Originally posted at In Our Words, and reposted with permission.
March 1998, from March 2012
Can I call you Rebecca? I know you haven’t told many people that name. It’s one of the names mom and dad chose for you before you were born, one you’ve been using in your head since mom mentioned it while working on that genealogy project with you. I know it’s a private name for you right now, but things change. I promise they do.
This letter is coming from the year 2012, fourteen years in the future. You’re thirteen, I’m twenty-seven. You’re exploring your identity on the Internet, trying to figure out what “transgender” means and whether it applies to you. I’m writing about my identity on the Internet, trying to explain to others what “transgender” means and how it applies to me. And, from that perspective, I wanted to write you this letter.
Don’t let anyone tell you who you are. You know who you are. You know what you are. Doctors and therapists and family can help with that journey, but that can’t decide it for you. They also can’t do it for you. I know you’re dying for someone to step in and take the lead, to transition for you, to tell you what to do. And you’ll find doctors and therapists who will help along the way. But no one does it for you.
Put another way: it doesn’t get better. But you will make it better. Continue reading 'It Doesn’t Get Better (But You’ll Make It Better) – A letter to my younger self'»
This piece is cross-posted at In Our Times, an awesome blog collecting various queer Chicago writers and viewpoints. I’ve just started writing with them, and can’t speak highly enough of the work they’re doing.
When I first came out to my parents as transgender, at around fourteen, I had a lot of unspoken questions: What did wanting to be a girl mean, when the whole world thought I was a boy? Could I ever be happy? How would this change our relationships? And, perhaps most important of all, how would transitioning from being a boy to being a girl work? What would that process be like?
I was lucky in some ways. I didn’t wonder whether my parents would kick me out of the house, or stop supporting me, or beat me, or any of the horrible things that happen all-too-often when trans youth come out to the adults in their lives. And when I said those terrifying words, “I think I want to be a girl,” my parents responded with love and compassion. My mom said, “We will love you, no matter what.” My dad said, “We’ll love you, whatever you are. As long as you’re not a Republican.” (The source of my own sense of humor was never a big mystery.) However, they didn’t know how to address my unspoken questions — or even know that those questions existed.
I tell this story a lot, and I do so for two reasons: First, to highlight a way in which my parents were awesome, by responding to my coming out by reiterating their love for me. But also to highlight a way in which they fell short, to highlight their ignorance around what it meant to be trans, to have a trans child. I tell the story of my coming out to focus on the difference between tolerance and acceptance, which my parents absolutely displayed, and support, which they didn’t know how to provide. Continue reading 'How to Be a Better Ally to Trans Folks in Four Steps'»
My parents aren’t perfect. I doubt any are. And, yet, I feel pretty lucky to have them. I’ve talked about my coming out experience, and how – even though my parents responded with love – I wish they had responded to my coming out with understanding. With the knowledge to say, “Yup. And this is what we do about that.” I wish there had been things like summer camps for trans youth, or conferences for their families, or books for parents, or any of the things that have really come to light in the last decade or so. At the same time, I feel lucky and fortunate to have the parents I do.
I was reminded about this when my mom sent me a link to a Chicago Tribune article titled Study: Family ties cut suicide rate for LGBT youth. In fact, my parents responded on a similar script to what the article suggests:
[One of the study authors] said parents can make a difference. It’s important parents respond with love and acceptance from the moment their child tells them he or she is gay, and that’s true even if parents need time to process the information.
“You can say something like: ‘I’m glad you shared that with me and I love you no matter what. This is new for me and I have to think about it, but I want you to know that I loved you before you told me and I love you now,'” he said.
Continue reading 'Thanks, mom and dad'»
Presented in partnership with The Qu. Enjoy!
While driving to work yesterday, I was listening (as I so often do) to 848 on Chicago Public Radio. They had a guest on the show, Christena Nippert-Eng, who had just released Islands of Privacy, a book which discusses how, when, and why we do (or don’t) keep secrets, stay private, or disclose information about ourselves.
The discussion was particularly interesting to me because I’ve had such a complex and conflicted relationship with privacy in my own life. For many years, I was closeted. My trans identity, my identity as a woman, was a private, secret, thing. Cause for feelings of shame and embarrassment. Forays into femininity were clandestine and brief. Coming out to people was an event something which required forethought and planning as I chose to make a private aspect of myself slightly more accessible.
