“And I Do Mean All My Life”: A Trans* Coming Out Letter

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“My name is Sarah Szabo, and I’m a twenty-two year old transsexual,” goes a sentence that, not five years ago, I never thought I’d ever say. Five years ago, I was a high school graduate on way to being a college freshman. Also, a boy. My name was Josh, I had a beard, and I had a secret. I was lugging around a weight that any closet-familiar queer kid likely knows a thing or two about, that kind of smirking, “if-you-only-knew” knowledge of the self, held close and very personal behind a cloudy facade. I’m a woman and I know it, I’d think to myself. I wonder if I’m ever gonna tell anybody.

For transgender people, the closet isn’t so much a place you hide in as a jail you’re stuck inside. It’s not just that you can’t have the life experiences you want—your hormones feel wrong, your body looks wrong, your clothes hang wrong, and you hate your haircut. It’s like there’s another You in you, and if you’re closeted, your biggest wish for the longest time is that they’ll simply go away. If you’re ostensibly a straight man, like I was, you feel a little like a Dr. Jekyll-type doing your very best to snuff out a persistent and annoyingly faggy Mr. Hyde.

This isn’t to belittle the experience of gays and lesbians, who historically have been subjected to just as much persecution and misunderstanding as a people could possibly be. But a distinction between the gay experience and the trans experience needs to be made clear, especially in the modern West, where many transsexuals, myself particularly, often feel marginalized, even in social contexts that are ostensibly their safe places. The LGB(t) community, if you will.

The biggest difference today between the coming-outs of homosexuals and transsexuals is that only the latter group still feels an overwhelming pressure to explain themselves. While being gay isn’t easy, the definition is—”two men or two women in love.” No such luxury for the young transgender kid, terrified out of their mind and facing questions from all sides, with barely the bravery to answer. “Is it a sex thing?” “So you’re gay, right?” This isn’t to mention the boundary-shattering obsession with genitalia. “Pre-op or post-op,” I’ve literally been asked. Never answered. How about the story of your junk first, jackass.

So it’s terrifying, coming out, needing to both reveal your most tormented secrets and at the same time justify them to a roiling ocean of your perplexed peers. Not to mention your family, who for all you know will turn heel and show you the door forever over any misstep you may make, being so crude as to flip the script on your gender at them like that. I’ve never cried so much, nor been so scared to open my mouth in front of my mother as I was when I came out. I waited til I was 18 to do it, deliberately, with a harebrained notion that if I were to somehow be completely disowned, at least I’d be a legal adult and therefore, I don’t know, magically capable of handling it.

These fears would prove unfounded. Over the last four years, my incredible parents have basically done the equivalent of bringing me the moon and stars down from the sky, through all the things they’ve done for me. They are amazing people, and I know I’m fortunate, but even they had troubles grasping what it truly meant for them and me, the first time I told them, “I’m a girl.” I knew they probably would. Also, I knew I’d have trouble saying the words.

So I wrote a letter. I wrote a letter which I let everyone in my life read for themselves, with words I’d spent weeks prior stitching out, gently field testing them with two of my best and closest friends beforehand. I based its contents off of scarce accounts of others’ experiences online, watching for what was said most often, and doing my best to synthesize a perfect version of a speech I’d only ever have one shot at.

A therapist—not mine, rather my grandmother’s, who I don’t see too often—later said that the letter I wrote was the best example of a trans-oriented coming-out letter she’d ever read, and sought my permission to share it with other therapists, and patients; a kind of template for a task that’s very hard to do. I don’t know if she ever did, but I know that she made me want to. I’m sharing this now solely with the hope that doing so might make the hardest moment of someone else’s life just the slightest bit easier.

A lot of powerful memories came up for me, revisiting this letter—the way my mom cried and embraced me when she read the name I’d take; the way my brother slowly sank to the floor as he read it, in the hall; the overwhelming acceptance my fledgling college friends gave to me, the first response I received being “Szabo, I have nothing but respect for you.” Mostly I remember how happy I was, the moment it was public, eighteen years of fear, giving way to a budding peace. My transition’s still my greatest triumph, and when I see this letter, I see the trembling kid at the journey’s start, completely unaware of what a good decision she was making, hoping like crazy that she’d be okay. This letter is now for those whose journeys are still beginning. I was stuck in the closet once—here’s what I used to break out.

With this letter, I came out to the world as a transgender person on New Year’s Eve, 2008. To this day, it’s the only New Year’s Resolution I’ve ever kept.

Next: Sarah’s Coming Out Letter

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40 Comments

  1. Thumb up 10

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    Thank you for sharing your letter, it was beautifully written. I wrote many letters aimed at a specific audience in the process of coming out – to my family, to my oldest friends and my newer friends, my colleagues and my dissertation committee – but yours is better.

    The genitalia question comes up all the time. When I tell someone I’m trans I’ve been asked evasively, “So have you had any surgeries?” Yes, they took my tonsils out when I was 12. “Have you had anything done?” Yes, I had my ears pierced. And most recently a very direct, “So…do you have a penis?” Do you?

