Coming out is constant, fluid, beautiful, and tiresome
Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Stone/Getty Images Plus
Coming up on one year ago, I came out of the closet publicly here on Medium as bisexual. I thought, in that moment, the hardest part was over. I came out publicly — my friends, family, colleagues, and Medium readers all knew my long-hidden secret: I am attracted to both men and women.
Naively, I thought that the hardest part was over. Little did I know, coming out is a process that is almost never done for LGBTQ+ folx. We come out over and over, day after day, sometimes countless times a day… for the rest of our lives?!
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No one prepared me for that harsh reality, but if you’re newer to being out of the closet(s) you were living in, I hope this piece will help you on your way.
You see, what I didn’t know when I first came out on Medium one year ago was that I was just getting started — my sexuality was but one piece of the equation.
It was only the beginning of my Pandora’s box of coming out. The floodgates opened that day and so began a process of coming out that was constant, continuous, arduous, and so deeply necessary to my healing.
I was deeply closeted into my early thirties and come from a religious past. I don’t hail from the deep South but rather from the heart of Hollywood, California.
I spent many years attending one of Los Angeles’ most conservative, youngest, and also deeply homophobic and transphobic churches. It had intentionally planted itself in the middle of Hollywood as an attempt to “push back” and “take back” Los Angeles from transgender and queer people who were defying Biblical norms of gender and sexuality. One of the most celebrated members of the church is a gay man who’s chosen celibacy for life. He released and authored a book on his “change of affection” around the same time I first came out.
This is the type of environment I had to overcome — and, to be quite frank, get the hell out of — in order to safely come out. In early 2019, I began my process of leaving the church and then, slowly but surely, leaving behind the messages of hate and of erasure of my people — messages that sought to silence and marginalize queer folx, trans folx, bisexual folx, gender-nonconforming folx, and more.
Looking back on some of the messages I drank in during my six-year stint with this church, it pains me to see how deep my own internalized homophobia and, yes, internalized transphobia ran. So deep was my self-hatred, I felt comfortable in an environment that spewed messages of deep dislike of the LGBTQ+ community while simultaneously and confusingly preaching to “love” us hard.
I left a community I loved. And then I left a man who held similarly damaging beliefs about queer people. And then I cried a lot (coming out a little later in life can involve a grief process as one grieves the lost years in the closet). And then I started coming out, at first by pronouncing I was bisexual. I gave a straight, cisgender life a try for 32 long years, and it left me feeling alone, isolated, and deeply unsatisfied.
There was no amount of Jesus or Bible studies or hours spent rehearsing in choir that could fill the hole of living my life as a lie — pretending to be a woman I was not and pretending to be a heterosexual person I was not.
The only true Hell I knew was the closet. And by a grace some may call God, something finally threw me out. I didn’t want to, but there I was. I came out, and guess what? The depths of Hell did not open nor eat me up nor destroy me for being bi.
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Quite the contrary, I found peace, excitement, joy, love, and new community and friendship. I realized I had nothing to lose. I was already gone from the church; I’d left my community, and many of them had unfollowed me on social media. My messages of redemptive homosexual love were surely offensive.
My coming out around my sexuality quickly began to evolve into the exploring of my gender expression and, in turn, my gender identity. I found myself in the midst of a queer snowball effect, and this avalanche of coming out could not be stopped.
My hair became a playground for my awakening gender identity. At first, I shaved just one side. But one small patch gone became one half of my head, and within six weeks, I went for it and shaved my whole head. At that point, my hair did a lot of coming out for me. At least for folx within the queer community, my shaved head signaled something about me and my gender.
And the coming out continued. I documented my transition and journey on Instagram along the way.
Today, I identify as a transgender, gay male. Things have changed.
(And look, I just came out to you, dear readers, once more. Coming out is truly never-ending.)
I’m reorienting to the world as a masculine person who identifies with manhood. Whereas people used to assume I was straight and therefore that I exclusively dated men, now the reverse is happening. Men love to talk to me about women because they make the heteronormative assumption that I exclusively date women. My gayness is constantly erased, and I find myself coming out once more to assert my queerness. Yes, I date men (and to be honest, I’m a bit confused as to where I stand with women). Interestingly, my sexuality has shifted in my gender transition.
I left Los Angeles for Oakland as a part of my coming-out process. Oakland is a city with less hostility toward trans folx and, in general, has a queer and transgender community that is vibrant and alive. Queer haven or not, my coming out is not done in Oakland, either. And I’ve realized it will never be done until we live in a society that stops defaulting to heterosexuality as the norm or gender conformity as admirable and necessary. It happens in tiny moments throughout the day.