Now, much of what was private in my life is public: this blog highlights my experiences with gender, sex, sexuality, and more. My artist website, http://www.rebeccakling.com/. My upcoming show (obligatory plug – buy tickets now!). So (as I did once before) I called in to share my views.
Continue reading 'Privacy and Disclosure'»
Coming out of the closet isn't always easy...
There’s a post, Out Open, Closed, and In, at The Spectrum Cafe, that caught my attention. It’s about the spectrum of ‘outness’ trans people can choose to have: Out, Open, Blended, Closed, In, and Stealth. Dyssonance’s full definitions in her post, but briefly:
- Out – someone who makes a point to have ‘trans’ as part of their identity
- Open – someone who is willing to discuss their trans status, but not go out of their way to highlight it
- Blended – “[being trans] is a non issue — something that isn’t a topic for discussion unless the discussion is specifically relating to something important for themselves”
- Closed – “They don’t want people to know they are trans, and usually being closed is more a matter of simply not having had control and being put into a position that prevents them from being In”
- In – “In folks are what we have long called “stealth” — but stealth carries with it connotations of hiding, of deception, of intrigue…”
It’s an interesting scale, and I’d agree more useful than simply saying someone is Out or Stealth.
Continue reading 'Scales of Outness'»
I was talking with some coworkers this week, B who has been there almost a year and K, the woman I’m training to be my replacement. We were joking about a number of things, and B made a self-deprecating joke about being gay. I followed up with a self-deprecating joke about being trans, and turned to K, saying, “You know I’m trans, right?”
That’s been my general coming out tactic lately, and I think I’ve mentioned it once or twice before on this blog. Today, K paused (awkwardly, I felt) and said, “Oh, yeah.”
Continue reading '“You know I’m trans, right?”'»
Last night, I went on a bit of an adventure. First, I went to see Queertopia again at About Face. It’s part of their youth theatre program, and is very much worth seeing. I went with some of my high school students (though a bunch who said they were going to come didn’t show up…) and it was great being able to expose my students to very different work that other kids their own ages are doing.
Then, I met up with a friend for her trolley party.
Not a great picture, but undeniable proof of trolley-hood
I’m not totally sure why she was having a trolley party – I think a friend of hers was in from out of town, which is as good an excuse as any – but a bunch of people I knew from Northwestern were also there. One of whom hadn’t seen me since I’d transitioned, and clearly didn’t remember who I was.
Continue reading 'Coming Out Surprises'»
I did end up sending an email to my friends, along the lines of what I discussed in this post:
This is kind of an uncomfortable email for me to write, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about and need to address:
Please don’t out me. That is, please don’t tell people I’m trans.
I love you all. I’ve said this over and over again: I’m privileged, blessed, and really fucking lucky to be surrounded by friends like you. In a world that isn’t too kind to people outside the norm, you all pretty much shrugged your shoulders when I came out. Not because it wasn’t important to me, but because it didn’t change our friendships. I really value that. I love being able to have conversations and debates, to share joy and sorrow, with people who I’ve known for years, and who have known me.
But staying in Chicago after high school and college has also made transitioning occasionally more work than I’d like. To pick a really easy example, I went to the bank yesterday and the teller was the mom of someone I went to elementary school with (and not someone I particularly cared for, at that). She knew she sort of recognized me, but totally didn’t know how to respond to my presentation as Rebecca. It wasn’t a problem, and she was respectful, but it kind of threw me out of my stride to have to say, “Yeah, I’m going by Rebecca now…” Even though I love Chicago, and am glad I’ve stuck around, having to be reminded of that pre- and post-transition disconnect takes its toll.
Continue reading 'You don’t get to out me'»
One of my roommates, Alice, had a friend over last night, Bob. The three of us were joking about Passover and Easter, and how none of us really practice what are ostensibly our respective religions. Alice was saying that she attended church enough at her (Catholic) middle school, so doesn’t need to attend now: she’s built up a quota. Bob replied, “Nope. You’re going to hell.” (He was joking. Don’t worry.) I laughed and said, “Well, I’ll be there too: I’m Jewish.”
Bob, chuckling, gestured to me and said, “Right. He’s going to hell because he doesn’t acknowledge the big JC…” And continued talking, using the incorrect pronoun, to the point where I started to wonder if he maybe wasn’t referring to me; most people catch themselves earlier than Bob did.
But no, I finally had to correct him, “She. Not he.”
He apologized, corrected himself, and the conversation moved on. Shortly thereafter I left and went to bed.
And realized I’d never actually told Bob I was trans.
Continue reading 'Who gets to out you?'»