The Dysphoric Spiral
“Gender-bending fucker. Come on, let’s go.”
These were the parting words of a man who was barred from my place of work after I reminded him of that fact. His friend tried to talk to me, and I honestly don’t even remember what was said, but there was no argument. I saw them off in full angry teacher mode: tall, stern, unyielding. I ran to the kitchen to cry once they had gone.
I finished my shift. I had my fiancée with me in minutes - she was at mine doing some studying - and the people I work with rallied around me. One came in to have a drink with a friend to make sure I was OK. My boss made sure she showed up to cash out an hour early as well. I cried a little more but got on with my shift. It was quiet as well, which helped.
This was the first transphobic incident I experienced at this particular job. Before that, I suffered at the hands of the children I helped teach. Not too far off this time last year, a child told me I needed to take my wig off because I’m bald. Chanting ‘baldy’ after me as I walked off with what dignity I could muster before fleeing to the staff room, where I was unable to stop the waterworks for a good hour. The next incident was a child telling me that she didn’t have to listen to me, as I wasn’t a real girl anyway. That bit didn’t bother me though, what bothered me was a lovely girl I had a brilliant relationship with telling me they said that because of how I sounded.
"ALL OF THESE INCIDENTS HAD THE SAME RESULT: MY CAREFULLY CONSTRUCTED COMPOSURE FELL APART INSIDE AND OUT AS I SLOWLY DECONSTRUCTED EVERY MOMENT I EVER EXPERIENCED WITH THAT INDIVIDUAL."
All of these incidents had the same result: my carefully constructed composure fell apart inside and out as I slowly deconstructed every moment I ever experienced with that individual. In a blink, every flash of memory is dissected in an effort to discover where I was found wanting. It all smashed into my consciousness all at once, and with no real answer, nothing useful to gain, I collapsed. The tears came, and then it’s over. Except for this time.
I was much stronger this time. The most recent incident before was some nine months earlier. I’ve had a long time to internalise the changes I’ve made; nine months of automatic passing (to the best of my knowledge) to know there was no question what I was. I also felt more secure in my place of work, though in both settings the people around me worked hard to support me. I also had no obligation to this wanker; children I had to take care of and safeguard even as they assaulted me. This guy was nobody.
This incident was also distinct because it was likely a direct consequence of my being out and open at work. Previously, I was out to the staff but not customers (to use an analogue). The children at the school had to work on hearsay and gossip to level their attacks at me. At my current job, my transgender status isn’t a secret: this guy didn’t need to do any guesswork or clocking to level that at me. Anyone could have gone ahead and said something at any point, and he would then know.
Despite it all, I don’t regret being out and open at work. Stealth just isn’t me; I like people just knowing what’s going on. I don’t want to worry about what people may or may not know about me. I hate the idea that some people are safe to share with and others not. I just need to be open, even if I only raise a topic when it’s relevant to the conversation. Need to know, not a secret.
"I DIDN’T SIT DOWN AND DECIDE TO BE OUT; I JUST WAS."
The decision to be out and open wasn’t made. I didn’t sit down and decide to be out; I just was. I’m comfortable in myself, and I feel safe there. That was pretty much as far as it went: I’m transgender, I’m comfortable in that, my place of work feels safe. They accept me as I am and gave me the autonomy to find my own way forward - nobody asked me how I wanted to handle it. I essentially didn’t handle it. I was myself.
None of this mitigates the dysphoric spiral that results from an attack. The process is the same: comment or threat, internal dissection, the break down. The aftermath works the same too: the cool down, the reaching out in all directions for help, the self erasure until enough distance is achieved to find oneself again. My mind is pulled apart, and I put myself together, piece by piece.
So perhaps this is the cost. Maybe I need to be as I am for my own sense of humanity and that means I’m occasionally verbally assaulted and threatened. Is it worth it? Well, I can’t really take it back. One doesn’t fade away overnight; one can’t just go back in after coming out - not right away, anyway. For this phase, I’m out and open. If I wanted to go stealth, I would have to wait for another opportunity to fade into the woodwork.
I can see a scenario where I do disappear, but I think it is unlikely. I said to my fiancée today that it’s likely we will be visible forever, and she said she was fine with that. Visibility is the plan for the foreseeable future, threats or no. For now, the threat to my safety and well-being is less of a cost than that to myself as a human being.