Anger, loss, and the closet
By Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly
If I want to get angry, I think of the word “closeted.”
I don’t like to get angry, though, so it’s a word I’ve avoided for the two years I’ve transitioned. The idea of having hidden a fundamental part of myself for so long makes me livid, and I can’t bear to think of the waste and regret.
There’s a lot of blame to go around: the world, for being transphobic; my parents, for having been complicit with the world, in a particularly brutal way; and myself, for, in my mind, having waited so long.
I don’t like to picture myself pre-transition. It feels like looking at a prisoner. When I see a picture of myself from any time prior to the past two years, I want to harm the world, my parents, or myself.
However difficult transitioning has been, the thought of going back never entered my mind.
In the closet, none of my life made sense. My relationships were disastrous. I was afraid to be sexual, because my sexuality did not match my assigned gender. I saw myself as a freak, and it upsets me.
At gender groups I go to, it’s common to hear things like, “We’re where the gay movement was 20 years ago,” and “We just need to give society time to get educated.”
What does that mean, though? I spent a lot of time not being educated. I was very aware of where my desires lay, but I didn’t have words for them, or see reflections of them. I was confused by and, eventually, ashamed of them.
They didn’t seem like me, and I was angry they were there. Now, I’m angry at everything that kept me from them.
When I was closeted, I avoided anything trans related. When I came out, trans-related books and films were all I wanted to consume. Part of me couldn’t believe they were there.
I was on a pink cloud, and I didn’t want to think about anger and loss. Now, apparently, I do.
The closet was a bad deal. I wanted to be normal, so I tried to appear normal. I feel fairly normal now, in a way I didn’t when I was closeted.
I’d like reparations of some kind — a confirmation that what happened to me was unjust. Instead, I have my life, and its disjointed story, a box of keepsakes I never open, and a new birth certificate that says I was born female, an assignment that came 40 years too late.
I avoid thinking about my past because it’s too easy to see how things could have been different. I feel like a sucker for having fond memories, as though I’m betraying my true self in doing so.
I was made to look a certain way. That’s a fact. When it became my choice, it was inconceivable for a long while to transition: first because I didn’t know the process existed, and, later … I don’t know why.
It’s an awful story, and it’s painful to face.
When I came out, my desire to be myself was stronger than my fear that terrible things would happen. I look back on my time in the closet with scorn, as though I’d been cowardly then.
When I was in the closet, I wanted to be the way I thought I was supposed to be. I looked at my desires then as though they were deviant.
Looking back, I feel duped and humiliated. I want to know who I can turn to for justice. I want to change things, so that no one ever goes through what I did.
In time, I imagine I’ll forgive myself. I probably won’t notice the world’s injustice as much, and, though it’s difficult to imagine, I might enjoy looking at old pictures and thinking about the years before I transitioned.
The closet will still seem cruel, though. It’s a place parents force children into, and that institutions reinforce. It mangles people in ways they don’t realize until they leave it.
Asking why it’s there feels pointless, though. Even if you know, what can you do — other than exist outside it, as an example that it needn’t be occupied, and write about it, and lobby against it, and hope that one day it seems as barbaric and shameful as segregated bathrooms and anti-sodomy laws do today?
I desire never to have been closeted, and it doesn’t help. I wish my life was like the ones I never watch on YouTube, where the children with long hair are interviewed by talk show hosts about being trans.
I never click on them, because I fear my envy will be bottomless. I don’t like watching others enjoy what I never had.
Leela Ginelle is a writer and playwright living in Portland.