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LGBTQIA+ / Trans Experiences

Lockdown Reminded Me That Coming Out Is Not As Empowering As It Seems

"I’ve come out to a few people, but there are still plenty who don’t yet know. And everyone new that I meet presents a choice: whether to come out or not."

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Written by Tomara Garrod.

Art by Aislinn Evans.

 

The UK is heading steadily towards the end of it’s so-called lockdown. Many of us are incredibly excited for the long awaited “return to normal”. But although I’m excited to reboot my social life, the thought also brings me anxiety. What does it mean for a trans* person to come out of lockdown? I’ve barely come out of my house in 3 months! And this anxiety has reminded me that coming out is not the simple and empowering act we imagine. It’s a messy, ongoing process of continuous, fragile and ephemeral actions.

Before lockdown, I was interacting with dozens of people every day. This meant dozens of struggles over pronouns. Dozens of moments fighting to be seen as trans*, while simultaneously fearing the consequences.

At the beginning of lockdown, I was scared that my newly and delicately crafted identity might not survive isolation. What would I become, without the public eye to scrutinize how I dress and behave? I was so used to measuring my identity by the expectations of others. But lockdown brought me relief from this daily policing, and offered pockets of freedom from anxiety and repression.

Before lockdown, I was interacting with dozens of people every day. This meant dozens of struggles over pronouns. Dozens of moments fighting to be seen as trans*, while simultaneously fearing the consequences. Now it’s mostly just me & my housemates. I’m privileged to live with loving and open-minded allies. Lockdown has provided more opportunities to open up to them, and form supportive relationships where I live.

When I do leave my house to interact with someone outside, I feel much safer. I know who I’m travelling to see, and the streets are largely empty, so I’m more free to dress how I want. Even better, I can preserve my anonymity with a face mask. As a white person, I do so without being perceived as criminal or infected. I’m given the benefit of the doubt, and this extends to my gender. I pass through the world without fear of scrutiny and danger.

It’s ludicrous that I needed a national lockdown to feel safe in public. Many of my siblings haven’t felt such benefits. Many live in transphobic homes, whose oppressiveness is only exacerbated by the lockdown.[1] Many also live in areas with racist populations, who are now more present than ever.[2] So I’m only discovering a ‘pocket of freedom’ in the shallowest sense. This isn’t a gain for trans* rights, it only points to the impoverished existence of trans* people in the UK. I’m only safer locking myself away when the pressure outside is too much to come out to.

When I come out of my house, you expect to see something you recognize. But I don’t fit these expectations.

It’s important we name this pressure as the cis-normative demand to conform to binary expressions of gender. When I come out of my house, you expect to see something you recognize. But I don’t fit these expectations. So you might be confused, or scared. And if I want to be recognized as a citizen, I’ll have to help you understand. I’ll have to come out even further and explain my non-conformity to you.

Once I came in to myself, I immediately began coming out to people I was close to. Lockdown obstructed this project. My circle has shrunk to a small amount of people, who I see regularly enough that the message sticks. In some sense, my coming out is complete!

But as soon as lockdown ends, I’ll be right back where I started, surrounded by people who barely recognize me. And when I imagine meeting them, I remember that coming out isn’t an empowering as I was told. In fact it’s full of pressure, in at least 3 ways:

Coming out is a continuous process, not a single act.

I’ve come out to a few people, but there are still plenty who don’t yet know. And everyone new that I meet presents a choice: whether to come out or not. So it’s not enough to come out once. I have to keep doing it until everyone knows. I have some choice of who counts as “everyone”. But if I shrink this too far, am I really, fully out at all?

Coming out is a fragile utterance, not a concrete articulation.

It’s not enough for me to say “I’m trans”. You won’t necessarily know what I mean by it, so I’ll need to explain further. And because I’m trying to help you understand, I’ll need to do so in language that makes sense to you. Since language is a blunt instrument, your interpretation will be your own. So you hold a lot of power here. Even when I come out & explicitly describe myself to you, I don’t have total control over how you perceive me.

Coming out is an ephemeral event, not an eternal marker.

Coming out to someone once is rarely enough. You’re likely to forget my pronouns, especially after months of social distancing. So an act of coming out doesn’t last, it must be maintained. I’ll have to top it up by repeating myself until the message sticks.

Together, the above imposes a linear timeline on my life – from “in”, towards “out”. At the beginning, I was scared that lockdown would disrupt this timeline, and the progression of my life. But my life isn’t on pause, nor is my liberation. I have found relief in this period, and more resilience against the persistent rise of transphobic rhetoric and policy. So it makes me ask, what good is coming out in 2020?

When the lockdown ends, I’ll return to the pressures that keep me locked in. I want the respect, support and love of my fellow citizens. But coming out to ask for it only reinforces the pressure I feel and the power of others over me. I don’t want to have to come out anymore. I’m not even sure I want cis people to let me in. Much better, I want you to help me burn this entire house down.

Bibliography

LGBT Foundation (2020), Hidden Figures: The Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on LGBT Communities in the UK

Pink News (2020), JK Rowling met with tidal wave of anger after using her enormous platform to send string of ‘hateful’ anti-trans tweets

Pink News (2020), Boris Johnson is scrapping long-overdue plans to allow trans people to self-ID despite overwhelming public support, report claims

[1] LGBT Foundation (2020), p. 17-19

[2] LGBT Foundation (2020), p. 20


About the Author

Tomara Garrod is a poet, community arts organiser and workshop facilitator. They love the flexibility of writing as a poet, and have followed their curiousity through music, fine art and theatre. They’ve published essays on aesthetics and masculinity studies. You can find a full portfolio of their work at www.slamthepoet.com.

Follow on IG: @slamthepoe


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