“You do you. No one else can do you. No one else can live your experience.” - @amaditalks
Lovely had left me a tearful voicemail, saying she’d gotten an upsetting call. I left a friend’s house and tried to call her back outside; no answer. A few minutes later a text hit my phone:
“[Samson], I don’t think you’ll be happy until you come out more generally. I think that if you live in a state of always being seen as a woman you’ll always be miserable. It’s hard living out, but I think you’re strong enough to do it. I threw away a couple of nice versions of my life to be out and I’ve more or less survived. Being out to a few friends in a secret Internet identity will never be good enough. I tried it and it didn’t work. I’m sorry. You’ll figure it out.”
I think my eyes emerged about a millimeter from their sockets.
I’ve talked about being “out” and “disclosing” and not–these things get very much under my skin, especially on National Coming Out Day (every damn year). This sort of eye-popping policing, especially from other trans* people, pushes me to talk about it again, especially as a nonbinary trans* person “living quietly.”
(First, an acknowledgment that terms surrounding these issues–”outness,” “stealth,” etc.–are problematic. Additionally, as @ericainchoate points out, many have been weaponized. I use these terms with a wince, scare quotes, and the general intention of turning them on their heads.)
“Stealth,” for me, is being read as my assigned-at birth gender. Unless my presentation is read as particularly androgynous or masculine on any given day, I am consistently read as a woman. (Given the cisheteronormative conflation of gender presentation and sexuality, I know I am frequently also read as “a lesbian”–but, regardless, still as “a woman.”) Based on my appearance and my name, which society considers feminine, I am generally considered a cisgender (if gender-non-conforming) woman unless I choose to disclose. “Stealth” is my default, and it means a very different thing for me than it does for many binary-aligned trans* people.
I disclose in one of two ways: I either explicitly state my identity (a nonbinary genderqueer trans* person), or I ask for my pronouns (they, them, theirs). I have disclosed my identity with many trusted friends, two very close coworker-friends, and with people in the queer community at large. Online, my blog and my profiles explicitly state my identity and pronouns. I have not disclosed my identity in my workplace at large or to my family.
This set of choices, as @pyroshy points out, “is not a binary… and not a spectrum. It’s context-dependent and complex.” There is no wrong way to disclose or be out. The results of “being out” that are visited upon people based upon disclosure or nondisclosure are not our faults, and to imply that we are responsible for others’ treatment of us based on disclosure or nondisclosure is to victim-blame. Plain and simple. It is not someone’s fault when they are attacked by a partner for not having disclosed earlier in a relationship. It is not their fault when they are fired for disclosure. When they are turned down for a date because they disclose in advance. When they are misgendered for not wearing a sandwich-board sign disclosing to all comers in advance.
To tell me that the ways in which I disclose and do not disclose are wrong choices is to blame me for the ways cisnormative society treats me. To imply that I am going about my “outness” in the wrong ways is to police my handling of my own identity. It is out-of-bounds, uncalled for, unacceptable, and even more repugnant coming from another trans* person.
Thus ends my main point. But, furthermore: a binary-aligned trans* person telling me that I need to disclose in the same way they have is to ignore not only the differences between our individual situations, but also the significant differences between the issues facing binary-aligned versus non-binary trans* people.
For Lovely, for example, who literally came out in her local paper, disclosure-at-large was part of a social transition. It came with a change in presentation, a change in name, a change in pronouns, the beginning of a struggle to reassign legal gender markers. It was a transition from being seen as occupying one binary gender to embodying the “opposite” binary gender. Certain things about her presentation continue to disclose her trans*ness for her, beyond her control. It is a struggle that is highly misunderstood and shamed by society-at-large, but a narrative that that society is becoming increasingly familiar with.
Me, on the other hand? In many ways I am already living as I would like to. Yes, it’s true that I do sanitize my presentation for work in subtle ways, but I generally dress and present as I would like. I have chosen to keep the name my parents gave me and am content with it (and fond of it). I have changed my body in some ways and am continually pondering others, but they are not part of a social transition.
I do not have a socially recognized gender role to “transition into” via disclosure. There is no legal gender marker available to me that is appropriate; the little “F” on my driver’s license is equally wrong as a little “M” would be. Most people are not familiar with gender-non-specific pronouns and would not apply them to me (or to anyone) based simply on disclosure. There is no simple way for me to disclose: imagine the difference between stopping someone on the street or in conversation and saying and saying, “No, I’m a man” versus “No, I’m nonbinary and genderqueer”–both may require a conversation, and both may end in a lack of acceptance by the other person, but there is a much higher likelihood that they’re familiar with the former narrative as opposed to the latter. Making some sort of public announcement would not change the fact that anyone I meet is unlikely to perform anything other than a “stealth” misgendering.
In short, some sort of blanket, megaphone-assisted disclosure would do little to nothing to change the prevailing way I am misgendered and treated by society at large. In my specific case, the implication that it would is to imply that the way I live, without broad disclosure, is somehow inauthentic, incomplete, or inappropriate.
The ways that disclosure might change my social existence–and I assume this is at least partially what Lovely was trying to get at–is that more people who personally know me MIGHT begin to see me as “other-than-woman,” and MIGHT use my pronouns. I didn’t realize how much getting my pronouns made a difference in my comfort until I spent the summer with people who use my pronouns and then went back to work with people who don’t.
But: I know that even friends and acquaintances to whom I have disclosed fail to consistently see me as anything other than a woman, or to use my pronouns even after my continued insistence. I know that disclosure would mean being fired from my current job and possibly blackballed from my profession (teaching K-12) in a majority of states. I know that disclosure would mean immediate further rejection from a family who is already emotionally controlling and abusive, and currently working to accept my sexuality.
Given all this? Disclosure-at-large ain’t worth it. I weigh those risks and benefits and come out with–well, with what I’ve already been doing as far as (non-)disclosure.
All this description of my own situation and justification of my own choices of disclosure, by the way? are absolutely unnecessary. Nobody needs to justify, explain, or defend the choices they make surrounding disclosure. I’m doing so here mainly to highlight some contrasts in different experiences. (I don’t mean to claim my experience or Lovely’s as typical or representative of all or even most nonbinary or binary-aligned trans*/GNC people.) And perhaps I also do it because I have been stung to the point that I feel the need to protest, to protect myself and justify my choices against the prevailing bullshit of “outness-as-ideal.”
“I feel like you always want to tell me about these same problems,” Lovely said, by way of explaining where that text had come from.
The problems I happened to be sharing that day? The ways my experiences and struggles as “quietly” nonbinary are often ignored, minimized, or dismissed by binary-aligned trans* people.
Q.E. fucking D.
It really does hurt more when it comes from your own.