January 23, 2011

In which I take everything too seriously

[In addition to all of our awesome visible and identifying columnists, we also have some awesome anonymous columnists that for one reason or another must use a pseudonym not their full name (and pseudopic?). Details on anonymous columnists here.]

People tell me I'm brave, for being so out. I've been hearing this since I started dating a girl, when I was fifteen years old, but I've never really been able to agree with the assessment.

A sense of honor is critical to my identity. Throughout this post I'm going to be using some pretty strong language to describe my relationship with honor, but that's because I really do feel this way; please understand that it's not silly to me. I can't be satisfied with myself unless I am able to think of myself as being an honorable person. Truth is the foundation of honor.

So, when I was fifteen and I realised I was totally in love with the cute girl in my math class, I broke up with my boyfriend of ten months and asked her out. And then I told my parents and my friends that I had a girlfriend. My friends were great, even if my timing was laughably bad-- two of the girls were actually topless at the time, what was I thinking??-- and my parents were terrible, but I didn't consider the results when I decided to tell them. If I had thought about their reactions-- well, I probably would have waited until all my friends had their shirts on, and I might not have told my parents at all. But I also would have been a little disappointed in myself for considering a lie.

Honor comes at a cost. I accidentally broke someone's headphones at work last month and they cost me $250 to replace, but that's an easy cost to pay. When I was fifteen, my honor cost me a lot more than that.

I refused to break up with my girlfriend, and I refused to lie about us. I followed every single one of my mother's draconian rules. I spoke on the phone with my girlfriend for 120 minutes a week and no more; I never emailed her; I received one good night text a day but did not send any; I only saw her in person with the appropriate chaperones (an odd number, three or greater) and went home as soon as one chaperone was ready to leave; I didn't even say "I love you too" if my mother could overhear our conversation.

I stopped eating, that year.

However, I am still much happier about that year than I am about the years that followed. When my girlfriend graduated high school, my mother declared that our relationship was over. I was seventeen by this point and exhausted. I decided that, apparently, all the honor in the world couldn't make me happy, and I started seeing my girlfriend in secret.

It didn't last long; it was always hard on her that we could spend so little time together, and her life was different as a college student. She tended to feel shortchanged by my unwillingness to confront my parents more. She started cheating on me, and after a month or so I found out and we broke up.

It hit me hard, because I felt like I had sacrificed everything I had for her. I had damaged my relationship with my family by coming out, and I destroyed it by lying. I couldn't look my friends in the eye any more, because I was so ashamed of having involved them in my lies. But the thing that hurt the most, really, was knowing that I didn't even have my honor. Maybe forcing the issue with my parents, and refusing to end the relationship, would still have ended in disaster-- but I would have been able to hold my head high through the fallout.

These days it seems like poetic justice, really, or perhaps just a fact of the world, that my girlfriend cheated on me; I colluded with her to betray my parents' trust in me, and she betrayed my trust in her -- if she had so few qualms about one betrayal, why would she balk at a second? I tried to learn my lesson from it.

Which is why, this Christmas, I finally finished coming out to my fraternity. I swore an oath to my brothers, and I take my oaths seriously. I had always felt a little uncomfortable with my place in the fraternity, as if I wasn't as honest with my brothers as I wanted to be, but I had no idea why I felt that way. As soon as I was sure that I was not the cisgendered woman I had been presenting myself as, I began to withdraw from the fraternity as much as possible, until I knew who I really was. It is always painful to be around people who misgender me and be unable to correct them, but it was unbearable with my brothers because I felt so keenly that I was forsworn. I couldn't stand to lie to them, but I didn't know the truth yet. I felt sixteen all over again.

So as soon as I had a name, I started introducing myself to everyone all over again.

Maybe it was brave. I'll never be able to think of myself as brave until I've told my parents the whole truth, unflinchingly. What I've done so far is only what I had to do. And it doesn't matter to me how painful it is to do the honorable thing; it is infinitely more painful to know I have chosen dishonor.

I think this has turned into a pep talk to convince me to tell my mother the truth, when I make my obligatory weekly call tonight. I was going to wait until it had been a year since I first put into words my desire to transition, which will be mid-April. I was going to wait until it had been a year since I chose my name, which would be nine months from now. I was going to wait until my youngest brother was away at college, a few years from now. I was going to wait... until I absolutely couldn't stand waiting any longer.

But I think that might be now.

I'm really fucking terrified by the idea, so I'm not going to commit and say it's definitely happening -- but if it does, I promise I'll post again.

Wish me luck?


  1. Lawrence - being honorable is being brave, in my book. I wish you the best of luck with everything.

  2. luckluckluckluck! Go on, be great.

  3. My guess - admittedly based on lots of assumptions - is that your fraternity readily accepted you for who you *presented* yourself to be - which was in part you and in part a semi-fictional creation of you.

    And my second guess - based on lots of assumptions - is that they are also accepting you for who you *really* are now given the opportunity to do so. And that the latter acceptance is much more fulfilling without any of the negative feelings of having only your pseudo-self in the fold.

    Meanwhile - luck wished for!

  4. Your story made me breathe more deeply and feel more emotion than I've felt in a while. I don't know why this one really reached out to me, but it did. Thanks for sharing it.

    And you have ALL my support.