In dealing with my hometown, my family, and my friends, I often ask myself the questions that I imagine everyone else is asking: What would your parents think? What about Elizabeth, your dear mom, and Frank (nicknamed “Rowdy,” for a reason), your good-ole-boy father? Would they be proud of you? Would they disown you? Would they make ashamed apologies to their friends at the bank, coffee shop, post office, or bridge club?

Rowdy died in 2002 and Elizabeth in 2005, and I won’t have a chance to find out what they’d think. I do know that my sister and I have embodied all of their values (whether we liked it or not), and we’re doing just fine with me, so I’d like to think that we can extend that acceptance and love backwards a generation to imagine a homecoming that’s loving and excited and proud. And that’s the image I carry with me in my dealings with hometown people — I’m a little bit Elizabeth and a little bit Rowdy, and even through I’m doing something really different, I’m not ashamed of it, and I don’t expect anyone I tell to be ashamed, either.

Your good name and your word were all you’ve got, I was told growing up, and I believe my name is still good and I keep my word in all my dealings, perhaps even more so now that I don’t have the albatross of GID around my neck.

My mother was a Law, and I still have my uncle John Law to keep me tied with her family, and I still have my aunt Phoebe and uncle Pat on the Bailey side of the family, and these siblings of my parents represent to me a tracing of my family history and values through which Elizabeth and Rowdy are tangible. Our relationships are just evolving with my personal news, and I’m looking forward to talking about our families in the coming years.

Last time I was home, my sister Liz said that I looked just like our mother, which is not only a beautiful compliment to me, but is perhaps yet another kind of external proof that I’m still a member of our family, that I’m still welcome at our holiday table, with immediate and extended family all seated together in a supportive holiday gathering.

Joyce and Mom 1962
Joyce and Mom, 1962

A few weeks ago, I started changing my avatars at the various discussion boards I frequent. My old avatar (or the picture that accompanies my posts in a little thumbnail), was from a picture of me in Second Life, and the new one is obviously based on flesh and blood:

Joyce Second Life Avatar Joyce Avatar

It’s clear that my old avatar isn’t the “real” me, but I have used my Second Life persona a lot in the past 18 months to try out body shapes, clothes, interactions with other people, and work through issues in SecondLife support groups. I have been this version of Joyce for quite a while and she feels very real to me.

The new avatar is more “real” than the SL avatar, since she’s cut out of a real photograph and represents a bodily Joyce. This new avatar reveals how the whole world will probably see Joyce in a few months, and I find that changing this avatar picture in online forums that are private and protected spaces for trans* people and their loved ones still feels like a kind of coming out. It tells these communities that “Joyce,” who has been posting her observations under the cloak of semi-anonymity for a while, has a real face that she’s finally ready to begin revealing. This action sort of feels like a big step in the coming-out campaign, as I count these discussion boards as part of my community.

Changing my avatar feels a little bit like changing a driver’s license or passport photograph because it’s usually the one stable representation of me that goes with me wherever I go. It’s not as difficult as telling my family or close friends I’m a transsexual, of course, but it does carry a slight feeling of difficulty and danger as the realness of my impending and voluntary outing to everyone is nigh upon me.