I’ve had a tough time figuring out how to approach National Coming Out Day for a while now, mostly because I haven’t really known whether coming out was something for me or not. And by that I don’t just mean whether I wanted to or felt like it, but whether it was even something that applied to me. Do I get to come out? What am I even going to say if I do? I’m not gay, I’m not even bi, and I’ve never experienced oppression due to the way I express my love or the body I’m in. I’m straight and white in the body of a man! What do I have to come out about?
But one of my earliest memories is of being convinced that I wasn’t a boy at all, that I was a girl. I don’t think I really even understood that people are generally perceived as being born one way or another, so there may have been a part of me that thought that being born with a penis meant that I could either grow up to be a man or lose my penis and grow up to be a woman. And I wanted that penis gone! I mean, like, as a 4-year-old. I would lie there and feel things tingling down there (yup, penises do that long before even the first whispers of puberty come along), and my immediate assumption was that it was slowly receding and becoming a vagina (I’m not sure I knew the word “vagina,” but you get what I’m saying). I would always look quickly and see that there was just a penis there, but a couple of times I felt like if I lay reeeeally still and let the process fully take hold, I would have “earned” it and would be penis-free. Even on those occasions, having been so good about it, I would find that my penis was still alive and well and not likely to go anywhere. So eventually I forgot about it.
Which is not to say that I forgot about wanting to be a girl. I tried really hard to kiss my elbow, for example (that being the method I’d heard people talk about for changing one’s sex). I even postulated that it might be possible to break my arm and thereby get my elbow close enough to my lips, but either I was too aware that it might not work or the thought of a broken bone was enough to dissuade me. Whichever it was, I didn’t go down that road, and I’m grateful for that at least. But I had dreams in which I had been transformed into a girl, and I wrote a story about a boy who woke up as a girl (influenced somewhat by Tom Hank’s Big, I suspect) and had to hide her long hair and breasts (because to an 8-year-old, these were the things that signaled girlhood). A few years later, I wrote another story in which I was tricked into stepping into a machine that switched my body with a girl’s. And then there was just the quiet longing for being like them, one of the girls, but feeling like this was destined never to be.
I didn’t hear the word “transgender” until after college, during a testimonial from a trans woman given after a performance of the Vagina Monologues. Coincidentally, I’d worn a skirt to the show–because I like to do that sometimes–and had been asked going in if I were a cast member. Why would I be? I thought at that time. Just because I’m wearing a skirt? Can’t a guy do that? And a guy can, of course, but whether the person who asked me was equally oblivious to transgender issues or was in fact quite progressive for their time, I nevertheless felt happy that someone could think that I was involved in a project that seemed so thoroughly feminine. After listening to this woman’s testimonial about being born in the body of a man, I felt quite certain that I’d discovered something about myself as well.
My wife at the time had been distantly supportive of my feelings about these things, and she had been aware of the difference between gender and sex even before I was, but she didn’t like the idea that I was transgender. She’d married a man, after all, and that was that. She felt that I was trying to be something I wasn’t, that I was possibly even taking something away from people who “really were” transgender. And we discussed it, and I mostly let it drop. At the same time, I had become enamored of the notion of “male lesbians,” a term I thought I’d invented, and I even had some lesbian friends who referred to me as such. I couldn’t have been prouder to have this title, as close as I could ever be to being a woman. But even then, I felt like I was taking something, like I was going where I didn’t belong and claiming something that wasn’t my own. I wasn’t a woman, so who was I kidding?
Since that time I’ve struggled with exactly how I feel I should represent myself, eventually realizing that “should” has nothing to do with it. I am who I am, and that may not fit any nicely defined categories. I can’t count the number of times I’ve worn women’s clothes, starting at a very young age, though it’s not something I’ve ever desired to do regularly. Finding out that there is a spectrum at work here rather than a binary was liberating, but I still tend to present as male. Well aware, now, of what it means to transition in pursuit of a body and an outward manifestation of what is inside, I’ve often wondered if that could be for me, and yet it’s truly not something that I’ve ever found appealing. In the end, I’ve always said that I want to be a woman (in body, I mean), but I have no interest in becoming a woman (again, in body). I’ve struggled with what this means for women who have transitioned and are very happy with their choice, as if my choice not to transition somehow affects them. It doesn’t, but it took me a while to see that. I am who I am, and I’m comfortable with that, but although I’ve always been comfortable, it took me a while to recognize that I could be comfortable where I am and still not fit, still experience a longing for something else that I feel would best express who I am.
So what’s there to come out about? Is there such a thing as a non-binary transgender person? There is, I checked, but even if there weren’t, so what? That’s who I am. But even so, is that enough? For all intents and purposes, I’m a guy. I use he/him/his pronouns and have a penis that I have no intention of getting rid of, nor do I ever see myself doing any kind of hormone treatments. Am I not just half-assing this, then? Isn’t it a slap in the face to the LGBTQ community for me to “come out”? Some of you may even say that it is, but I don’t think so anymore. For one thing, a person’s sexuality, gender, kinks, and so on are their own, and letting that flag fly proudly is a good thing, whatever pattern may be on it. But I also know that there are people who are struggling to fit in, struggling to even understand what’s going on with them, and I feel like I can help by showing them that there’s one more person out there who has a complex mosaic to present to the world, and that’s a beautiful thing. And again, it’s not about what I should do, it’s about what I want to do.
So here I am, whatever you want to call me. It will be completely unsurprising to many of you, somewhat surprising to many others, and perhaps a few will even be shocked. Not my intention, but also not my problem. This world is too big for a few little labels, and one day we’ll have evolved beyond labels in general. Until then, you can call me Peter, as you always have. I’m still exclusively into women, and I likely always will be; I still use he/him/his, and I likely always will (although I’m fine with they/them/theirs and she/her/hers as well); I still have a penis, and I likely always will; I still love whoever is reading this, and I likely always will. I’m still the person you’ve always known, for better or for worse, and nothing about that is ever going to change.
* PS Is it a coincidence that Rocky Horror is playing in Oberlin on National Coming Out Day and it’s my first time seeing it in the theater? Maybe, but I wouldn’t count on it!