“Of course I have a coming out story and I am willing to bet you do too. There’s a moment (or moments) in everyone’s life when they choose to break free of the fear, guilt, shame, doubt and judgment that has held their authentic self hostage. It’s the moment when fear becomes courage, shame becomes pride, doubt becomes certainty and the only judgment that matters is their own.”— Don Mamone
I remember knowing from a very young age that there was something different about me. It was 1980-something and my family had just moved from Pittsburgh to Arizona. My sister and I were enrolled in a private school to which we were expected to wear a uniform. The “boys” wore navy pants and a white polo and the “girls” wore a white blouse and plaid jumper dress. As you can likely imagine, they were not fashionable, glamorous or enviable and yet I found myself wishing that I was allowed to wear the blouse and jumper as well as the pants and polo. I grew up in a conventional environment that had strict expectations of me so I told myself that my dreams of wearing dresses and skirts, growing out my hair, painting my nails, wearing makeup or any other gender expansive expression were just the silly ideas housed in a little kid’s imagination. It was then that I decided that these silly ideas were shameful defects meant to be denied, hidden and locked away forever. And, there they remained for the better part of forty years until a very special event in my life helped me understand that who I am and everything about me is meant to be seen, loved and celebrated.
It started out like any other weekday. It was winter which means it is always harder to get out of bed after you wake up because it’s dark and cold out and the bed is warm, comfortable and inviting. On this particular day, my wife Emily was already out of bed. I casually glanced around the room and found her leaning against the door jam with a coy look on her face. She casually informs me that we’re pregnant. It turns out it was not just any other weekday for us.
Frankie was born in October and from the second our child was born I felt an overwhelming sense of unconditional love for her. I knew that I would never love her any less than I did at that very moment and that I would always support her. During the first nine months of her life we adjusted and adapted to all the typical things that new parents become accustomed to. But, for me, there was something working on me that was anything but anything but typical. I started to acknowledge that there was a hypocrisy in the way I had lived my life and how I wanted my daughter to live hers. I want her to love herself unconditionally and expect the same from everyone in her life. I want her to live her life authentically and unapologetically in complete alignment with who she is. What kind of role model would I be for my beautiful, creative and talented daughter if I am not committed to the same unconditional love and authentic life. Once I acknowledged this misalignment I was suddenly and compulsively motivated to correct it. I never would have guessed I would finally find the strength and motivation to fully acknowledge and accept who I am in the eyes of my daughter.
There we were, in the park, in August, in Texas. The irony was not entirely lost on me at that moment. The heat was fitting given the hell I had confined myself to. Ya see, Emily and I don’t have secrets. It started as a couple, then as business partners and now as parents…we share pretty much everything. We’ve always been proud of that and I’m confident that it seriously contributes to the ease and flow of our relationship. So, to acknowledge that I kept this one thing about my identity from Emily for all these years is nothing short of heartbreaking. If given the chance, it is the one and only thing I would go back and do differently. In all fairness, I had not been truly honest with myself until just recently but it still stings like only the disappointment of keeping a secret can. As I worked to gather my thoughts, sort my feelings and consider which words to use, I could feel it rise up. Thought and logic were abruptly thrust into the back seat and my emotions took the wheel. I opened my mouth hoping some words, any words, could fight their way forward. They could not. I would have to settle for tears. I looked at Emily and I cried.
I have an immense amount of respect for and faith in Emily. Simply put, she’s amazing and I am grateful for her every minute of every day. In all the times I played out this revelation, her reaction and our conversation in my head, I never once imagined she would be anything less than loving and supportive. So, that begs the question, why was there so much reluctance to share it with her? I absolutely knew Emily would love and support me. What I didn’t know was what this confession would mean for us. I had to acknowledge that Emily could decide that although she loves me, this was not a journey that she could go on with me and that she would have to support me in a new and different way than as her spouse. And that scared the hell out of me.
I took another deep, cleansing breath and stopped worrying about finding the perfect words, knowing exactly what to say or how it would sound. I just talked about the feelings. I told her that I feel like a woman sometimes. Or, maybe it’s that I feel like a part of me is a woman all the time. I have felt this way for as long as I can remember. I have never known what it means or what to do with it. I kept it hidden my whole life because I felt like it made me “broken”. I am emotionally exhausted and can’t carry it alone anymore. Emily wiped away my tears and she looked deep into my eyes and told me that I never needed to carry anything alone and that I am her person and that would never change. We embraced. We kissed. We even shared in the giggles that moments of intense emotion can sometimes give way to. We chatted a little longer and rested comfortably in the knowledge that we had no idea what this meant for the future but that it was OUR future and we were ready to continue on the journey together.
What I did not know then and have not understood for most of my life is that I am my own special version of a transgender individual. There are any number of ways to describe it: gender queer, non-binary, gender fluid; but, there is only one way to live it…UNAPOLOGETICALLY.
Not long ago I got a call from my friend Pam. She was in the process of launching a new podcast and she wanted to know if I was willing to be a guest. Of course I was flattered and happy to be one of the first people she interviewed for her new show. She went on to tell me that it’s called Lip Service: A Podcast of Our Coming Out Stories. I thought to myself, “oh, I’m not gay”. As if that is the only type of coming out story. Of course I have a coming out story and I am willing to bet you do too. There’s a moment (or moments) in everyone’s life when they choose to break free of the fear, guilt, shame, doubt and judgment that has held their authentic self hostage. It’s the moment when fear becomes courage, shame becomes pride, doubt becomes certainty and the only judgment that matters is their own.
Coming out stories as I have described them here are rarely easy but I speak from experience when I say they are always worth it. If you find yourself struggling with achieving that unconditional self love that results in unapologetic authenticity let’s set up a DISCOVERY CALL because I’m confident I can help.