I apologize right up front. I can only talk about my successes and failures and what I’d do differently given the opportunity. This is a story, not advice. I’m still coming out to people. There’s no one right way to do this. No prescription. Everyone’s friends, family, social circles, and jobs are different and call for different methods and means. Some of these are hopeless in some circumstances, it is a burden that must be born.
My coming out story started with my Rabbi. I waited through a meeting and got her aside, then got her in private and confessed my shame. I cried a river, I talked about my deepest fears of not being able to do it, being ridiculed and destroying my family and my life. On her side she provided support and told me I had to be true to myself. Coming out to her was my first step on the road, and effectively my first session of therapy.
Next came my spouse, and more tears. She blamed herself for not being attractive enough, svelte enough, and any number of other things. I honestly told her that she could look like a movie star and it would make no difference and in any case she was beautiful to me.
Then came the questions that I guaranty you will hear from a spouse. Was the marriage real, how long has this been going on, and so on. I reassured her the marriage had been quite real and I tried (and failed) to be honest about how long I had been struggling. I know this because when I told her recently that my researching SRS in secret had been going on for about 15 years it proved to be new news to her.
This started a very difficult year for she and me. Love was still there, but tremendous tension. I think my lesson is that I should have spent more time explaining how long it had been going on. How fearful I had been and still was. I was still hiding from her for a long time. I tried to be her husband and Rachel at the same time and that wasn’t fair to her or to me.
I only came out to two other people early on. Our mutual friend R, who did me the loving favor of listening to me talk and talk and talk about the thoughts in my head. He came to dinner with Rachel at home and was the first person to meet Rachel. However poorly I had been dressed he was kind and said the right things.
The other person was a long time friend M who I have known since graduate school. He also listened but tended to always be pointing out the possible downsides. He was being protective and part of that was seeing someone he had worked with transition and run into issues. Overall though he was very supportive.
I started coming out to others very slowly many months later. Until I knew that I really and truly had fallen down the rabbit hole and was never ever going to be “normal” again I was reticent of telling anyone else. If I could have lived my life in duality I might have even skipped many people at the end, and that would have left me without having to deal with work.
There were a number of missteps and successes. Telling a group was convenient for me. This consisted of some men I had been associated with for many years. One I had told earlier and was already severing ties with me. It leads though to a situation where nobody can push back if the majority is OK. This isn’t good. One of the true kindnesses that some folks did me was to tell me honestly that it was going to be a struggle for them.
I do urge you to be accepting of people who struggle with your transition. It doesn’t make them bad if they can’t be with you as your new self. This can be hard on people close to you, and this isn’t just about you. Try not to judge. I just received a friend request from a very nice person who wrote and said that she had struggled. She thought I was a very nice man but couldn’t deal with my being a woman. I respect that she told me.
Once I knew I was transitioning and when I intended to go full time I had to start thinking about work. Up to then I had done some reporting about my therapy – required for the job I have, no details, just that I was having it and sort of a general description like “depression and personal issues”. I trusted my management so I had dropped some hints so they wouldn’t be blindsided. It wasn’t enough to know exactly what was coming, but it was enough that the truth was one of three or four conclusions.
A month or so before I started HRT I contacted HR. I have a good relationship with the HR rep we had at the time. I’ve known her for eight years. We unfortunately had to talk over the phone, but we ended up talking for ninety minutes and by the end I found out that I wasn’t anything like the first MtF at the company, more like the fifth or sixth in seven years. It wasn’t down pat as a process, but hearing that everything went well with the others gave me a huge relief that I’d be ok at work.
My policy for work was to tell noone. I had stuck with that until I told management, HR and those other folks I needed to report such things to. There were four people who knew. I was occasionally tempted over the next seven months leading up to going full time to talk to a work friend, but one of my managers just kept reminding me that I had a good plan and should stick with it. He was right of course.
In my private life I started dealing with the details. I filed my name change petition, which was granted after a month. I started down that long road of handling all the changes. Computer systems still have my old name stuck in places. I advise a thick skin, at some point you’ve done everything you can really do.
My spouse and I, a few months before going full time talked about how I could come out to our religious community. The plan she was comfortable with was to talk with every person individually. This was somewhat tedious, but I will say that it worked well. I think it was good for the parents of religious school kids who could be prepared with answers to the inevitable questions.
The magic day at work arrived. My management, HR and I had planned it out. Everyone in my department and a couple of others we work with all the time were invited. I greeted everyone by name and a handshake or in more than a few cases a hug. I said a very few things up front and left the room and their training started. I went back to my office to work.
My transition at work has been remarkably successful. I had two gentlemen in my department who were clearly uncomfortable but they’ve been professional and not made it my problem. One seems to be over it, the other seems a bit better to me. There’s one random woman on my floor that clearly is uncomfortable but she wasn’t at the training, and I don’t work with her. Just sort of bizarre.
Our temple has been terrific. There was one older woman who was clearly uncomfortable early on. She delighted me about a year ago when she came up and told me she like Rachel much better than D. What a compliment!
Things I would do differently. Early on when I’d come out to someone I’d spend far to much time explaining myself. In my personal life this tends to happen sometimes anyway, people are just curious. At work I’ve found it much better to just either not tell people if they didn’t know my former self, or acknowledge it if they did and move on. Again, if they want to know and ask I’ll give answers, but I try not to drive the conversation.
However, I will also say that early on nobody, and I mean nobody recognized me at work that I used to work with who didn’t meet Rachel. A number of people thought I was D’s sister, so they did see the resemblance, but I wasn’t D. As a result I’d pass people by and there’d be no recognition and it was interesting to have to decide how to let people know that I had a work relationship with.
More recently I suspect there’s been enough rumor transmission that people do recognize me. I’ve had a couple of people do that right away and I know for a fact that my face is even less like my male face than it was two years ago. Such is the result of knowledge.
I still struggle to decide who to tell. My own philosophy is that if I’m just casually connected to someone there’s no need. If I’m going to be friends with someone I’ll share. This is a deep part of me and it is not something I’m ashamed of.