Updated: Dec 24, 2019
Two things before we begin.
First, this is my story of becoming the woman I am. It is not meant to be a blanket statement on gender identity, nor am I saying this is how other transgender or non-binary people experience what I have. Each person experiences being trans uniquely, and I do not speak for the trans community at large.
Second, there may be triggers for some who are going through a rough coming out phase or are unsure how they present themselves. There are some words that are used in context that are LGBTQ+ slurs. These may not offend you at all, but I would rather warn people just in case.
People all over the world just observed Transgender Awareness Week, a lead up to Transgender Day of Remembrance on Wednesday, November 20th. This felt like a good time to tell my story.
I am 25, and I have been out as a transwoman for two years.
What does that mean? That means I identify as a woman. I use she/her pronouns, and present myself as a woman, most of the time. I was assigned the male gender at birth, and lived much of my life identifying as male, but sort of like two puzzle pieces that don't quite fit together, something never felt right.
Identity is such a powerful thing. Exploring my own gender identity has changed the way I view myself, the world around me, and even how I create and consume art.
Gender and the Complexities of Being Transgender
So, how did I come to identify as trans?
If I had the choice to be born a woman, I would have been. If I had a magical wand I would change into a from-birth woman. Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic wand.
It took a long time to come to terms with what I felt inside. I didn't start identifying as trans until I was 23. As such, I spent a lot of my life trying to be masculine and to “be a man.”
I honestly thought most of my life I was just a weird person, because I have always wanted to dress in feminine clothes and look like a girl, but I didn't want to be a cross-dresser or be seen as a “perv” or something. I didn’t want to be known as just a “man in a dress".
I grew up hearing stories of people divorcing their spouse over it, or keeping their children away from them, just because they dress in a way that was different. It made me ashamed to feel the way I did. I tried to bury it deep within myself, and tried to pretend it wasn’t how I truly felt.
It was one of those deep, dark secrets I held in. For fifteen-plus years, it was a secret I told no one.
"That fear hasn’t entirely subsided, either."
I grew up in Oregon, which is a progressive state in ways but close-minded in others. Being raised in a relatively small, rural community like I was, you grow up in a culture that is decidedly closed off from much of that “progressiveness.”
I still live in that same old mill town where, as young as 11, I got called a fag or queer just walking down the street -- even before I came out as trans.
That experience of hatred at such a young age stuck with me and made me afraid to express myself openly. Plus, growing up with such limited exposure to diversity, I didn't really know what being transgender even meant.
I grew up around the LGBTQ+ community. I knew many gay, lesbian and bi folk, but never heard anything about the “T” of LGBTQ+. I didn’t even have the words to figure out what questions to ask, or to realize that there were so many people that have felt the way I do.
I wish I would have. It is painful living with a huge part of your identity hidden away. I knew I wanted to express this feminine side of myself, but I was always so afraid of what I would lose, or what people would say or do.
That fear hasn’t entirely subsided, either.
Discovering Myself and Coming Out
I worried how my coming out might affect my family, since I got married and had a son while still fighting my inner truth.
I first came out to my wife, knowing that it could have been something she might leave me for. Not that she is that kind of person, but she married a man and I couldn’t be that man for her anymore.
I first told her that I wanted to start dressing like a woman. Over the next few weeks, I researched for hours and read a lot of people's experiences, and it sort of hit me like a wall. It all fell together and started to make sense.
I would read someone’s story and break down crying because they had written exactly what I would've had I known how. I realized how much I had kept from myself. How much of my life I lived hollow, with a piece of me missing. I kept a facade up and, looking back, I can’t even say I know who I was trying to keep fooled: myself or everyone else.
There is a lot that goes into piecing together a newfound identity. There are aspects that happen quickly, like picking a name that fits one’s preferred gender. Others take quite a while. For instance, I have still not changed my name on any legal documentation.
Picking a name was a little hard because I didn't dislike my name before coming out. Gage isn't a bad name by any means, I just wanted a level of separation from the stuff that is connected to me and my birth name.
So after coming out, how was the response about my identity?
Those who have known me have been good about using my new name, but my mom and my wife sometimes have moments of mourning my old name. I don't blame them for that, though. I think they sometimes tie those memories of my old name to who I am, even though the only thing that has changed is my name. I am still the same person just, like, a remix of the original but better because it is a more authentic version of myself.
"I didn’t want to get so far into my transition only to let fear keep me from living the life I wanted for myself."
People who meet me as a woman by and large use my pronouns correctly. If I am out and haven't shaved in a day or two, though, I get misgendered more often than not. Which I do kind of get, but it would be cool if everyone used gender neutral terms like "they" or at stores they used "valued customer" instead of Mr./Mrs. ("Hello valued customer, how can I help you today?" is completely gender neutral and I bet would get great reviews from customers.)
By and large, I don't like going out into the community because I don't want to get harassed, but more so I don't want my kid to see that or get harassed either.
Growing up Pagan, too, was hard because of the mostly Christian community I live in, but being trans has been even harder. It is a learning process, and I have grown quite a bit since embracing a more authentic version of myself.
I started HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) to push myself to stop hiding as much. It felt like a diving board, once I got to the end I had to make a choice to either jump or give up. I didn’t want to get so far into my transition only to let fear keep me from living the life I wanted for myself.
Gender Expression and Art
Identity is such a powerful thing, and taking mine into my own hands has been a journey that has changed my entire world. It has changed the way I interact with friends and strangers alike. It has made me a stronger person. It has also changed the way I approach art.
Before exploring my gender and identity, my art was masculine and male-oriented. It was drenched in stereotypes. When I would draw myself, I drew a skinny, wonky caricature of the man I was trying to be.
I almost exclusively drew in black ink, or dark colors, rarely using bright colors. When I wrote, my central characters were often male, and portrayed overtly masculine tropes that let everyone know they were a “man’s man.”
I identified heavily with fictional characters like Hank Moody, David Duchovny’s character in Californication. Self-deprecation and heavy-drinking was a piece of my art, an identifier I thought made me more of an “artist”. Maybe I thought it made me more interesting.
"Since coming out ... the art I create is more me."
It saddens me looking back, because there were times my art was hurtful to the trans community. I had tried hard to distance myself from this part of who I am, that I would use the idea of a “man in a dress” or a male-to-female trans character as a punchline. I see now that I was trying to hide myself from facing the reality that I was scared.
And pretending it was just a joke was easier than accepting my truth.
Since coming out, I have a better understanding of my role in my artwork. I understand a subtlety of character-building in a way I never did before. My characters are more often women, or gender-fluid, and even the male characters are emotional beings instead of heavy-handed projections of “maleness”.
When I draw, there is color, and a brightness I never participated in before. I utilize abstract concepts and forms of art more often, which has opened new venues of artwork I would have never considered prior. The art I create is more me. Even the way I dress is more colorful and I use my body as a way to express my new-found joy of color and identity.
Overall I feel that my coming out was the best thing for my art, and for my life as a whole. I am a more full person, and it brings me happiness to know I am simply being my true self.