I was one of the lucky ones. I grew up in household where we were taught to worry about who people chose to hate, not love. As such, coming out was a major non-event for me. I knew my parents would continue to love me, and protect me from any bigots that we accidentally had become related to. Unfortunately, the experience for many has been vastly different. Here is a snapshot of some, starting with my favourite coming out letter…
I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write. Every time I try to write to you and Papa I realize I’m not saying the things that are in my heart. That would be O.K., if I loved you any less than I do, but you are still my parents and I am still your child.
I have friends who think I’m foolish to write this letter. I hope they’re wrong. I hope their doubts are based on parents who loved and trusted them less than mine do. I hope especially that you’ll see this as an act of love on my part, a sign of my continuing need to share my life with you. I wouldn’t have written, I guess, if you hadn’t told me about your involvement in the Save Our Children campaign. That, more than anything, made it clear that my responsibility was to tell you the truth, that your own child is homosexual, and that I never needed saving from anything except the cruel and ignorant piety of people like Anita Bryant.
I’m sorry, Mama. Not for what I am, but for how you must feel at this moment. I know what that feeling is, for I felt it for most of my life. Revulsion, shame, disbelief – rejection through fear of something I knew, even as a child, was as basic to my nature as the color of my eyes.
No, Mama, I wasn’t “recruited.” No seasoned homosexual ever served as my mentor. But you know what? I wish someone had. I wish someone older than me and wiser than the people in Orlando had taken me aside and said, “You’re all right, kid. You can grow up to be a doctor or a teacher just like anyone else. You’re not crazy or sick or evil. You can succeed and be happy and find peace with friends – all kinds of friends – who don’t give a damn who you go to bed with. Most of all, though, you can love and be loved, without hating yourself for it.”
But no one ever said that to me, Mama. I had to find it out on my own, with the help of the city that has become my home. I know this may be hard for you to believe, but San Francisco is full of men and women, both straight and gay, who don’t consider sexuality in measuring the worth of another human being.
These aren’t radicals or weirdos, Mama. They are shop clerks and bankers and little old ladies and people who nod and smile to you when you meet them on the bus. Their attitude is neither patronizing nor pitying. And their message is so simple: Yes, you are a person. Yes, I like you. Yes, it’s all right for you to like me, too.
I know what you must be thinking now. You’re asking yourself: What did we do wrong? How did we let this happen? Which one of us made him that way?
I can’t answer that, Mama. In the long run, I guess I really don’t care. All I know is this: If you and Papa are responsible for the way I am, then I thank you with all my heart, for it’s the light and the joy of my life.
I know I can’t tell you what it is to be gay. But I can tell you what it’s not.
It’s not hiding behind words, Mama. Like family and decency and Christianity. It’s not fearing your body, or the pleasures that God made for it. It’s not judging your neighbor, except when he’s crass or unkind.
Being gay has taught me tolerance, compassion and humility. It has shown me the limitless possibilities of living. It has given me people whose passion and kindness and sensitivity have provided a constant source of strength. It has brought me into the family of man, Mama, and I like it here. I like it.
There’s not much else I can say, except that I’m the same Michael you’ve always known. You just know me better now. I have never consciously done anything to hurt you. I never will.
Please don’t feel you have to answer this right away. It’s enough for me to know that I no longer have to lie to the people who taught me to value the truth.
Mary Ann sends her love.
Everything is fine at 28 Barbary Lane.
Your loving son,
© 1977 Armistead Maupin All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint for non-commercial purposes granted by author.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I was filling out an application the other day. It asked me what I felt my greatest accomplishment thus far was. I thought for a moment and answered that I am most proud of surviving all that came with coming out to you as a lesbian.
I am an adult and a college student with a job and a life apart from you. I’ve been told that I don’t need you, and for the most part I rarely think about your absence. I have said before that I sometimes forget that I ever had parents; my life is too busy to dwell. Part of that is denial, isn’t it? Being 20 years old hardly makes me an adult, and one always needs family, no matter his or her age.
