Austen Crowder

The importance of being out

Filed By Austen Crowder | April 21, 2009 4:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality

Once upon a time, I taught English at a Catholic high school. My teaching style led to me leaving good impressions on many of the students, most of whom were begging me to stay by the end of the year. I'm obviously not there anymore -- teaching a rigid curriculum didn't turn out to be my passion -- but I do keep in touch with a few promising students just to see how they're doing. I always joked with my friends that I could be the rumor of the year for those students if they found out I was trans.

Fancy that: I got a call from a former student of mine telling me that the rumors are flying fast. Apparently the guy that worked the movie theater ticket booth is a Ritter student. He didn't say anything to me, naturally, but by the time I was in the theater I realized that I knew the kid's face. Just like that I was outed.

Sure, I could be afraid that my cover is blown. Of course, I can expect repercussions from this exposure. Yes, this means I'm not terribly good at going stealth. I wanted this to happen. I believe wholeheartedly that the road to acceptance for our section of society must go through being publicly out. Without that public knowledge, we'll never be able to make an impact on the people and potential voters who would otherwise impede our progress.

This isn't to say that I'm against being closeted. For many people it is a necessary evil; the pressures of family, friends, or community can often bring with it terrifying ramifications. I would surely not be out if I were, say, working as a teacher in New Palestine, or running a local community center in Mooresville, nor would I be out if I still lived with my parents. These are, unfortunately, signs of the times in which we live.

At the same time, I'm in a position where I can be safely out. Therefore I leave my Facebook page open, answer questions from all comers, and generally live my life the only way I know how to live: openly.

The world around us can be a terrible, unfeeling place. Much of this is caused by unfamiliarity; things that are new can be challenging, and oftentimes this can evoke fear in the hearts of people. Cue National Organization for Marriage's half-hearted scare tactics, or Rick Warren's lovely little analogies. Face it: these campaigns capitalize on unfamiliarity to paint us as dangers to society.

Besides, that's only counting the GLB of the GLBT spectrum. Trans issues are a whole different taco, and one that is more apt to be swept under the rug of unfamiliarity. It's too easy to paint us as sexual predators -- after all, real men and women don't go out in dresses or suits, heaven forbid!

My reasoning for being out boils down to this: I spent a lot of time building a solid reputation for myself. I dotted the eyes, crossed the T's, and took the time necessary to be a stable, successful person. I made a lot of friends in the process, and gained the respect of a lot of people.

I was told that changing genders often required dropping that past in favor of stealth. I reject that claim. One, I didn't do anything wrong as a male; I was simply put into the wrong gender to start with. Two, it was unfair to the people I knew to suddenly disappear, leaving behind bitterness. Three, and this was most important, I didn't want to feel that my transition was something that I should be ashamed of. Hiding in the shadows and shunning my past is not consistent with my moral and ethical code.

So I am out.

It just so happens that being out aligns with my first passion: education. I am here to make my voice heard, to give the silent voices, and to give the nay-sayers pause in their diatribes. Sure, it's easy to throw a vote against something you don't know and don't care to understand. However, it is much harder to be so mean when that "Other" is, say, a high school friend or a coworker or a relative. It's harder to look at transgender people as completely foreign when there is one available to answer questions and disband myths.

Consider those kids in the Catholic school. This news isn't about some weirdo tranny walking down the street; it's a teacher they had. They have memories and perceptions, emotions and experiences that they can attach to my face. Will it be so easy for them to look down on transgender people in the future; knowing that someone like Mr. Crowder could be one of them?

Even if it only hits home for, say, ten students, that's ten more students who will grow up without transphobia.

Sure, there are evil monsters out there, and many of them would love to see me hurt, or silenced, or rubbed out of existence. The only way to defeat these monsters is through being open and honest about who and what I am. It's all I have to offer, in the end.

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There's a curious challenge in being out as trans, of course, and that's the fine line between "being honest about one's past" and "having a reasonable expectation of being recognized as one's preferred sex."

Perhaps it's a sign that I'm getting old, but I do edit my history when I'm around people to whom I haven't specifically come out. It's not a desire to hide or go stealth; I wouldn't post about my transition on my blog if I didn't want people to know. Rather, it's an attempt to let others get to know Kristy before I talk about Chris. I'm always concerned that if the first thing that someone learns about me is that I'm trans, my relationship with that person is going to be defined by that. I won't be Kristy to those people; at best, I'll be "Kristy who used to be Chris," my gender part of the foreground, not the background.

I still get a thrill showing off my old driver's license photo to folks who haven't read me, though. *grin*

A very thoughtful post, Amber. I agree with you wholeheartedly that unless we show the world our true selves, we can never expect to affect social change.