By Matt Kailey
A reader writes: “One thing that’s been on my mind and has begun to gnaw at me is the possibility of losing my visibility within the GLBTQ community.
“Once I have my top surgery in a few months, I’m scared that I’m going to be pegged as cis and straight. Is this something you were nervous about with your transition, and if so, how did you overcome it?”
I was not worried about this pre-transition for a couple of reasons: At the time, I wanted people to see me as non-trans (not necessarily so anymore), and I knew that no one would ever see me as straight (although, surprisingly, some people do). I also came from the straight community, so I did not have ties to the LGBTQ community prior to the realization that I was trans.
However, I think I have some sense of the dilemma. If you have strong ties to this community, and have been seen as queer, gay, or lesbian for some time, both inside and outside of the community, you are faced with losing one piece of your identity even as you gain the rest of it.
It’s similar to what happens to a perceived lesbian couple when one member of that couple transitions. Even if the guy is happy about being seen as a straight male by the world, his partner is often unhappy about what she sees as losing her lesbian identity when others both inside and outside the community treat them as a straight couple. And they also risk losing their standing and their friends within the lesbian community.
Based on your statement that chest surgery will be what causes you to be seen as cis and straight, I’m going to assume that you are a trans man. It sounds as if you are facing the possible loss of friends and identity within the LGBTQ community (for example, within a particular lesbian group that you might have been attached to), and certainly you will be perceived differently outside of the community. You may very well lose the queer part of your identity as far as the larger world is concerned.
I think there are a couple of things that you can do to counteract this loss of identity, at least for yourself.
Obviously, you are still in this community, and this is where you want to be, so spend as much time as possible doing things in the community – attending functions, volunteering, and being an activist. In all these situations, you can come out as trans if you want to – some LGBTQ people will assume that you’re trans because you’re doing the work alongside of them, but other people will assume that you are a gay man (which you may be – I’m not sure). Regardless, when you’re doing work in the community, people will see you as part of that community.
Outside of the community, you could do advocacy work, such as speaking on college campuses and training organizations on LGBTQ issues. It will allow you to benefit your community by educating others, and to be seen outside of the community as trans. You can also come out whenever it’s safe and appropriate, and you can always speak out against transphobic or homophobic behavior and comments, regardless of how you’re seen.
However, you may have to accept the fact that, in casual conversation and passing situations, people you run into outside of your community are going to see you as non-trans and straight, while people within your community might see you as a non-trans gay man.
I would tell you what I usually tell lesbian women whose partner is transitioning and who are worried about losing their lesbian identity in the world because of it: “The world may see you as straight now, but you know who you are. Your internal identity is all that really matters, and you don’t have to lose that.”
Most people in the world are so wrapped up in their own lives and their own problems that they don’t have a lot of interest in processing other people’s identities, anyway. The only people who seem to lead such uninteresting lives that they have time to worry about who the rest of us are and what we’re doing are the members of the religious right. So you may not lose too much with regard to your identity in the localized community or in larger society.
The most important thing is what’s inside of you – that you know who you are. And it sounds as if you do know and you’re taking steps to make your inner identity an outer reality. Others’ perceptions of you may change, but they are only perceptions. Your true identity lies within you.
Readers, what do you think?
This post originally appeared on Matt Kailey's award-winning website Tranifesto.com. Republished with permission.