My “Coming Out” Story and My Parents
A lot of people ask me how I came out to my parents and how that process has been since I came out. There are two parts of this process because I first came out as a gay woman. Anyways, here is the story!
Part I: “Mom, Dad, I’m gay.”
When I was 11, I developed a crush on a close friend who was a girl. I knew that I was supposed to be a girl, so I concluded that this made me gay. I went to a very liberal school, so we’d been educated about gay and lesbian people since kindergarten. However, we knew very little about transgender people. The ‘T’ of LGBT was often left off. I wrote on a little piece of paper “Found out I’m gay. – 2007.” I stuffed this little slip in the back of my mementos drawer and proceeded to “forget” about it. I refused to think about girls in that way. When people asked me about crushes I avoided the question with a lot of anxiety.
I’d been presenting as male for most of my conscious life (I say “conscious” life because I’m referring to the ages when I’d developed a personality and was able to make my own decisions for real – so about 8 years and up) but when I entered high school, sick of being stared at in the girls’ bathrooms and being asked why I was there in the first place, I desperately tried to conform. I grew my hair long and bought tighter clothing. For the first time since I could remember, I shopped in the girls’ section. I forced myself to engage in conversation about boys and I tried very hard to understand what it meant to be a girl. It was during this time that I began developing a lot of my mental health problems.
The summer (of 2012) before my junior year in high school, the inauthenticity was killing me (quite literally) and in the short span of about a week, I decided I had to come out as gay. That had to be it, I thought to myself; that had to be the thing I was hiding. It was a Tuesday and I thought I’d tell them together but my mom left on a business trip that morning so I had to tell them one by one. I chose her first because I figured over the phone would be easier. I crushed myself into my closet, shut the door, and called her.
“Mom, I have something to tell you.” She was calm, but sounded a little worried.
“Okay, what’s the matter?”
And it took me a while but eventually I said, “Mom, I’m gay.”
I think she was more surprised at the circumstances than the declaration itself. She was more worried that I was so upset about it. She said all of the right things – the I love you no matter whats, the you’re okays, the don’t worries. In later conversation, she’s told me that she was more confused that I had to tell her in the first place. She said, “If you just came home with a girl one day, I would have asked you what her name was. No more.”
I told my dad in a similar, hurried manner. He didn’t seem surprised at the fact itself but rather in the way I had to tell him – rushing to swim practice…
This declaration provided some relief as I was then able to participate in typical teenager conversation about crushes and I began exploring my sexuality a bit more. I joined my school’s LGBT club and was pretty active in our community. But something still felt incredibly wrong and I never felt like a “lesbian.” There was a lesbian-affinity group at my high school and this was the most uncomfortable place for me in the entire school. I remember telling my best friend and girlfriend at the time that this group left me feeling an intense inward disgust, so much so that all I wanted to do was vomit.
Part II: “I think I’m transgender”
Fast forwards a few months after my high school graduation in 2014: I was in residential treatment for eating disorder rehabilitation. I began learning more and more about myself – the way my brain works, the way my emotions manifest themselves, why I am the way I am, etc. And through this thorough process of self-discovery, I began consciously questioning my gender identity for the first time. I realized that a lot of my body discomfort was related to gender and the way I experienced my body’s gender.
In a few agonizing months, I realized that the word “transgender” fit my experience nearly perfectly. But everything during that time was so much of a process – everything was changing constantly and I knew very little about the person I would emerge as when the process ended. So when my mom visited with my brother, I told her, “Mom, I think I’m transgender.” She nodded and said, “Okay,” un-phased. By this time, not much seemed to phase her. However, when I mentioned physical transition and the possibility of not being able to swim anymore, she was a bit more hesitant. “Okay, well we’ll have to talk about that more,” was her response. It was a short conversation. In passing. Not a big deal. I think the nonchalance came because my mom loves me very much but also because being in residential treatment is a crazy time and my parents just wanted me to be okay, no matter how. When I told my brother, he just said, “Okay. Well, you’ve always wanted to be a boy!” and that was it.
My dad came to visit a month or so later and he, coincidentally, arrived and then immediately was supposed to pick me up from this gender workshop I’d just attended. When he got there, I ran out to him sobbing. He just pulled me into a hug and held me tightly as I cried. When the sobs lessened he asked me, “What’s wrong?” And I choked out, “Daddy, I think I’m transgender.” And he said something about already knowing that and then that everything was going to be okay.
My parents have always been my biggest supporters and I have never doubted the love they feel for me. I’ve never felt like they don’t accept me or don’t like who I am. The only real conflict that spurred because of my being transgender throughout this process came with the conversation of physical change. My parents were completely supportive of my identity, however, the idea of surgeries and hormones was very scary to them. My mom, especially, was hesitant when I seriously brought up top surgery (because this was the first physical transition process I wanted to undergo) and resisted my hurry to schedule it. To her credit, I had literally just been discharged from the treatment center and everything in my life (including my perceptions of my own life and desires and life goals, etc.) were all changing rapidly and without reason. So it made a lot of sense that she was nervous when I asked her for permission to cut off a body part of mine.
I think time was essential to helping my parents understand my desire for physical changes – and also my persistence. I repeatedly explained how I was feeling and I think the more logical, assertive, and calm I was about it, the better they understood.
Grieving is also a part of this process. I think that both my parents and my brother felt (and perhaps still feel at times) they’ve lost their daughter or his sister. Gender, while it may be often show itself as a social construct, is incredibly socially and societally important and I think that when I switched labels – sister to brother, daughter to son – my loved ones felt a sense of loss. I understand this and I support them in their grieving because I, too, feel it at times. I am not any different as a human – I’m still me, I’m still Schuyler – and that’s been something that I’ve been absolutely adamant about through everything. But labels are not meaningless, even if I wish them to be. And often times I do feel loss. Imagine, I spent 18 years of my life believing I was supposed to be this woman, and planning the rest of my life as a woman. This transition, while life-saving to me, destroyed all of that. And that is okay, because I am here, and because this is absolutely what I want. But that doesn’t mean grieving isn’t part of the process. The reality is dialectic; that is, two seemingly conflicting things are true at the same time. I am not lost, and I have not been lost. In fact, I am more ‘here’ and ‘present’ than I have ever been. But there are pieces of me that are no longer expressed the same way. I am called sir, not ma’am. I am brother not sister. I am son not daughter. And pershaps the reality is I have always been brother, and son, but a part of me will always be sister, and daughter. (For more on this sadness/grieving, see this poem and this Instagram post.)
These days, my parents are absolutely my biggest supports and my biggest fans. They say that they wish they could have found a way to let me transition earlier in life (specifically before I went through female puberty) so as to have prevented all of the strife that this process has brought. But I don’t blame them for that at all. I never told them how I felt when I was younger, and being transgender wasn’t even a social conversation at the time, at least not the way it is now. They didn’t know and they didn’t have any references. And even though this has been exceedingly diffifcult, I wouldn’t go back and change it if I could. I am the person I am today because of everything I went through. And I really enjoy who I am today.