I have lost friends, extended family and mentors as a result of coming out, but all those are secondary to parents. Friends come and go, extended family move about and expand, and mentors are replaced as one ages, but parents are needed. My first mature relationship, my first heartbreak, when friends turn on me, my big adventures, my successes and failures — I want to share these experiences with you. I’m supposed to share them with you. I want you to be the first to know about my engagement. I want you to help me with the wedding planning. I want you to come with me to pick out my dress. I want you, Dad, to walk me down the aisle. I want you to be excited when my wife and I announce that we’re expecting your grandchildren. I want you to be there when those children arrive.
But you won’t be. You will turn up your nose, as you have done since I came out, and as you will continue to do. You will be somewhere in Tennessee, ranting about my sins, while my brother and older sister take your place at all these milestones.
I have always been a hardheaded, independent kid who never quite fit into the conservative, legalistic Christian box you had set up for me. Maybe it was easy for you to step away from me. You have to understand: I have spent most of my life attempting to run away from myself. The first thing I was ever told about homosexuality came from you, Dad. You were explaining that I couldn’t join Girl Scouts because “they let homosexuals be den mothers.” You elaborated, “Do you know what homosexuals do, Shura? They rape children.” I was 8. Several months earlier I had been introduced to rape by a monster in a rest-stop bathroom outside Savannah. I didn’t want to be a monster.
And if the sermons and radio programs that I was constantly hearing were correct, I didn’t want to go to hell, either. Everything in our conservative Christian world was telling me that I was disgusting, perverted, ruining America and dangerous to children. I hated myself. I was willing to do anything to get away from myself, including suicide.
Yes, I was a difficult child. I wasn’t easy to raise, or easy to love. And in the years leading up to my coming out, I was perhaps the most difficult.
You may not have suspected that I was anything but straight, but others did. From 15 to 17, when I wasn’t living with you, I had few friends. Instead, girls would loudly accuse me of looking at them in a sexual way, called me “dyke,” “fag” and “lez.” They would strip down in front of me just to accuse me of masturbating to the image later. The harassment culminated in a month during which two girls would slip into my bed at night, pin me down and sexually assault me, all while whispering in my ear, “You like this, don’t you, dyke?” I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone about any of it, because I didn’t want the subject of my sexuality to come up. I thought it would be written off because of the suspicions.
I was right. When I came out to you last year, that was one of the first things out of your mouth. “Why did you whine about those girls?” you demanded. “Didn’t you like it, girls touching you? You like that. Why did you pitch a fit about it?”
Let me provide you with an answer: I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t deserve believing that I was disgusting, a monster or going to hell because of others’ ignorance and hatred. I didn’t deserve being ostracized and harassed because of others’ ignorance and hatred. I didn’t deserve to have my body violated because of others’ ignorance and hatred. And I didn’t deserve to lose you because of your ignorance and hatred. But all those things happened to me.
As a result, I have grown up. I have learned to stand on my own two feet and keep myself from being affected by others’ actions. I have learned to be confident in myself. I have learned that in life there are hard choices to be made, and I have learned to make them. I have learned to rely not on others for my validation but on myself. I have learned to love myself.
My life is not always easy, partially because of your absence from it. How I am going to pay for college and where I am going to go on school breaks are constant worries. But you are the ones who are truly missing out. I will do great things. I will bring about positive change in this world. I will have a beautiful life. I’m quite convinced that my future kids will be adorable and ridiculously cool. You will miss out on all that.
I feel sorry for you. Your hatred, your ignorance and your fear are blinding you and took away your daughter. I will not dwell on this. I have living to do.
With all my love,
The 5 steps to the process are anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I was angry when I first knew I was gay because I knew not everyone would accept it and understand it. I didn’t even accept it at that point or understand it.