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      I still don’t understand how anyone can possibly justify asking such questions. It pisses me off so much. Sometimes I just reply by asking about THEIR genitalia, or their partner’s if they’re asking about mine’s… Then, I get the upset reaction from them. Yet, some don’t get that policing ANYONE’s body isn’t acceptable.

      imana go doodle an angry cloud now

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        In all of these cases it was pretty clear to me that they regarded me as a curiosity, not a real person. In fact the woman who asked me that last question had earlier in the evening declared, “I just find you SO fascinating!” While I am undoubtedly a sparkling conversationalist :), I hadn’t said anything to her beyond, “Hi, my name is Kate.”

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      Hate how it often has to become a digression about the status of genitals, ugh. And yep, spot on about the curiosity aspect; I used to just hand out laminated cards on dates (kind tongue in cheek) listing answers to the most common questions that I thought were within the bounds of good taste vis-a-vis my tgism. That way, we could move on to actual conversation and not have to adopt the parlance of an interrogation.

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    This is an amazing letter. I spent a lot of time working on letters with my boyfriend as he was coming out and we were constantly searching for other peoples letters as guides. This is by far the best I’ve seen.

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    I totally did the letter thing to my parents (and it didn’t go over so well, but exactly as well as I expected, so…), but yours was way better, tbh. Explaining myself as a trans woman is annoyingly hard, especially when I’m still in the phase (at least I hope it’s a phase) where I’m wishing the “trans” part of that identity would just go away and stop fucking with my reflection :/, and it’s *especially* especially hard to explain myself in the queer community, it seems. Not everyone, obvs. Just in general.

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      That last bit. Yes. Always end up feeling shitty when out with my gf with lots more queers and it’s not picked up on. Or hate the fact i can hold her hand and no one gives weird looks but if her friends did it people woud be like ‘whaaa homos’ which is dumb.

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    I did the letter thing… about 20 years later than you. Result, my mom gave me my name and my husband stayed with me. Sometimes life and the people who share it with you can be the greatest surprise of all!

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    I’ve had a very different experience than most, I’ve been living out and proud for more than 2 years and I’ve rarely had to answer overly personal (shitty) questions from anybody in my life. But I think anyone who knew me before has had a relatively easy time accept me as a woman because I’ve gradually changed over the course of the last 5 years and also the fact that I actually have a personality now and I’m much more outwardly social and happy! I started growing my hair out at 16, came out to my family at 18, went full time about 7 months later, and started hormones last April! I did write a letter for my immediate family, but I never really had to bother with anyone else, most my friends I just added them on facebook, made sure they knew name/pronouns and that was the extent of the conversation.

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    Thank you for this. A student in a class I work with has just come out as trans and he’s asking teachers to call him by his new name and pronouns, but worried about telling his parents. I don’t want to put any pressure on him at all, but I might ask him if he’s interested in reading this.

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    This is such an amazing and beautifully written letter. Thank you for sharing.

    You’re super brave and I wish I can hug you in person!

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    Thank you Sarah! I loved this coming out letter. I think it is wonderfully worded and a helpful example of how to share our gender identity with the world. However, it brought emotions in me to hear about the positive reactions from others on account of the letter. That wasn

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    I loved this coming out letter. I think it is wonderfully worded and a helpful example of how to share our gender identity with the world. However, it frustrated me to hear about the positive reactions from others on account of the letter. That wasn’t my experience. When I wrote a coming out letter as a transgender woman, my evangelical Protestant family responded very badly to it. Only one sibling out of four has a healthy and accepting relationship with me. My parents yeah not pretty. I guess if I have one piece of my experience to toss out there is that coming out letters are for the person writing them. I spent months wording my letter hoping for a better outcome from others. But there was a reason that I had hid in the closet until I was 26, my family has traditionally loathed LGBT people and still does. However, that letter was immensely valuable for me in spite of other people’s reactions to it. The letter was about me and me finally deciding to no longer hide who I am from my family. The letter gave me freedom. I finally no longer had to pretend my life was different than it really was. Facing the truth even with its negative reactions from family, has opened up my world to a myriad of people who love me and accept me knowing full well who I am and where I have been. If my family can’t relate to me or treat me nicely because I am transgender, I am happy to finally know their truth, and move on. A coming out letter is a declaration of independence and what people do with it is THEIR responsibility not mine.

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    Brilliant very brave and well brilliant. It can be so difficult but I am glad that your experience was so positive.

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    This is amazing and so are you. I wish I’d handled my (comparatively easy) coming out as bi experience with half the poise, dignity and candor that you did.

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    So this letter (along with the other article that had advice for mothers who think their daughter might be gay) totally just prompted me to write my own coming out letter (as bisexual) to my mother. I’ve put it off for nearly 10 years. Thank you for finally giving me the courage.

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    child! where were you when i needed you decades ago? i come to this party late (it being 2014, ffs)… but AS is a new revelation for me, having run the whole gamut of trans intertube stuff looking for a place i felt i belonged.

    and i revel now in the exuberance and exhilaration of the young ‘uns like you who bring life and spirit and anticipation and enthusiasm for the new lives you can look forward to. yeah, i’m a little jealous, but my inner celebration of your freedom makes me cry for joy, a feeling that has escaped me for a long, long time…

    carry on, beautiful, intelligent, young woman, you’re the fulfillment of the dreams of generations of scared, confused souls.

  14. Thumb up 1

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    I wish someone would put together a book of letters and stories just like yours. When you wrote it, it was a letter for yourself to your circles and now it is a letter for the world, rippling out to touch who-knows-how-many lives with your bravery. Much love. xxxo

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