She said “You are determined to do this thing. You’ve placed your future happiness in telling everyone, and being free. You will do it.” A wee pause. Big sincere eyes. “But for now try to enjoy the secret. Try to make the most of this world that only we share.”
It was good advice. I’m glad I made the most of my time in Narnia, playing in the closet. These were the idealistic days of my playful transvestitic childhood.
Did I mention the part where I dress up like a woman?
I dress up like a woman. There. I said it. Again. I’ve said it so many times it’s gaining that run-together quality that certain automatic Irish utterances have (“Hozagawn” instead of “How’s it going?”, “Gwaydat” instead of “Go away out of that”, and “Idezzizlikewoman” instead of “I dress up like a woman”). The temptation to fuck with people has set in. Often I get asked “When did you start dressing?” or even the ridiculous “Why did you start dressing?” and I’ve found myself saying “Well it all started when I was bitten by a radioactive woman…”
I’m lucky though. I have a sharp tongue. I have insecurity and pride that dance around each other so quickly they protect me like a cyclonic shield. I like myself, mostly. I can get behind the aesthetics of me, which helps, and I relish in being a bit of a freak. Most importantly though, I am not alone. Even when I was in Narnia I was not alone. I had a Lioness and a Witch.
Not to confuse things, I am also polyamorous. The Dictionary defines polyamory as “the state of realising romantic comedies are toxic and stupid; that mainstream romance is based on jealousy and ownership; that no one will ever be attracted to just you and you had better find a creative way of dealing with it” … okay, no, that’s the acerbic explanation. But I’ve been apologetic, defensive and editorial when it comes to explaining poly in the past and, like feminism, it’s something I believe in too much to apologise for any longer. I have two wonderful partners in my life. Soz not soz. There are just too many ups and downs to tolerate anyone’s jealousy. If it sounds like a good idea to you, try it with an open heart. If it doesn’t, then – as Bobby Dilly once put it – “Don’t criticise what you can’t understand. Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command. Your old road is rapidly aging.”
Funny thing about the closet: it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on beyond its doors. Little knocks and bangs get amplified. People make jokes they’d never make if they knew you were trans. Good people – if you confide in them – presume you must be hiding for good reason. But no one I care about has ever come close to hurting me over my transvestism and I know that this, more than anything else, is proof that I am very, very lucky and very, very loved.
And now I’m out! Now I scare the shit out of audiences at my gigs, and freak out waiters and cinema ushers on girly date night. I proudly wear guyliner or fully femme eye makeup. I can respond to a car full of men laughing at my androgyny with a shrug. I can respond to the occasional Troll by being sparkly and sarcastic (“sparkasm!”) I can write this blog post and – though it’s scary – not hide, so that maybe I can spread my good fortune around.
I can do all of this because I’m supported and I’m loved. I can stop myself making decisions in fear. People don’t ask for help when they’re addicted or depressed or in debt because there’s so much shame – in the abstract – around these stigmatised problems. The Nazis used to say “Death before Dishonour”. Well I say we are all clowns, and fools, and pretenders, and that if you spend your life trying to convince everyone otherwise you’ll be doing yourself a disservice. Fall over. Dress up silly. Fart publicly. “Come Out” of whatever closet you’re in, whenever you’re ready. Dishonour before death! You don’t benefit from ‘catastrophizing‘ the future: fearing a potential negative because catastrophic unknowns feel more likely than victorious ones. I’ve lived through the kindest, most intrigued, accepting and sometimes flirtatious-as-hell reactions to my dressing. It’s obvious that this has made me happier, but the thing is it has also made me better. Which is to say, I’m not a better person because I dress up like a woman – that’s just a funny little idiosyncrasy – I’m a better person because I trust. I’m vulnerable. I’m a kind of reassuring clown, exuding non-threatening, effeminate and silly energy.
And the joy of being back among my people! The relief of not presuming ignorance but taking a chance on enlightenment. Arguably that’s the most universal of the lessons from coming out: take a chance on your people. I spent 27 years not trusting. I spent far too long not trusting my Dad, for example. I let fear tell me that there would be something – some justifiable reason to disapprove. I convinced myself that I would tear apart his idealised view of me, that he would wish it were otherwise to such a degree it would make him angry. Or worse, that he wouldn’t see the need to be this trans person. Something that what was so vulnerable and intimate and true a thing to me would be dismissed as shite-talk, or attention-seeking, or a breakdown.
Oh fear, you fool! How wrong are you always. The moment of truth was… anticlimactic. “Oh. Okay.” sort of thing. Dad was a gentleman. He saw the truth that was in me. The softness, the flamboyance, the twin spirits in conflict and at play. He didn’t even judge me for not telling him sooner. In fact he kept pace with his girlfriend’s genuine, kind curiosity when she asked to see a picture of me dressed. (Yeah, live through that moment and you can kick your “death before dishonour” mantra over the fucking rainbow)
So, having told my father, my sister, my friends, and my bandmates and collaborators, there was nothing for it. Social Media was an inevitable next step. Not because that’s a necessity for coming out – many choose not to, for reasons of privacy and career (a whole other can of worms we shan’t open today). But I wanted to shout from the digital rooftops. At last I could take my passion for the absurd, for rattling the cages of normality, and use it to liberate the frightened little girl in me. Finally I could know my friends from my well-wishers; those who are helping utopia and those that need more help to help it. Finally – finally – I could stand by my girlfriends, and goddamn stand by polyamory. (I told you this was a love story.) I could at last bring the gift of pride to the Lioness and the Witch. My loyal companions who had watched with justifiable envy and admirable patience as their friends and exes paraded romances and whined over minor indiscretions, while we were nurturing our relationships in secret, and unnecessarily shamed preconceptions about poly.
“Try to enjoy this world that only we share…” It was good advice. It got me through tearful conversations and half-cocked explanations; the mutual pain of being disingenuous with family and friends. Enjoying the private world saw us through but now, finally, we’re free.
I can perform in fantastic femme outfits and declare proudly “ladies and gentlemen, let’s be vulnerable together!” And it just makes sense. The truth is your average crowd is pretty receptive of we in the fringes. The averaged out liberal human of the 21st Century is waving hello to us. So this is a love story about a species that gets a hard wrap these days. I write this trans-and-proud blog not only because I am supported by loved ones but by all of my homo sapien siblings.
This is a love story about being soft enough to throw yourself on the mercy of the world and hard enough to survive the criticism and fear. I give myself to you, humankind, and I humbly present the lessons I’ve learned. I do accept that most people are straight, many are cis. But a wise brother of mine put it well when he said “You made me wonder what’s my thing? Whatever in my life, that I’m keeping from people.” Friends, if for whatever true and legitimate reason you can’t surrender to humankind – if you can’t come out – then look forward to the day you can, and in the meantime enjoy the secret world. Enjoy Narnia. Find yourself a beautiful someone (or two) with whom to share it.
Dishonour before death. Fart publicly. Love.
Your Friendly Neighbourhood Transvestite.