”
“It’s really good. You’re better at it than me” (This is not true. She is doing evening classes in hair and beauty.)
I showed her a few other photos, including one of me in a fairly short dress. She said my legs were better than most women’s. Whether true or not, it certainly felt great to hear that. Most of all though, it felt great to just be able to talk to somebody about this side of me that was hidden for so long.
Then she asked a question that I hadn’t expected, and I hadn’t really given serious consideration to. She asked if I would like to be “that way” all the time. I thought about this for quite a while and the answer became clear.
“Yes. But I can’t, so it’s not worth thinking about.”
“That is really sad” she replied, and she seemed quite upset for me.
All of this took place a week ago, on a Friday afternoon. I was a little apprehensive going back into work on Monday morning, but she treated me the same way she always does, with no awkwardness. She didn’t mention my confession again until Wednesday, when she asked how I felt about having told her. I said I was fine, and I trusted her not to say anything. She seems genuinely touched that I would entrust this secret to her, and I am not concerned about her outing me.
We have had a few more chats since then, some short, some longer, and without fail it is a great help to me to have another person I can speak to about these things. I do try to be honest with my wife about what I do and how I am feeling, but I often end up upsetting her so sometimes it’s better to say nothing. It’s a lot easier to chat with someone who isn’t directly affected in the same way, but who offers a sympathetic ear.
There are a few other people to whom I will out myself in due course, but not many. It needs to be someone I know well, and whom I trust completely. But having done it once, I can say that I feel much better for having done it, and I have a friend who I believe thinks more of me now for being honest with her. Not bad for an overreaction to a stupid bit of office banter really.
Till next time