That led to denial, thinking it was just a phase and something I would eventually outgrow, though deep down I knew it wasn’t. Bargaining was me trying to pass as a bisexual in my head, thinking maybe it was just hormones because that’s very common in teenagers. That led to depression which was for me mixed with all the stages. There were bad times, especially when my anxiety disorder became severe. It was my mind’s way of worrying about small and irrational things in an attempt to cover up the larger problem- of being closeted- in my life.
But it’s time for me to come out. I can’t keep living my life as a lie and monitor everything I do or say in case I would accidentally “out” myself. …
I’m in the acceptance stage of the process. … I wouldn’t want my life to be any other way, because being me, being gay and in a minority, has allowed me to be compassionate towards so many other people who are misunderstood and made fun of.
Whoever you are, where ever you are… I’m starting to think we’re a lot alike. Human beings spinning on blackness. All wanting to be seen, touched, heard, paid attention to. My loved ones are everything to me here. In the last year or 3 I’ve screamed at my creator, screamed at clouds in the sky, for some explanation. Mercy maybe. For peace of mind to rain like Manna somehow. 4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide. Most of the day I’d see him, and his smile. I’d hear his conversation and his silence….until it was time to sleep. Sleep I would often share with him. By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping. No negotiating with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love, it changed my life. Back then, my mind would wander to the women I had been with. The ones I cared for and thought I was in love with. I reminisced about the sentimental songs I enjoyed when I was a teenager.. the ones I played when I experienced a girlfriend for the first time. I realized they were written in a language I did not speak. I realized too much, too quickly. Imagine being thrown from a plane. I wasn’t in a plane though. I was in a Nissan Maxima, the same car I packed up with bags and drove to Los Angeles in. I sat there and told my friend how I felt. I wept as the words left my mouth. I grieved for them, knowing I could never take them back for myself. He patted my back. He said kind things. He did his best, but he wouldn’t admit the same. He had to go back inside soon. It was late and his girlfriend was waiting for him upstairs. He wouldn’t tell me for years. Now imagine being thrown from a cliff. No, I wasn’t on a cliff, I was still in my car telling myself It was gonna be fine and to take deep breaths. I took the breaths and carried on. I kept up a peculiar friendship with him because I couldn’t imagine keeping up my life without him. I struggled to master myself and my emotions. I wasn’t always successful.
That dance went on… I kept the rhythm for several Summers after. It’s Winter now. I’m typing this on a plane back to Los Angeles from New Orleans. I flew home for another marred Christmas. I have a window seat. It’s December 27 2011. By now I’ve written two albums, this being the second. I wrote to keep myself busy and sane. I wanted to create worlds that were rosier than mine. I tried to channel overwhelming emotions. I’m surprised at how far all of it has taken me. Before writing this I’d told some people my story. I’m sure these people kept me alive, kept me safe.. sincerely. These are the folks I wanna thank from the floor of my heart. Everyone of you knows who you are.. great humans. Probably Angels. I don’t know what happens now, and that’s alrite. I don’t have any secrets I need kept anymore. There’s probably some small shit still, but you know what I mean. I was never alone, as much as I felt like it.. As much as I still do sometimes, I never was. I don’t think I ever could be. Thanks, to my first love, I’m grateful for you. Grateful that even though It wasn’t what I hoped for and even though it was never enough, it was. Some things never are.. and we were. I won’t forget you. I won’t forget the Summer. I’ll remember who I was then I met you. I’ll remember who you were and how we’ve both changed and stayed the same. I’ve never had more respect for life and living than I have right now. Maybe it takes a near death experience to feel alive. Thanks, to my Mother. You raised me strong. I know I’m only brave because you were first.. so thank you. All of you. For everything good. I feel like a free man. If I listen closely.. I can hear the sky falling too.
Recently, however, I’ve begun to consider whether the unintended outcomes of maintaining my privacy outweigh personal and professional principle. It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something – something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true.
I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.
The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.
