The Horrors of Coming Out

Amethysta Herrick
Amethysta Herrick
Horror and coming out, but in the wrong proportions — Bela Lugosi as Dracula

Dear Reader, I would like to come out to you. I voted for Ross Perot in 1992. Yeah…it’s true. In fact, I voted for him again in 1996. My father told me that I was responsible for electing Bill Clinton, whom he despised. My opinion was that Perot represented a chance to make a new start at government. A purely two-party political system would ultimately devolve to bitter infighting and complete stagnation in the government. My father would not accept that reasoning, no matter how long we discussed it. A third party in the government would not make sense to him.

I believe very strongly that it is possible to explain philosophical, political, and religious opinions to a person who disagrees with them. It is possible to be thoughtful, caring, willing to restate — to use small words, if necessary — to help one person understand what you believe. It is also possible for that same person to respond to you in the same way: thoughtful and caring, with a genuine desire to connect with you and to understand what you convey.

Notice that I used the word “understand,” not “agree.” It is within the realm of human capability to hold two opposing thoughts at the same time for the sake of comparing, contrasting, and understanding them. But understanding what you have to tell me is not the same as me agreeing with you and changing my opinion. My father’s opinion was that the division between the two parties was too slim of a margin. It was already difficult to win a majority; introducing a third political party would only dilute the vote and make it more difficult. I understand that much. In fact, I agree. But people cannot choose an alternative unless it exists, and if the vote dilutes, that should probably signal something to the other two parties.

The 1994 Revelation

Anyway, that was a nice little interlude, but what I really wanted to talk about was coming out. In 1994, while I was still in graduate school, I woke up one morning to realize that all the feelings I had up to then were tied up into a neat package with a single word: bisexual. I was extremely excited about this revelation. In fact, I embraced it because it meant that I didn’t have to continue to suppress the thoughts that had flitted through my head to be batted away like a pesky moth.

I celebrated in a way that made perfect sense to me: I went to a party being given by another graduate student in a stunning outfit. It had a burgundy vest that flared at the waist; a sheer black bodysuit through which a black lacy bra and my navel piercing peeked demurely; long, black gloves; a tight black velvet miniskirt; and burgundy and black striped stockings held up with a garter belt. My thick, wavy hair, dyed black, fell to mid-back; the ensemble was tied together with black brocade kitten heels, liquid eyeliner, and blood-red lipstick. I expected to be received by the world with open arms.

I understand now that the outfit was an expression of something different than my newfound “alternative” sexuality (spoiler alert: I am transgender), but I would not unravel that knot for another few years. It was sufficient that I was being seen as how I felt. Unfortunately, however, this was Georgia in the 1990s, and what really happened was that I became a topic of discussion in the department overnight. What the hell was wrong with me? Why would I act that way? Was I insane? Seeking attention? “No!” I proclaimed. I was simply bisexual. That didn’t seem to help.

I lost friends that week. Some of them never came back; I was just too “out there” for them. But some did. Several of my friends realized that I was still the same person regardless of clothes, and it was more important to interact with me than to fuss about my clothes.

Experience Required

Why did friends of mine return and carry on our friendship after my coming out as bisexual? I believe that deep down, there was some kind of understanding about relationships and intimacy that — even if my style of relationship or intimacy was too much — there was enough in common to accept, if not agree.

I found an interesting juxtaposition in my circle of friends. Some of them were rather begrudging about their acceptance, and that included both heterosexual and homosexual friends. Heterosexual friends were the easiest for me to analyze. Finding a person attractive is a complex group of emotions, visuals, and societal pressures. Not understanding being attracted to the same sex is quite common, after all. My heterosexual friends mostly said “Well, all right, but don’t hit on me!” As if bisexual people are so undiscerning!

My homosexual friends, however…it was as if I had committed some kind of perjury, a type of betrayal. They seemed to ask in an exasperated voice “Can’t you just make some kind of commitment?” They could understand liking one or the other; they didn’t mind being edgy. But both? That was almost too much.

The commonality I alluded to above is that both homosexual and heterosexual people do experience attraction to other people. They fall in love, they fantasize, they may even act on their desires. The only substantive difference between a homosexual man and a heterosexual man is whom each finds attractive. The rest…that is the human experience.

Coming Out as Transgender

Now let me ask a question. If you never acquire knowledge about an experience most humans have, is there any basis for you to agree or disagree? Is it possible to form opinions about experiences you haven’t had? As an example, both heterosexual and homosexual people have an experience I have not: they are attracted to only one gender. I don’t understand that. Frankly, I can’t understand not finding beauty in both genders. It truly doesn’t compute for me.

In the same fashion, most humans look at themselves in the mirror and identify completely with what they see. Most humans can look at their physical features and recognize themselves in them. There are men — maybe you — who can view broad shoulders, slim hips, and five o’clock shadow and see their own faces in them. I cannot. I don’t understand it. I have had extremely few experiences in my life when I looked in the mirror and thought “Yes, that is me. That is who I am.” The night I wore that stunning outfit above is one of those times, and — more recently — I am beginning to look in the mirror and identify with what I see.

Coming out as transgender is fraught with horror. We have already spent much of our lives hiding from our own knowledge of ourselves. We have buried the guilt, the shame, that comes with knowing that what we are supposed to look like is what we are trained is wrong. We are not allowed to play with the toys we would choose. We are not allowed to wear the clothes that we would choose. We are not allowed to be the people whom we would choose to be.

It is crushing. Some of us don’t survive.

Some of us are fortunate enough to be able to change. Some of us accept that we are whom we really knew we were all the time. Some of us set down the burden of protecting everybody around us from who we are. We declare that we are transgender. We come out.

We come out to people who cannot understand us. People who have never experienced gender dysphoria. People who will never experience gender dysphoria. People who have lived as themselves their whole lives and cannot understand what we are going on about at such high volumes. We can state over and over — in small words, if necessary — who we are and how we feel, but with a lack of experience, this is not something that can be understood.

This, also, is crushing. We end up with “allies,” not comrades. We cannot all be brothers or sisters in the foxhole of this existence. But…but…for me, this is enough for now. I wipe away tears as I type this, but I know that I am so happy. So happy that I accepted myself and told people who I am. That I am telling you who I am.

And Who Am I?

I have experienced some tremendous things in the last three months, and I expect to experience many, many more as I transition fully to presenting as a woman and living out the rest of my life. There is a phenomenon that I realized within a few weeks of beginning hormone replacement therapy (HRT) that I intend to explain as best as possible.

To be candid, I can only hope that what I write will help. That it will help somebody — anybody — understand in some small way what it is like to be transgender. I hope to find the experience that is common to humans regarding identity and relate that to gender. That begins by explaining how my thoughts, emotions, and behavior changed since I began HRT. That is where I will begin my next article.


Amethysta Herrick

Ami is a transgender woman dedicated to exploring identity and gender. She is Editor-in-Chief of Purplepaw Publications, LLC.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the offical policy or position of Purplepaw Publications, LLC. Please view the Disclaimer page for further information.