When my wife came out as trans, I came out as queer — here's what that was like
“I’m a bad lesbian,” my friend said. We were talking online and she was telling me that she hadn’t yet seen Paris is Burning.
It was a funny thing to say, especially to a queer woman who had spent most of her life presenting as hetero. If anyone felt like a bad member of the LGBTQ+ community, it was me.
I have come out twice in my life. The first time was when I was 13, and it was only to my mother. It started as an awkward hypothetical conversation about how I didn’t think anyone could really ever rule anyone out as a potential romantic partner based solely on gender. It devolved quickly into an even more awkward conversation about what exactly I meant by, “I think girls are cute, too.” My mother meant well and tried to understand, but she couldn’t quite grasp the concept of my queerness, and I was determined to avoid further awkwardness.
A few years later, when I met a boy that I liked and we started dating, I figured there was no point in bringing up that old conversation any time soon. When we married a few years later, I considered never talking about my sexuality again. I thought that there was no need — sure, I was queer, but I happened to fall in love with a man. What was the point of potentially upsetting my family’s sense of normal?
I started living my adult life as a straight woman. I never had to worry about public perception, or being assaulted for PDA. I never had to worry that my marriage wouldn’t be seen as a legally binding agreement. The stresses and concerns of other members of the LGBTQ+ community never affected me. I was insulated with privilege.
I acted as an ally throughout these years. I advocated for the legalization of same sex marriage. I spoke passionately about LGBTQ issues. I voted for candidates who reflected my ideology. However, not once did I openly discuss my sexuality — not even with my closest friends. The only one who knew was my husband.
This relationship had become more than a marriage — it was also a source of convenience. It provided me with the perfect cover to never have to openly discuss my sexuality. It didn’t matter that I was attracted to women, because I was married to a man. I rationalized my silence, but my husband knew. He, like me, found himself attracted to a variety of people. So we created a cozy closet together, insulating ourselves from prejudice and judgement. That is, until, my husband came out to me as trans.
I had spent most of my adult life considering myself a queer woman who happened to fall in love with a man, when in fact, I was a queer woman who happened to fall in love with a trans woman. The awkward conversations I had been avoiding with family were now a necessity. In order to prep my family for my spouse’s news, I told everyone first that I was queer. The conversations — when they happened at all — consisted mostly of shrugs and smiles. No one cared. But I wanted to prime them for the inevitable questions about my marriage. When my spouse came out, they wouldn’t need to ask if we would stay married.
I also started prepping myself. I knew that my privilege would vanish. I began joining LGBTQ+ groups. I became a more active member of the community. I was living out loud, but I also felt like an imposter. I had always been queer, but I hadn’t been subjected to the vitriol that others had. I felt like I hadn’t paid my dues. I think in some ways, I’ve been a bad LGBTQ+ community member — that I haven’t been vocal enough. I’d never lived in shame of my identity, but I hadn’t lived in pride, either.
Now I’m making up for lost time. My partner and I are living fully out. We’ve started on this transition together — and every day I fully realize the privilege I had. I got to come out months before gay marriage was legalized in all 50 states — right before Caitlyn Jenner graced the cover of Vanity Fair. I revealed my true identity in a time where things were much less scary. Now we’re on the eve of a new battlefront. Politicians all over the country are aiming to penalize trans people for using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. There are still hurdles for LGBTQ+ individuals seeking adoption and jobs. There are discriminatory pieces of legislation being introduced. I am determined to fight these fights. I’m done living my life incognito.