We’ve all heard of the stories of people having to come out to their friends and families, the good stories as well as the bad ones. But there’s one story that isn’t often told, and that’s the story of the person coming out to themselves.
Gender identity and sexual orientation, despite all the progress made in the last few decades, especially in this country (and for that we should be thankful), are still aspects of society that are either not understood, are misinterpreted, or are seen as some kind of curiosity. The former two especially. Gender identity is itself very hard to define because there are so many facets in which it can present itself, and so can give the impression that it is a divided identity: someone who’s trying to grapple with their own sense of self, that there’s no true core, that there’s no label that defines them. It’s the same in sexual orientation. While the titles of lesbian, bi-sexual or gay might preserve a certain sigularity, none can adequately determine the whole of a person.
This want for definition was something I battle with myself, asking myself: “What am I?” in the silence of the night, away from anyone who might hear. I thought myself different, weird, an outcast forced to play the part, to wear the mask. I didn’t want to tell anyone because I didn’t want to tell myself. I was the last person who wanted to hear, but also the first person who needed to. It took years for me to realise that I was actually wearing that mask in the first place, and even longer to work up the courage to take it off. But that’s where the true strength lies, in the ability to say to yourself: “This is me.” It doesn’t matter if no-one else hears it or if no-one else knows, as long as you do then there’s an element of completion, in looking beyond the mask and in fixing an identity beyond the expectations placed upon you, and from simply existing.
We might wish for the many definitions of the LGBT spectrum to find some meaning or some sense of inclusion, so we can say: “I’m gay,” or “I’m transgender.” I myself spent hours scrolling through websites on such matters as I was trying to come to terms with the possibility that I might be transgender, but then I realised that it didn’t matter what I identified as. I was me. There was no label stamped upon my forehead, no dictionary with my name in it, all of me summed up in a paragraph of words. In realising this I found a measure of peace. I was comfortable with myself and I knew that I could trust myself to be who I wanted to be. That truth is a hard one to face, perhaps the hardest, and it takes tremendous fortitude to take that leap into the depths of the mirror, but once taken – wherever the landing may be – it can only ever be for the better.
I was fifteen when I came out as possibly bi-sexual, after about five years of confusion and self-degradation. I was eighteen when I came out as gay, and then, at twenty, I came out as transgender. While I may not have physically changed, the mental battles I have fought have made me stronger. Anyone who fights them will know of the hardships, the stinging defeats, but also the final, sweet, inevitable victories. In darker times, it may seem as though they may never come, but they do. Look in the mirror and summon the strength to take off the mask. Grasp your victories, and live them.