“To be, or not to be: that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them?” – Hamlet Act 3, Scene 1.
Probably not a quote that anybody would expect to read on a transgender website, but the doomed Prince of Denmark’s most famous soliloquy actually draw a parallel to this week’s topic. At the beginning of Act 3, Hamlet is in many ways struggling with his identity and unsure of how to continue towards his goals. He is left with no choice but to put on an invisible costume and pretend to be something that he’s not, and ostracizes those who know him best.
This is a feeling that many, if not all transgender individuals, can certainly relate to, especially prior to coming out. Every day, we wake up and get dressed as our pretend selves, donning the costume that portrays us as the world sees us, and putting on the performance of a lifetime, as we show the world exactly what they expect to see from us.
“To be, or not to be: that is the question.” Who are we, should we step out of the shadows that we hide in and allow ourselves to be the person who deep down, we truly know that we are?
> "DO WE DARE STEP OUT TO THE WORLD, KNOWING HOW MUCH HATRED IS OUT THERE AND HOW SHUNNED THE TRANSGENDER COMMUNITY IS OUT IN THE WORLD?”
“Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them?” Is it worth the risk for us to open up and allow the world to see the hidden individual inside? Can we stand up to the pain that our coming out will cause our loved ones? Do we dare step out to the world, knowing how much hatred is out there and how shunned the transgender community is out in the world?
When I came out to my wife and family, it was one of the hardest situations that I had ever dealt with. Deep down, I knew that they loved me, and would continue to do so no matter who I chose to be; but the idea of telling anybody such a secret is enough to strike even the bravest of individuals with fear. A few months after coming out at home, I decided that it was time to come out at the bank in which I worked. The idea terrified me, and I postponed my announcement repeatedly, each time heading into my office with full intent, before crawling into my own little mental hole and hiding away as best I can.
I started slow, coming out first individually to first my assistant manager and then, with her help, to my branch manager. Together, the three of us devised a plan to address the rest of the staff by utilizing a 2 page document from our Human Resource website titled “How to Support a Coworker Who Is Transgender.” The idea that my company already had such a document in place meant the world to me and certainly helped to reduce my anxiety. I printed a copy for each of my colleagues and set out to chat with each of them one by one.
I started with our head teller, somebody who I had become increasingly close with over the last few months. We were on the opening shift together and as we were getting the bank ready to open, we chatted about a few different things before I finally changed the topic. She was extremely accepting, as I expected her to be, and offered to help me with anything I needed as my journey continued. Over the first half of the day, I had similar conversations with a few others, waiting for a proper moment where we could chat in private. Everybody thus far was just as accepting as the last. But as I worked my way down the list of coworkers, my anxiety only grew. As many of us likely do, I worked my way down the list starting with those who I felt would be the most accepting, but when it came to talk to the final two employees of my branch, I was terrified. Even though we all tend to keep our political opinions out of the workplace, these were two people who I knew to lean a bit more towards the right, and sadly, I knew how many who voted along these lines tended to feel towards the LGBT Community. But, much to my surprise, both of them were actually quite accepting when I opened up to them, one of them, even gave me the single best reaction I have received to date.
It was the end of the day and I was about to leave for the weekend when I sat down with my store supervisor. I had saved him for last not only because of his political leanings, but because even after a year working together, he was probably the person who I had spent the least amount of time with. He was a great supervisor, and had helped me a lot in building my skills as a banker; however, I had never had a personal conversation with him at all and partly expected him to be the most likely to react negatively. I sat down across from him and started the conversation that I had already repeated 8 times that day.
> “ONCE THE WORDS WERE OUT OF MY MOUTH, “I’M TRANSGENDER,” HE LEANED IN ALMOST AS IF HE WAS TRYING TO LOOK THROUGH ME."
Once the words were out of my mouth, “I’m transgender,” he leaned in almost as if he was trying to look through me. My anxiety continued to grow, expecting him to lash out at any moment; instead he said something that at first, confused the hell out of me; “Really? No Shit? How long ago did you transition?” I sat there for a few moments, dumbfounded, what the hell did he mean by that? Then it clicked in my head and I realized, he thought that I was telling him that I was assigned female when I was born. He was looking at me, trying to see the female features that he assumed I had long ago hidden.
“No,” I explained with a laugh. “I haven’t transitioned yet, I’m looking to begin sometime next year and will eventually start coming in to work presenting female.” He turned red with embarrassment, afraid that he might have offended me. He apologized for the misunderstanding and told me that I had his full support with whatever happened along the way.
I had done it; I had come out at work. It was now 8 months since I had first come out at home, and so far, I had received nothing but positivity, praise, and support. For the first time in a very long time, I felt like things were going to be OK, that my life was truly heading into a new direction and I was going to be able to become my truest self without fear. But at the same time, part of me felt sad, not about my own identity and journey, but knowing that so many of my transgender brothers and sisters out in the world were experiencing the exact opposite reactions from people. That trans people are being kicked out of their homes, getting divorced, losing their jobs, and even their lives, just for being true to themselves. For daring TO BE whom they needed to be, NOT TO BE who others wanted them to be.