n.b.: Transgender Day of Visibility 2019 was this past Sunday, March 31. While I am out and visible, it took me a while to do so in ‘earnest’.
It was 1997 when I discovered Usenet, and the various public transgender related forums it hosted. That discovery, and the realization that I was not as alone in the world as I had once thought, marked the beginning of my exploration of my gender related issues. As these were public forums, I needed some ‘online identity’ behind which I could maintain some anonymity: I was light years away from being ‘out and proud’. The name I decided on was Donna – specifically Donna Lynn Matthews. I think it took me all of five minutes to settle on it, and to create an e-mail account for her. And thus was born my alter ego.
Donna has posted online for over twenty years. During that time, I have joined new forums where people have ‘recognized’ me from pieces I have written, I have found references to my website and blog in online course notes for college classes, and as I mentioned in “Why Can’t You Just be Trans?”, a humble glossary of terms I wrote is referenced as “[o]ne of the missing links between wider popularization and Usenet” of the term ‘cisgender’. For over twenty years, I have literally maintained two identities: Gary – who pretty much kept his head down and did his best to get through life, and Donna – who has been the voice for all of my musings on gender.
In 2006, I reached out to the LGBT group at Lehman Brothers, and ultimately had my profile posted on their intranet site. That was really the start of my being ‘out at work’ as transgender. Lehman Brothers / Barclays, FXAll / Thomson Reuters, New York Life… It has now been thirteen years, with the last two or three where I have really been the most out and vocal – the last two or three years where ‘Donna’ has lent her voice someplace outside the Internet.
For the past twenty years, my ‘gender expression’ as a trans-person has been largely at work, with me downplaying it while at home. This is because for the past twenty years, I have walked a line between what I need, what I can ‘live with’, and what my wife is comfortable with. It has been a delicate balancing / juggling act, and truth be told, I have dropped the balls more than a few times. It is an imperfect solution to a difficult situation, and there are no rules for making something like this work. Time and perseverance have brought us to what seems to be a relatively stable place.
I joined Facebook in 2009. ‘Back in the day’, the only options for ‘gender’ on your profile were male and female. I choose male and hid that information. For almost ten years, save for the very occasional repost, my Facebook wall was transgender free. I did not ‘like’ or repost any transgender content. I did not comment on posts regarding transgender issues. There was next to nothing that would lead anyone to think I was transgender. When Facebook finally offered (in 2015 I think) expanded gender options, I seized on the opportunity to ‘self identitify’, and I changed my gender there to ‘Trans, Gender Nonconforming and Non-binary’. I felt safe with this, because, really, who reads profiles? This was also when I started ‘liking’ transgender related posts. At some point in 2017, in response to Trump’s general attitude towards transgender people, I began re-posting transgender related content. I could not remain silent in light of the current political climate. But even with this, I was still not ‘openly transgender’ on Facebook: I was a supporter, an advocate – at best, an ‘ally’.
On October 21 2018, the Trump administration issued ‘memo’ that would effectively erase federal recognition of trans and nonbinary gender identities. There was an immediate online response with #WontBeErased. Trans and otherwise gender non-conforming people were putting the administration on notice: we will not be erased. That morning, I took fresh picture of myself. On Tuesday, with no fanfare, I updated my Facebook profile picture, including a “WontBeErased” graphic on it.
Gary was now out, publicly, as a transperson.
I received supportive comments, as opposed to the negativity for which I was bracing. What touched me the most was a private message from a woman who was a classmate from high school:
Gary, I’m not on FB much anymore bc I found it raises my blood pressure! When I was checking in more often, I always appreciated your intelligent posts, not knowing what u were living thru until u recently changed your profile pic. I just want to tell u how profoundly touched I am by your courage and how deeply I respect and honor u and feel grateful that our paths crossed at one time. While we were never close, I still want u to know that I am here for u if u ever need a friend. I hope u are living your best life and r happy. Please know that there r many of us out there who have your back 👍🏻❤️😘
The genie is out of the bottle, and she’s not going back inside.
I celebrated this past Transgender Day of Visibility with a new picture. It seemed appropriate:
I have been ‘visible’ for a long time, while very much ‘hiding’ in plain sight.
Time to be ‘me’ in earnest…