Did you know October 11th was National Coming Out Day? I think everyone probably has a unique “coming out story”.
It was the summer of 1985. I was 14 years old and participating in a youth mission trip to Cherokee, North Carolina. I, along with two van-loads of teens from Life Line Baptist Church of Little Rock, Arkansas felt the calling to witness to the poor, indigent children of the reservation.
For my part, I presented a puppet show complete with a purple satin puppet theater, a soundboard, amp, a whole trunk of characters, and wack-a-doo voices.
One night, after a particularly successful show, I approached my youth minister, John Bell, and came out to him. He was a bit surprised. Of course, I didn’t tell him I was gay. Rather, I told him that I felt like I was supposed to be a girl and my associated feelings.
He looked at me with bewildered sincerity and said, “Justin, I know God has a plan for you. You’re the only one man enough to put this stage together, setup the sound equipment and perform these skits. NOw why don’t you break everything down and join your friends. Trust me. You’ll grow out of this.”
It was the winter, 1987. I was feeling particularly melancholy and tortured over my feelings one evening. I wrote a short letter to my very best friend, Price Horn. I rode my bicycle to his home and put the letter in his mailbox. I then called him on the phone, asked him to read the letter and call me back.
He did call back and it was the most kind response I will have ever received. He assured me that my friendship was still valuable. He too believed it to be “a phase” but his feelings for me had not changed. We remained good friends until we parted ways after high school. We kept in touch all these years. I’ll always value his friendship.
It was the summer, 1989. I was deep in a relationship with a young woman from school who would eventually become my future ex-wife. I told her of my feelings. After some discussion, I agreed that if our relationship were to continue I must hide this part of me.
It was the spring, 1991. I was filling out my application for Top Secret Clearance while working for Space Command in the United States Air Force. On the very last page of this multi-page application, below the signature line, was a note, “I swear and affirm under penalty of perjury that this application and subsequent investigation will be devoid of any an all derogatory information. Derogatory information includes but is not limited to…evidence of transvestism, transsexualism…”
I refused to sign the application knowing that such evidence would be found and I would be prosecuted for perjury. The investigation proceeded anyway and I was summarily stripped of rank and duty and discharged from the military. Upon my early return home from the service, I had to explain the circumstances to my parents.
They didn’t know where I “got this idea put in my head”, but I needed to snap out of it because I had a wife and two kids. My mother reminded me of “the big ‘ol men” that came in her bank branch “all dressed up” but weren’t fooling anyone. They were disgusting and God didn’t approve of it. I’d never be anything but a “man in a dress” (this is an oft-repeated phrase in our country).
It was the summer, 1999. After a particularly difficult day and a big argument with my wife, I walked home from a broken down car to find a note on the door: “I’ve taken the kids, dogs and our things. You will never see your children again. I’ve also told everyone at your office that you’re a faggot and want to be a woman.”
I did the only sensible thing I could do: overdose on sleeping pills.
It was the fall, 1999. I decided to go to my first trans support group meeting. I took with me all the prejudices I had grown up with. I was a bit disgusted by the “men in dresses” that filled the room. I was feeling a bit queasy. Then the woman that would change my life forever and eventually marry walked into the room.
Looking back, most of these “coming out” events were extremely painful for me. Most of my life, up to this last event, was spent wanting to die.
I’m so glad I didn’t.
I’ve accomplished more, touched more lives, achieved more personal goals, and have been happier since transitioning to Carla than I could have ever imagined. I still have some body image issues. Hopefully, I’ll overcome that one day.
Even with all of my positive experiences, I’m still scared to come out at times. I’ve recently started a new contract job. They treat me phenomenally well. Everyone believes me to be a lesbian, which is kinda of true. However, none seem know that I’m a transsexual. It feels weird bringing it up. In a way, I’m kind of ashamed of myself.
When I, and other transgender people, make that conscious decision to “come out”, we do so knowing there is a high probability of unemployment, discrimination, assault, and homicide. I do not state this lightly and I cannot stress enough the real risk that is involved, but living a lie is so unfathomably painful that most of us would rather risk death at the hand of another than live forever in closet.
My advice to anyone, LGBT person or even a straight ally, that asks, “Carla, what can I do to help further LGBT equality?” There is only one answer that matters, “Come out.” Come out as LGBT or come out as a straight supporter, but come out.