Learnings from the Transgender Experience

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I continue to be interested and read about the experiences of transgender men and women. Today it seems like trans is everywhere — in the news and on TV. Just yesterday the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced proposed rules to extend nondiscrimination laws to cover transgender individuals under the Affordable Care Act. This is an amazing and important step that I could not have imagined a year ago.

I recently read She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan. What continues to strike me, as I read about the trans journey, is how much, as a man who only came out of the closet in my mid 50’s, the trans experience relates to my life. For years I felt I was living a life that was not my life. There was this large part of me, the gay part, that I kept hidden and compartmentalized from the rest of my life. I felt as if the real person that I was remained hidden behind a mask. And as the years went by, as dramatic as it sounds, I felt like my soul was dying a little bit every day. My soul felt like a bright light that was slowly being extinguished and would soon go out if I did not take action. Coming out, and then coming out again and again and again, has been the most powerful thing I have ever done. Over the past few years, I have felt more alive and true to myself than I did during the first fifty-five years.

When I see shows like, I Am Cait, or read about the trans experience, I feel related. I know that most gay men feel that gay men have nothing in common with transgender men and women. I am not trying in any way to equate sexual orientation with gender identity. What resonates with me about the autobiographies of transgender men and women is the experience we both had of hiding our true selves.

As I read, She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders, I found myself relating to so many of the stories that Jennifer Finney Boylan writes about that were humorous, serious, and sad. In one example that resonated with me, Boylan, wrote that as a child she would try on her mother’s dresses, then castigate herself for doing so and promise herself she would never do it again. I remember many years being driven to have sex with men, then I would castigate myself for doing so, and would promise myself I would never do it again. We both felt the internalized shame placed on us by society for being who we were.

Early in her book Boylan wrote, “Gender is many things, but one thing it is surely not is a hobby. Being female is not something you do because it’s clever or postmodern, or because you’re a deluded, deranged narcissist.” I felt similarly about my homosexuality. Being gay was not a choice. I did not decide to try on gay because it was chic or the hip thing to do. Being gay is who I was from the day I was born. I am now reading Boylan’s most recent memoir, Stuck in the Middle With You: Parenthood in Three Genders, which is inspiring me even more than her first memoir.

Today, as an executive in my corporation, I can push my company, which is self-insured, to extend health care coverage for transgender individuals. I can support education programs that educate the organization on LGB and T. And I can continue to learn on my personal journey from writers like Jennifer Finney Boylan, Janet Mock, Jamison Green, and anthologies like, Beyond Magenta. Gay men have much to learn from transgender men and women. There is a particularly deep resonance with the transgender experience for those of us who spend years hiding in the closet, feeling we were living lives that were not our own.

There are parts of the trans experience I will never fully understand. As a successful, white, IT professional, my coming out has been met with nothing but support and congratulations. I fully understand the trans experience is a much harder road to travel. But I also am grateful for what I have learned about my own journey from trans men and women.

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