Skirting The Issues: Authenticity
Hello again dear gentle readers!
I’m back from a mini sabbatical that allowed me to pen nearly 50,000 words of varying quality toward my second book, Being Ellen. It was quite wonderful—heaven for this closet introvert, actually—to have five weeks where all I did was write and ride my bike.
So, let’s resume the important work of making the world better, yes?
October 11 will mark National Coming Out Day where we celebrate what it means to publicly announce we’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender or an ally thereto. It’s a big deal, of course, although (depending on various factors, like geography or religion) coming out in 2019 may be far less perilous than it was in 1969 or even 1999.
As they say, we’ve come a long way baby!
But what does it mean to “come out?”
For sure, it’s the moment we tell the world our true sexuality or gender identity and where we finally get to live as who we “truly are.” It’s a time to celebrate and a point that marks “after” from “before.”
When you stop to think about it, coming out also means that you’ve stopped hiding or lying to yourself. Most importantly, it’s about accepting one’s true authenticity.
In fact, I have a saying: Human authenticity won’t leave you alone until you listen.
How many of us struggled to understand this?
In my case—and I know, it’s not all about Ellie Krug—for the longest time, I thought I could choose to stay a cisgender straight man. I bargained with myself, told therapists “don’t figure me out, just keep me married,” and drank gallons of chardonnay and Heineken to drown the voice in my head that kept saying, You need to live as you, the real you.
The “real” me is a woman who loves men.
In the end, it became clear that I couldn’t choose my authenticity. The only choice I truly had was whether I came out as my authentic self or ended my life.
Some straight cisgender people don’t get this thing about human authenticity. That’s the reason gay and lesbian folks used to hear that it was a “choice” to love someone of the same gender. Remember Anita Bryant?
Google her if you have no clue.
Fortunately, much of America has accepted that one’s same-sex attraction isn’t a choice; hence, more than two-thirds of the country now favors marriage equality.
Unfortunately, transgender people are still fighting the “choice” argument. Maybe it’s because of how we change everything about ourselves when we come out—name, appearance, pronouns, bathroom usage.
This makes some people very uncomfortable, lending to the response that we trans folks are just “choosing” to be transgender.
As many know, I speak and train on human inclusivity across North America. Some of that is “Transgender 101” on what it means to be trans.
Recently, I gave a Trans 101 webinar to more than 100 judges and court personnel from all parts of the country. At the outset of the webinar, I posed the question: “Do you believe being transgender is a ‘choice’?”
In response, 89 percent of the webinar participants replied they didn’t believe being trans is a choice whereas 11 percent did.
At one point in the webinar, I tackled the choice issue by telling those in the audience who were writers—those who feel the absolute need to journal or blog or write a novel—that they could never again write a single word unrelated to work. I said, “It’s just a choice. You don’t need to write.”
I did the same thing with musicians and singers: “Not another chord or note,” I ordered. “It’s just a choice.”
I went on to the crafters: “Go home and throw away that project you’ve been toiling on. It’s just a choice to be creative.”
For the helpers listening to the webinar: “Cancel that appointment to volunteer at the nursing home or food pantry. It’s just a choice to help others.”
Finally, for those participants who were divorced, I reported, “You need to go back to your former spouse. After all, society says that marriage is immutable, just like many claim that gender is immutable. It was just a choice for you to divorce.”
Because it was a webinar, I couldn’t see the faces of my audience to gauge reactions. However, I obviously made some impact on the “choice” issue since at the end of the webinar, I again posed the question, “Do you believe being transgender is a ‘choice’?”
This time, 94 percent of participants reported their belief that being trans wasn’t a choice; four percent remained unconvinced.
I had moved the needle. It was a small victory in the very long fight for my community to be able to live authentically.
I’ll take it.
Ellen (Ellie) Krug, the author of Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change, speaks and trains on diversity and inclusion topics; visit www.elliekrug.com where you can also sign-up for her monthly e-newsletter, The Ripple. She welcomes your comments at [email protected].