When in the course of transsexual events it becomes necessary to move beyond telling people about your transition one by one, it’s time to write a letter. Not just any letter, mind you, but one that has been crafted for every nuance, one that isn’t too simplistic but that also doesn’t go into all the myriad explanations that you’ve discovered about your condition over the years.
The letter has to let people know in no uncertain terms what’s going on with you — it must not be apologetic or pathetic, but optimistic and excited about the future (even if it’s been hellish getting to this point). The letter needs to make certain logistical things clear, like what your new name is going to be, when you’re going to start looking like your new sex, and what kind of schedule you’re going to be keeping until the dust settles.
In short, the “I’m a transsexual” letter is a complex rhetorical genre, and there are many variations of it, all of them more or less effective for their own circumstances. Some letters are bombshells, as was Christine Daniels’ letter of April 26th, 2007. Christine was Mike Penner, sportswriter of the Los Angeles Times, and this letter was his/her column announcing her transition. It’s a wonderful read, snappy and informative with lots of lines worth stealing.
Jenny Boylan quotes her letter in She’s Not There, and it’s got a nice blend of humor and fact that you would expect from an accomplished novelist.
The TS Roadmap website distinguishes between the coming out letter for family and friends and the letter designed for fellow workers at one’s place of employment, and has lots of advice for what should go in each type of letter.
My letter has been in progress for many months. It started as a rambling dictation on my little digital recorder in the car on the way home from work one day. I had not planned on writing it, but I just turned on the recorder and found myself saying, “dear friends, colleagues, and family,” and speaking honestly to them about my situation, and it was therapeutic and helpful for me at that particular time. I took this recording and wrote it into a wordprocessing document and used it for many months to look at as “my letter.”
Mary read it and said bluntly, “it’s too long.” So I started revising, and eventually came up with a much shorter version. However, when I read it after a month or so, I realized it sounded whiny or apologetic, and while that’s maybe a good interim kind of tone to have, it’s not what you want for the real thing. So I revised yet again, and think I’m getting really close.
I’ve also been working on a separate document that covers “Trans 101,” or the general issues around gender and sex that help explain things, but which are too detailed to be included in the letter. This blog, the “Trans 101” document, the recommended books and websites — all constitute appendices to the letter, if you want to think of them that way. You’re hoping that the reader, someone you care enough about to write them this letter in the first place, is going to want to know more, is going to want to know as much about trans* as you do, and that they’ll plow into these appendices with gusto so they can understand all the nights of despair, the slow self-acceptance, and the various joys you’ve encountered to this point. In reality, the letter will probably be the only thing most of them read, and that’s why it needs to include a little bit of everything.
Something I’ve noticed about my letter — as it gets closer to being finished, the task of coming out to people begins to become more real. I feel a little like Penelope weaving the tapestry in the daytime, unweaving it at night because when she finishes, she’ll have to pick one of her suitors — part of me wants to finish so I can mail it out to people, but part of me wants to keep revising because as long as it’s not quite ready, I still have a private life and do not have to respond to anyone about my plans. Maybe this is a little like my Indian Summer posting from a month ago. Honestly, I’m feeling more and more ready to do this thing, and my letter is getting more and more refined. When I put the pencil down, I guess it’ll be time to turn in my work, eh?