By the time that I finish writing this letter, I imagine that I will have been working on it, on-and-off, for several days. I intend to take great care with it, because what I want from the outset is for this letter to preemptively explain away the things you may wish to know, and to answer the questions you will want to ask. Regardless of my wishes and best intentions, there will remain things that you do not know, and there will remain questions that need asking. It’s just the nature of things, I guess, so I suppose all that I’m wanting to say with this disclaimer is that I’m going to be trying as hard as I can.
And the reason I’m taking so much care, putting so much effort into making sure that what I say is what I really and truly want to say, how I want it said, is because I am writing you all to tell you that I am a transgendered human being.
This is… not as jarring of a proclamation to me as it probably is to you. If you saw this coming, that’s great! I didn’t really try to hide it. If not, please stick with me for at least a few pages so that I can try and explain some things.
All my life, I have felt wrong. And I do mean all my life. Since before most of you knew me, since before I could even put a full definition to what gender even was. I have always felt off in my own body, as though the world I expected and desired did not sync at all with what was happening around me, happening to me.
I have the brain of a female. In all likelihood it is biological, caused during fetal formation by little more than a slightly “off” series of hormonal developments. My mind is a girl’s, but it’s in the body of a boy, and it has been this way for the entirety of my existence, regardless of how I’ve been raised or how my worldly experiences have influenced me.
Imagine for a second here what that would be like. Imagine you, a girl or boy, in the opposite body, and unable to do anything about it. You see the world as a guy or girl, but have to live as a girl or guy, pushed along by societal current, tradition, and bare survival instinct into positions and identities that are increasingly uncomfortable to you, unpalatable to you. Everything about your existence is laced with lies, and it feels like there’s nothing that you can do about it.
This is how it is for me. This is how it’s always been for me. If you’ve always seen me as a Herculean pillar of masculinity, then I guess it just means I’m a good faker. I’m sorry if this makes you feel betrayed, or wronged. That’s never what I wanted to do.
For years I felt that there was nothing I could do about what I felt, and so for years I didn’t intend to do anything about it. Unsurprisingly, this did not work. Transsexuality, I have found, is not a habit you can break, a mindset you can force your way out of, or something you can treat with psychotherapy or drugs. It is a genetic construction that will never, ever change.
But as it turns out, there is something that can be done about it. I’ve always known it was a possibility, but until now I’ve been too terrified to make it a reality. It took time, it took lots of time, for me to build up the courage to admit to myself that it would be a mistake to continue living as a male, and to understand that any apprehensions that I had about doing anything to solve my problems were very much outweighed by the problems themselves, and the implications that they would have on my well- being for the rest of my life.
So I’m doing something about it, and I’m transitioning from male to female. It’s the only cure for my condition, and I am more than happy to take it on.
Here’s what this means. It means that soon, I will no longer be living as or identifying as a male. It means that I will be undergoing hormone replacement therapy to cancel out my body’s male hormones with female ones. It means that I will be physically developing as a female. It means that I will be a female.
It means that I will stop following male fashion trends, and will begin to dress as a female. It means that I will no longer be speaking with that booming bass voice of mine. It means that I’m going to spend lots of money to hire a professional to shoot my facial hair to death with a laser.
It means that I will be undergoing a long and tedious process to shift every bit of identification related to me to reflect my female identity, which will of course include a change of name. Soon enough, my name will be legally changed to Sarah—the name my parents would have given me had I been born a girl.
But above all of the rest, this is the part I want people to understand the most. This is the part where I’m going to be emphatic, where I’m going to be angry, and where I’m probably going to cry a little.
This is the part where I want to make clear that this is not a choice. I am not deciding to become a girl. This is me allowing myself to be who I am, and it is the only route that I can take, because I am done lying about who I am. In transitioning from male to female, I am going to become a second-class citizen in the eyes of many people. I am going to be opening myself up to discrimination and hate. I am going to lose my right to marry. I am going to jeopardize my likelihood of finding a life partner who accepts me. I am going to jeopardize my job security. I am opening myself up to abandonment and rejection by family and friends. I am diving headfirst into what is really a whole world of social trouble, and it is not something that I would choose to do. I’m going to go into debt hundreds of times due to medical bills, and this is not something that I would choose to do.
