I have avoided blogging specific instances of disclosing my transsexual nature to friends because a) I don’t want to feel obligated to describe each of them, and b) I wouldn’t want different individuals and couples to feel that their story was given less importance than someone else’s, and there would be inevitable differences. I’m keeping my own notes, but the other thing I’ve noticed is that these disclosures are so emotional that it’s really hard to remember specifics — I noted this inability to recall details in my post on talking to my department chair, and I have found it to be similar with others.

However, having had talks with my chair, Khloe, Annabelle, Kevin, Byron and Andrea, Gerald, Monette, and Andrea, I note the following:

Making disclosures to people gets easier with time and practice. I knew this from reading coming out stories, but knowing something and feeling safe are two different things. Taking the leap of faith with my first couple of friends was remarkably frightening. Dis-closing = opening, no? And having been closed off and secretive for so long, openness does not come naturally. I like the metaphor of ceasing to close rather than that of coming out of a closet because, frankly, there is a difference in a room filled with clothes and a state of being closed-off from yourself and your friends and family.

People need to ask an initial question or two before their head explodes, and this initial question is often “When’s the surgery?” or “You’ve known since you were a child?” or “How is Mary Jo taking it?” Later in the conversation, questions get more expansive, and reveal how both of us are brainstorming various possibilities–medical, social, clothing, history, or what-have-you. I feel a lot better at this stage of the conversation because I’m involved in a give-and-take with a friend instead of being in the spotlight delivering a confessional. At this stage in the conversation, it’s almost fun, probably because all of the fear and adrenaline are gone and it’s just friends talking again.

Having had an enormous secret revealed to them, most of these friends seem to have felt compelled to share something revealing about themselves. I feel both awkward about this and honored by it, awkward because I cannot expect a quid-pro-quo from anyone and I hate my friends to feel as if I am expecting it, and honored because the gesture cements and reaffirms our friendship, pointing the way to a new kind of relationship based on openness and trust. This moment of disclosure is not the only moment in our relationship, but the end of something and the beginning of a new stage, one that has been opened for further inquiries and discussions.

Every so often during conversations like these (and the frequency depends on the person), their eyes drift off into space and I can tell that some unconscious alert has bubbled up into their consciousness, then their eyes get big, they get a sheepish smile over their face, they shake their heads slowly and say something like “Wow!” or “Gosh.” I think it’s incredibly cute, because after blurting it out and smiling and indulging their inner voices, they return to their questions or their observations. If I wait another few minutes, the same grin, slow shaking of the head, and “Wow!” comes back. There must be this intellectual/emotional pendulum swinging in there, and during these conversations (which are quite surprising for most people), no amount of willpower can keep the pendulum over in Objective-Ville. It falls from that position, gaining speed and momentum, until it’s way over there in I’m-So-Surprised-Land. If you can’t tell from my tone, I love those moments.

When I have dropped hints and said I’d like to meet to talk about something personal, almost everyone has made a mental list of bad things that may happen, which is normal, I suppose. I would like to apologize to all my friends to creating more drama than necessary, but it is hard to set up a safe space that will let us talk for a while uninterrupted. The three things that almost every person has put on their list of bad things that might be happening are these:

  • I’m quitting my job
  • Mary and I are getting a divorce
  • I’ve got some kind of deadly disease

For almost all of my friends, having a sex change didn’t make it anywhere on the list. Somewhere in our conversation, I ask if they were surprised, and I’m able to report that yes, this news definitely comes as a surprise. For several, the relief that it was “just a sex change” and not something disruptive in our academic department was both reassuring and awfully funny.

After all, we need to keep our priorities straight. And being professors and parents and workers of various sorts, we live in the real world and we have real concerns. Once the shock of someone’s “sex-change” announcement has died out, I think it’s entirely natural to ask yourself if this will have any impact on your job or your friendships. I love it when people say, “whew, I thought you were going to quit or something.”