Let’s take my name, for example: Daniel. Something I wasn’t prepared for with my name was how often people would try and misgender me with it. Let’s say I tell the barista “Daniel” when asked my name. They look at me and say “Danielle?” Presumably, it’s hard for them to see me, fully, as a “Daniel” so they hear “Danielle” because that fits better for their notions of masculinity and femininity. I calmly assert myself, “No, it’s Daniel. D-A-N-I-E-L.” And then usually the other party involved (in this case a barista) says, “Oh, I’m so sorry Daniel.” “Thank you,” I respond and walk away, leaving the barista confused because I apparently don’t yet fit societal definitions of who “Daniel” can and cannot be.
I come out any time I order food. I can’t tell you the number of times that a Postmates or Grubhub delivery person will look at me and, with a voice of skepticism, ask, “You’re Daniel?” (Maybe my muscles aren’t big enough yet or my face not masculinized enough to be believed.) These microaggressions necessitate a constant coming out.
I have to come out in work environments all the time, especially when money is involved and someone has to cut me a check. At that moment in time, because my legal name change has not yet cleared Alameda County’s court system, I am forced to disclose my birth name, a clearly feminine-marked name that was often confused for “Whitney Houston.” (We’ll leave it at that.) It’s another coming out (and an emasculating one at that).
I come out to possible dating partners. Especially with other gay men, I try and disclose early on that I am pre-op, meaning I haven’t had any gender-confirmation surgeries yet. Once more, I’m coming out about how far along I am on this transition to masculinity. It stirs up all sorts of insecurities — quelled by the rare humans who couldn’t give two shits what genitalia I have or what incision scars are on my body.
I’ve come out to my family at least 10 times in this past year. I thought I was nonbinary at first. I thought for a time I exclusively liked to date women. And I came out some more when I finally decided to take the plunge and change my name to Daniel. I was making a statement, and I was coming out to new depths of masculinity.
My family has been rocked by the constant state of coming out. While they’ve done their very best to be affirming and supportive, I can sense their anxiety that another coming out might be around the next corner.
And, they could be right. I don’t know what’s around the next corner of this queer life of mine.
But there’s something I need to address here: I believe every human being has the fundamental right to be who they are. Every human being has the right to come out of every damn closet they are living in and live as their most authentic self in life — safely and free from danger.
Coming out of the closet is a human right.
However, I would be remiss to not address the danger for some in coming out of the closet(s) that they are living in. Violence still exists for many in our community, dependent on numerous factors, like geography, race, age, and one’s religion. The Human Rights Campaign reports that 2020 has already seen at least 26 transgender or gender-nonconforming people fatally shot or killed. This violence disproportionately affects Black transgender women.
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While it wears me out, it’s also a tremendous privilege that I can, for the most part, safely assert my gender and sexuality in California. While I’ve been publicly accosted for gender nonconformity and thrown out of a store (while living in Los Angeles), I’ve never felt my life to be in danger.
There’s no place I would rather be transgender and gay than the San Francisco Bay area.
So if you’re reading this and are not yet out of any or all of the aforementioned closets, it is completely and totally okay. I speak with a certain degree of privilege in writing this article. There are parts of the country I would be uncomfortable or more afraid to be transgender. There are parts of the country where I might not fight back if the barista called me “Danielle” instead of “Daniel.”
I work for a queer-run organization in Oakland with other transgender and queer folks on staff; I carry the privilege to be “out” in my job interview. And I know I will have to come out, constantly, to the students I work with who will likely misgender me and call me “Ms.” instead of “Mr.” They won’t mean it to hurt me, but it’s just how they’ve been conditioned as a society around gender. As a teacher, I will have to teach them about gender pronouns.
Coming out is constant. Coming out is fluid. Coming out is beautiful. Coming out is hard. Coming out will push you to the limits of your being. Coming out will ask you to dig deeper into your body and heart and soul to ask questions about the deeper truth of your existence. Coming out is tiresome.
Sometimes, I want to scream and shout and kick and say, “Stop fucking calling me ‘ma’am.’ It’s ‘sir!’ I’m over this shit.”
But then I try again the next day. And I come out some more. One unexpected gift of Covid-19 is that I come out a little less than I used to as I’m not barraged by waiters misgendering me and I’m generally in less contact with other humans I need to come out to. This week, I was called “sir” by the man at the Taco Bell drive-thru. And I felt so much pride.
But I come out on Zoom a number of times a week, as I get on calls and change my name to “Daniel ~ he/him” to be clear about my gender expression. It’s a small coming out, but a coming out nonetheless.
Coming out is brave. Coming out is freeing. Coming out can be a necessary stepping stone toward greater forms of happiness, authenticity, and meaningful relationships in our lives.
It may be hard, but I promise you it’s worth it. It’s a lot to run around this world while carrying the pain of the closet. And some days I don’t have the energy to come out all over again in big or small ways.
I’ll end with a quote from James Baldwin, one of the greatest Black, gay intellectual thinkers of all time, a man whose words I adored while living, you guessed it, in the closet: “Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”