This is the next step of my life, of my existence and of my development as a human being, and this was always going to happen, because it was never my choice.
Coming to grips with this has been an absurdly hard process, and it has constantly sent me into depression and loneliness. Nearly every personal problem that I’ve had over the course of my life, I can trace back almost certainly to repressed questions of gender identity. Making myself realize it and embrace it took years, and even after that—basically all through high school—the fear and uncertainty of what to do about it made me miserable.
I never told anyone. I lied about what made me sad, or I just didn’t say. Coming out and actually telling someone “I’m transgendered” was a prospect far, far too scary to even consider. Instead I sank inside myself, jealous of people more brave than me and all full of self-pity, and it’s all because I was too scared to just tell anyone that there was something wrong with me. It took being completely low, down, and beaten for me to finally tell my best friend. It was a year after that before I told anyone else. After that person, a couple of weeks to tell another. Despite how scary it was all those times, and despite how scary it still is, it gets easier, and that’s why now I’m able to close my eyes, hold my breath, and send this to all of you—something that a year ago I wasn’t sure I’d ever do.
So before this letter, I told only a few people about my transsexuality—a few of the people closest and most trusted to me, people who I love and people who I felt cared about me enough for me to feel comfortable using them as test subjects in my little revelation. My conversations with them have guided me through the writing of this letter, and have helped me to find what I need to say with it. I want to thank them for letting me cry on them, for holding me, for propping me up and helping me through my very first steps. My talks with them gave me the courage and the confidence to go forward. Thanks so much for helping me, and accepting me, and making me believe that others would accept me too.
I’m writing this letter to everyone in my life so that you all can know what I’m going through, because I feel like it would be unfair for you to not know. I know you didn’t ask for me to spill my heart out like this, and I know it may be annoying to even hear it. I don’t expect you to write me with encouragement, give me three cheers or to be my support group. I just don’t want to give people the wrong impression of me anymore, and this letter is my first step in showing you how I really am. If this means you don’t want me around anymore, that’s okay. I really do understand. If you don’t want to speak to me anymore at all, that’s okay too. Some of you are more on the fringes of my life and probably wouldn’t be saying much to me anyway, and will probably just brush this off as a strange occurrence involving a strange person you met once. And that too is okay.
I can’t ask for acceptance from everyone. I don’t even really expect it. I just want everyone to know.
For the near future, know that my transition is underway right now. Things will be changing about my dress, my mannerisms, my voice, my looks – but keep in mind that beneath it all I’m still the same person. Same likes, same dislikes, same jokes, same taste. I know it’s going to be strange, I know it’s going to be different, and I know most of you have never had to go through this before. It’s okay, I haven’t either. I know there will be awkward situations. I know I’ll be accidentally called Josh and referred to as a male, and I know it will feel weird having to correct yourself when it comes to these things. I expect it, and I’m fine with it. I also expect questions, lots and lots of questions, and I want them to be asked without fear. I’m an understanding person, and I understand how weird this might be for some of you, and I want to minimize that as much as I can—for everyone’s sake.
I’m writing this to all of my friends and acquaintances new and old, but it is the people that I’ve known the longest that this will probably affect the most. People who I’ve known since freshman year of high school, or even before, who have seen me grow as a person and seen me change many times in many different ways, but never this much. I do feel like I should say sorry to you for keeping this a secret for so long, for building up a wall between us that I led you to believe didn’t exist. I’m not sorry for who I am, but I am sorry for who I made you believe I was.
Again, all I can do is ask for your understanding—but if I don’t receive it, I’ll probably live. Since coming to terms with all of this, I’m already a happier person. I am taking my short life into my own hands, and I’m going to live it the way that I deserve to live it. I refuse to go on acting as I’ve felt the world would like me to.
This is my story, and I’m going to write myself the way I want to be.
Love and peace to all of ya.