Friday, March 31st was International Transgender Day of Visibility. The premise is simple: be out there, visible, and proud to be trans. Many people ‘come out’ for the first time – or reaffirm their status as a member of the greater transgender community. The idea is that greater visibility can only help us to be better accepted in society.
If one takes the (not too) long journey through my blog, they will find that I am out and ‘visible’ all the time. I identify as ‘non-binary’ and lean towards the feminine side of center. For many years, it has been a toss-up as to how I will be gendered by other people – and it has waxed and waned over the years. No one at work ‘mistakes’ me for a woman (they know me as Gary,) but my presentation makes it clean that ‘gender normative’ is not a label applied to me. Truth be told, I don’t really know what most of them think, but as long as they are respectful, it’s all good.
I had planned for TDOV several days in advance. I knew just what I was going to wear: dark wash blue jeans and a thin plum / purple flowy top with a black cami underneath. Here is a pic of said outfit:
I have been working up the nerve to wear it to work, and TDOV seemed like the perfect opportunity. Over the past six months or so, I have started dressing more feminine – especially in my choice of tops. Here is an example from a couple of months back:
My immediate coworkers, plus a few others with whom I’ve shared more personal details about myself – have all offered a lot of support and encouragement. My wardrobe ‘upgrade’ has been well received which had done much for my overall sense of self. Given this, my choice of clothing for TDOV would not have especially out of the ordinary for me.
That Friday morning, I woke around 4:30am – a good forty minutes before my alarm. This has become a semi-regular occurence: waking early, lying there, eyes open, thinking… It even happens in the middle of the night: sometimes for a minute, other times longer. The longer times can feel like a weight, bearing down on me as I struggle to get back to sleep. My head fills with an all too familiar noise that makes it all but impossible get back to sleep. And in the darkness of the bedroom – thoughts bubble and pop like thick oatmeal – images swirl, morphing one into the other – and the weight of it all just keeps on pressing me deeper into the bed. That was how I woke early that Friday morning – laying there awash in what was, undeniably, an all too familiar feeling.
If I look back to my early childhood, when I was maybe four or five years old, there were indications that I was wired a bit differently. However, my transness did not really manifest until I hit puberty, and even then I didn’t know what was going on. As I grew, I learned to deal with these confusing feelings by suppressing them secretly cross-dressing when I could. I know now that my parents ‘knew’, but it was never discussed. I would find out later in life that they just assumed that I’d figure it all out at some point. Throughout my adult life and all the rationalizations I have made to cope with this, those ‘feelings’ have never left me. They are that ‘noise’ buzzing in my head – the noise that wakes me at night – the noise that keeps me awake – the noise that woke me Friday, March 31 at 4:30am.
I do not spend much time discussing how much this weighs on me all the time. I could describe myself as ‘highly functioning’ in some sense, as I have learned to just keep pushing it down – pretending it’s not there – and going on with my life. I do not come across as ‘depressed’ or moody, and I maintain a generally happy disposition. I think the price I pay for that is at night, when my sub-conscious allows to run free that which I work so hard to contain.
The noise – that constant tugging at the back of my brain – is Gender Dissonance. Gender Dissonance is a term Julia Serano coined to describe “the cognitive dissonance experienced by trans people due to a misalignment between our gender identity/subconscious sex and our assigned gender/physical sex. Gender dissonance differs somewhat from the psychiatric term gender dysphoria, which typically conflates this cognitive dissonance with the mental stresses that arise from societal pressure to conform to gender norms.”
On that Friday morning, the noise was simply too much to ignore. That with which I struggle to keep contained, refused to be locked away. Insecurity took hold. Instead of ‘out and proud’ and visible, all I wanted that day was to be invisible, and so I was. I stayed home, in the house – hidden, sullen, and ashamed. The explanation to my wife for staying home was simply “It’s Friday, I’m working at home.” She had no idea of my previous plans for TDOV, so for her this was just another day. But for me, on the one day I felt it most important to ‘do’ what I do every day, I felt that I failed miserably.
Being trans is difficult; being middle-aged and non-binary doesn’t make it any easier. I know that there is ‘no right way to be trans’ and as a rule I’m proud to be out and visible. Still, sometimes I am left with the feeling that perhaps there is a ‘wrong way’… It is when I wake in the middle of the night – my head buzzing with what is now a lifetime of repressed feelings, emotions, hopes, dreams, self doubts… It is all in there, buzzing around – looking desperately for a way to break free.