Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Coming out: the agony and the ecstasy

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | October 12, 2008 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: coming out of the closet, national coming out day, transgender families, transgender relationships

She opened the door of the apartment where we had made a life together, her eyes steady, but ready to fill with tears. She knew that I had something to tell her, but I had refused to say what in our phone call last night. I had separated the month before and moved into a friend's apartment. She had a pretty good idea of what was coming, but it was hard to believe. I could hardly believe it myself. My suit felt stiff and uncomfortable; my heart was lead in my belly. My mind was whirling with excitement and exhiliration. It was agony; it was ecstasy.

It was November 1997 -- Bill Clinton had been president for four years. The stock market had crashed days before because of a global economic scare, but had come back the following day to gain a record number of points and for the first time ever one billion shares had been traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Though our relationship was contentious, I loved my wife. I also loved my six year old son without reservation. How could I rip out their hearts?

Coming out of the closet is a process, not a moment in time. And yet, there are the moments. There was the ecstasy: times when I came out joyously and exultantly. There was the agony: times when I came out shamefully and against my will. Some of the moments are glorious, as when I went out into the street dressed in a skirt for the first time, rejoicing like a prisoner who had been let out of solitary after thirty-five years. Everything looked new: the steam escaping from the hot dog vendor's cart as he put the frankfurter on the bun, the construction workers descending into the manhole with monster-sized tools, even the stacks of commercial garbage on the curb awaiting the sanitation workers.

And there was the time when I landed my first job as a woman, knowing for the first time that I would not be going homeless. While I was working as a legal secretary, rather than a lawyer, at half the salary, I counted the loss as nothing for so many of my transgender friends could find no work at all in any capacity. Some people looked at me oddly, but so many were eager to be accepting in their corporate, buttoned-down way.

Some of the moments still make my heart pound with fear and shame, like the time that the restaurant worker kept saying "sir" in that loud, insulting tone and then laughed at me in front of the crowd. And when the man in the nightclub who wanted to dance suddenly stiffened and got a look of horror on his face. He was scary. The rifle, partially hidden, in the living room at my boyfriend's house. The doctor who refused to give me my medical records so I could change the name on my driver license.

My wife faced me on the beautiful teal leather couch. The skyline along the Upper East Side of Manhattan looked glorious, a crisp fall day. I looked down, unable to take my eyes off the floor. My heart pounded. I was leaving her. I was leaving our son. I was going to live as a freak. I would soon lose my job as a lawyer and be without means to support her or my son.

In a sense, I was not the only one coming out. She, too, would have to tell the story over, and over, and over again. And be the subject of many whispered conversations. My son would have to make up stories to explain where his father was. They would move 150 miles away to begin a new life. She cried. I cried. We hugged each other while we talked for hours. It was exhausting and exhilirating at the same time. She wanted to know everything, every detail. What had I done, what had I thought of doing, what were my plans. There were so many things to talk about and think about. I felt awful. I felt wonderful.

By the time I left the apartment, her dreams were shattered. Mine were just beginning.

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Thank you so much for sharing this, Jillian. It is an amazing example of how coming out can be both liberating and heartbreaking, and every emotion in between...

As a physician, I was horrified to read the line about the doctor. As she is a medical school applicant, I sent this to my daughter. As a mother who has given up her son to save his life, I have no one to send it to, but share your pain. Thank you.

Brutal honesty. Thank you for your courage, Jillian. Blessings, always...

I think it's important for others to know, that while coming out as trans often means the dissolution of a marriage, it isn't an absolute. Since divorce was a requirement for transition at one time, people may not realize that is no longer true.

Also, just for the record, Bill Clinton was first elected president in 1992.

Thanks for the correction, Rory. I made the change.

jolynn weaster | October 13, 2008 8:00 AM

thank you. not just for this but for the work you do daily. becoming who we are in front of the eyes of the world can be challanging..finding a job is at best difficult..but having to choose between family or being ourselves..heartbreaking.
the old saying "sometimes you have to hurt the ones you love" is so true..but so damn painful.
i still face the challanges of having to face the world...but one thing that i do not have to face is the loss of my spouse. i fear the world but can face it easier with the love of my life at my side. continue the good work so that other may benefit.

Thank you Jillian for this blog. Looking back I wish I had read something like this when I came out to my former spouse.

I was very naïve that evening when I sat on the sofa, turned to my soul mate, and informed her I was transgender. We had been married twelve years and had two adopted daughters. I had read an article by Joanne Roberts about getting out of one’s box and becoming the person we were meant to be. There was also something in there about taking responsibility for our actions. But the joy of accepting myself filled my head. I had also read an article of a cross dresser and wife who were working things out. I felt/ hoped we could work things out also.

Two weeks later I was living alone in an apartment – alone for the first time in my life. We remained separated for six years before finalizing the divorce.

Coming out is , as you say, both filled with joy and agony. I now live life as a recently retired post-op woman. My GRS was in April. It’s a struggle to keep going at this point. However, I am at peace with my life and am thankful I was able to make the trip to Thailand. For me agony has been as much a part of coming out as the joy. My youngest was ostracized in her Catholic grade school both by students and a carpool mom; my former spouse developed breast cancer – I missed being there to support her; I have been disowned by what remains of my birth family; but most of all it meant the loss of my life companion – the love we shared as we spooned each other to sleep with each night.

Like the divorced father in the Perfect Storm, I wish only the best for my former soul mate, hoping that she may meet that person who will bring joy to her life as we had once had.

One is the loneliest number.

What brings on the tears more - reading your blog about coming out or the comments to this blog? Eleven years on after coming out and the yet the tears are neverfar away.