It’s indicative of a personal defense mechanism. Before you told anyone that you identify as LGBTQ+, it’s likely that in some way you feared for your safety or security—socially, physically, spiritually, psychologically, or otherwise—or for that of a loved one.
Members of this widely, deeply diverse community we currently call LGBTQ+ do not share unique, personal life experiences; but we do often share the challenge of coming out as well as other typical social, spiritual and psychological impacts, and so on. This is reason I’ve found much comfort—and more importantly, affirmation—in reading books and blogs and watching YouTube channels by fellow members of the trans-feminine community. I’m also a member of my local transgender support group.
With all of these resources available to me, including others such as therapists, doctors and advocates, I often still feel like many family members, friends who knew me before coming out, and fellow church members are largely unavailable to me. I can’t help but think at least some aspect of this is a sense of distrust. This is difficult for me to accept. I’ve always considered myself an honest, sincere individual—if not at outright oversharer. In fact it was a small relief to know that with all my faults, hey, at least I’m not a liar!
Sadly, I believe many people view me as exactly that. Dishonest. It’s like they must think (and I touched on this in a previous post) If “he’s” willing to lie about that, what else has “he” lied about?! I guess I get it. Then again, I know myself. Others don’t. From the first time we meet a person, we base our knowledge of that individual on what our brains tell us about them. First impressions and all.
I’ve never been a big fan of perception. As a transcendentalist, I’ve searched tirelessly for an ultimate Truth. Think Henry David Thoreau or Ralph Waldo Emerson. Perhaps these two searched longer and more zealously than I. Like most, I’m still a slave to perception. And when a person knows you for any length of time, and then you come out to them—directly or indirectly—as I’ve stated before, it sends their mind into a frenzy.
Let’s consider the mind of an LGBTQ person
In the mind of the average LGBTQ+ individual who for any number of reasons felt social/psychological pressure(s) to remain closeted, that period of time while they experience their identity in an isolated state is intrinsically destructive. Among the various negative sensations they may experience is cognitive dissonance.
A quick Google search yields the following secondary definition for dissonance (which is primarily a musical term): “a tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements.” Cognitive means it occurs in the mind as thoughts or experiences. At this point, I will continue by speaking purely about my own experience with this, lest I overstep. In my case, the clash, disharmony and unsuitableness came from multiple angles.
For example, I grew up like most children in 1980s Western Society being taught the stereotypical “gender roles” and “ideals” for what it means to be a boy and not be a girl—a “sissy.” I do not intend to solely indicate my parents as the unwitting culprits here. Throughout early life, any number of socializers, objects, culture or traditions (e.g., adults, media like TV and books, toys, religion, the physical world around us and even our very language) steer us into category A or category B. Girl or boy. Feminine or masculine. Penis or vagina. A man exclusively attracted to women or a woman exclusively attracted to men. You get the point.
If you identify as category C, category 4, category Blue or whatever, that’s when the disharmony or clash begins. That’s when you may first start to realize that what your brain and body are telling you is wrong because clearly everything else is screaming No! You’re a boy! See? You have a penis! Granted, I first put on a dress at 2 years old—long before I knew what my penis implied or even was. Later, when others enforced shame on such behaviors, I learned to keep it a secret. It stayed that way for decades; and I internalized the shame.
LGBTQ Are Not Scarlet Letters
I’m not Hester Prynne; however, we can learn a lot about overcoming guilt and shame from this fictional protagonist in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic The Scarlet Letter. I may be stretching the parallel here, but at the core of this story is the question Why was the woman forced to endure public shaming and guilt for an act she didn’t commit alone? Similarly, my silence about my transgender identity was born of social forces, and society was a co-perpetrator (if I have to bear any guilt at all).
The fact that a closeted LGBTQ individual experiences an innate need to stay silent about their identity is not tantamount to culpability or intended misrepresentation. Second, if guilt must be assigned, I blame Society at large. More so, I put the onus on those who’ve come before us, in one sense, for creating myopic and discriminatory views about sex and gender; and yet the onus is also on us, today, to expand those views to accommodate our current reality.
Like society, the English language is a living one. It literally expands year over year. This is not about moral relativism or secular humanism or giving up one’s standards. It’s about love and—at the very least—acceptance. I invite those who do not identify as LGBTQ, when someone they know comes out as such, to expand their perception to accept that individual.
I understand trust is hard. But I believe it takes faith in your LGBTQ friend or loved one that they’re coming out because they are ready to accept themselves, dispense with the guilt and shame they never asked for, and seek to be better today than they were before.