Thoughts On Being Outed

I am in my first semester of grad school, and I have struggled with how open I want to be about my trans status. On the one hand, being trans informs my perspective and is part of the reason I chose this field (mental health). Transgender issues come up from time to time in class, so there are opportunities to mention that I am trans and share my thoughts. On the other hand, I don’t want being trans to define me in the eyes of my classmates, especially because I am in a small program where I will take many courses with the same people.

I want to help educate my peers about transgender people–as future counselors, it is crucial that they are well-informed–but I don’t want to feel like I have to at any given moment. My program (and the profession) are heavily female, so I also have a some anxiety about being seen as “not really a man” if I disclose in a room that’s 75% female–like it will rub off on me or something.

The choice was sort of made for me a few weeks ago when someone outed me in class. The person responded to a comment I made with a question about how being transgender affected my experience.

I mentioned my trans status in front of this classmate and a few others during the admissions process, but had not brought it up in class. The classmate in question is supportive, but is not versed in the issues and etiquette. I suspect that almost everything this individual knows about transgender people, they know from one brief conversation with me. Apparently, they did not realize that it is not appropriate to mention that someone is trans* in front of a large group, when they have never mentioned it.

I was flat-out shocked after hearing the comment; it took me a few seconds to respond. My heart was racing, and I was not able to pay attention for the next 15 or 20 minutes of class.

On reflection, though, it was a not a bad experience. No one in the room so much as batted an eye, and everyone seemed genuinely curious, attentive, and respectful. I am not sure if someone, ahem, had previously discuss my trans status with other students, or if the group is really just as considerate and unflappable as befits future mental health professionals. Although what my classmate did was shitty and inappropriate–not to mention dangerous in many situations–it’s a relief to have gotten it over with. It’s nice to know how people will react. No one has treated me any differently. I haven’t mentioned it again, though.

Has anything like this ever happened to you? How do you navigate identity and openness in the different spheres of your life?

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2 comments

  1. Alma

    Ay ay ay. It’s a conundrum. Risk tokenization or worse by disclosing, or close the door on a potentially affirming, enlightening experience by keeping your mouth shut? In general, I make a point of speaking up whenever trans issues come up in a largely cis space, but so far have never mentioned that my partner is trans to a group of strangers. Interestingly, no one ever seems to assume that I have any personal connection to the trans community, no matter how vocal I get. This puts me in the weird position of having no more credibility in the eyes of the group than any of the other (usually pretty uninformed) people who choose to speak up. A little awkward, but it’s the best I’ve been able to come up with so far.

  2. rimonim

    I generally take the same approach, T. Whenever trans issues come up, I forcefully speak out about them and just don’t mention why I know what I know. Let them wonder! I have noticed that no one challenges what I say, though, even when I don’t disclose that I am trans myself, Perhaps a bit of male privilege?

    I find the conundrum especially vexing with trans issues. If I take another minority status, like being Jewish–first of all I simply can’t hide it as well because of my name and appearance. But either way, when I mention being Jewish, I get my fair share of awkward comments (do Jews believe in God, I’ve never had a Jewish friend before, etc)–but the chances that someone will be COMPLETELY ignorant are pretty low. I find this level of semi-ignorance way less overwhelming than the total, breathtaking lack of info many have about trans topics. Hence my decision to try to inform people without making myself too vulnerable. It’s not perfect, but it works.

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