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  • Writer's picturetatebholden

Coming Out Part I: Friends and Family

All I can say is, just get it over with. Make sure you are in a safe place, though. You can never anticipate a person’s reaction regardless of how well you think you know them. Do spend some time thinking about what you want to say, possible questions that may arise, and how you plan on taming your own emotions. Just don’t let it go on for almost a year like I did. That’s called worrying. I tried to deal with the process very clinically using science and logic. I also had the advantage that I did it digitally. Some people really don’t like those methods, but it worked for several reasons. I’m a very shy person, but I’m also quite stubborn and strong willed. Being an introvert, it is hard to get in a discussion where logic and emotions meld and fuel the other party. I’m easily talked over, though I’m getting better at it, and I crumble in the face of conflict if I think the other person’s feelings are at risk. I actually love debating, however, if both parties agree to not take anything personally.


Step 1:

I told my best friend, who also happens to be my ex, last fall, only she already kinda knew. I had told her many times when we got together back in 2005 that I wished I was a man. It was a little hard for her, though, when I mentioned it again 12 years later, long after we had separated and both remarried. I suppose you get used to a person after that long and don’t expect them to change so dramatically. She’s better now. She may never fully understand, as she is cisgender, but she is accepting. That’s a good thing because I’m totally relying on her for fashion advice. I’m tired of wearing jeans and t-shirts all the time.


Step 2:

I told my husband next, that same fall. He was out of town at the time and I warned him that I had something serious that I needed to talk about when he got home - something about me. I reassured him that he and I were OK as far as I was concerned. He wasn’t too visibly shook when I told him. He said he was prepared for and anticipating one of three things. I was going to tell him 1) I wanted my tubes tied, 2) I wanted to be with a girl, or 3) I wanted a sex change. One out of three’s not bad. He’s been incredibly supportive ever since. The first thing he asked me was if I wanted him to use male pronouns for me or a different name. He’s got to be the most tolerant and accepting person I know. After having battled anorexia for a few years with his help, I wasn’t sure he’d be up for another challenge. But he seems nearly unaffected.


Step 3:

I spent almost the next year figuring out how I would tell my family and doing research to make sure transitioning was even a possibility. I doubted I ever could come out to them, and I doubted they would continue to accept me in their lives. But I was ready for that possibility. I was done living a lie. I wrote an elaborate FAQ (see below and feel free to use it) and sent it to the need-to-know people. So far the doors are still open. There is still a lot to do. I probably worried and prepared more than I needed to, but the hard part is not over. I figure the next year, the first year of my transition, will be a challenge for us all. Hopefully, we will all come out of it more mature and closer since I’ll be able to be my genuine self. I’ve gotten a lot of unquestioning support from the younger generation. From the parental figures, I've received loving trepidation. I’m sure acceptance will come with time.


Next:

In Part 2, which I’ll publish in a few weeks, I’ll talk about coming out at work. I’m waiting until I have my top surgery consultation (9/28) and hormone prescription (9/7) so I can give them a specific timeline. I’m planning to tell them in the first week of October, so check back then.


Family FAQ….

I am transgender. That may shock some of you and come as no surprise to others. I hope that after you read the following, you will be able to find peace with that. I have compiled a list of possible questions you may have, resources, and definitions to help you better understand what this means. If you have any additional questions at any time, call me or message me. My intent isn't to disturb or stress anyone, but after 34 years of feeling like this, I had to open up to the truth. Hopefully now I can be my genuine self.


Definitions:

Transgender - an individual whose perceived gender is different from that of their biological sex assigned at birth.

FTM (Female to Male) or Trans Man - an individual who is assigned female at birth but identifies as male.

MTF (Male to Female) or Trans Woman - an individual who is assigned male at birth but identifies as female.

Cisgender - an individual whose perceived gender matches their biological sex. (A feminine woman or masculine man, to simplify.)


Is being transgender a mental illness?

No. According to the American Psychological Association, the DSM V of the Psychiatric Association, the Endocrine Society, and Harvard University, being transgender is no longer considered a mental illness but rather an endocrinological diagnosis thought to be caused by the hormonal bath in utero (along with a few other less common medical causes). The only scientifically recognized treatment or “cure” is determined by the Endocrinology Society which deems medical intervention in the form of gender reassignment medically necessary. Psychological assistance is only warranted if the individual experiences excess anxiety and depression or significant gender dysphoria. The World Health Organization has declassified transgender as a mental illness internationally. `


Is being transgender a lifestyle choice?

No. Male and female brains tend to be different in several structures. Transgender individuals, however, have structures more like that of the opposite sex from birth. The bed nucleus of the stria terminalus (BSTc) is most common between trans women and cis men suggesting that their brain structure is true to their gender identity, according to Harvard. The sexually dimorphic nucleus remains an indicator of perceived gender regardless of whether hormone therapies have begun or not. Several experiments have lended additional evidence that there is a genetic or biological basis for being transgender. For example, identical twins are more likely to both be trans than fraternal twins. FTMs are often exposed to high rates of androgens in utero, while MTFs are likely to have androgen insensitivity syndrome. There may be many reasons why I am trans. Some of you know, mom had Cushings. This would have increased the androgen levels in utero. Having PCOS is another possibility. 1 in 10 women have this disease. But among trans men the rate is 1 in 2. Older anticonvulsants have also been linked to transgenderism and mom was having seizures while I was being born. Or it could just be chance.


Why? How do you know you are trans?

I doubt I can answer this in a way that would truly make you understand. And really I am not asking you to understand but rather to accept. I just know. I know I’m male just as you know your sex without having to look in your pants.


Is there anything I can say or do that will change your mind?

No. Again, being trans is not a choice. Sure, transitioning is a choice. But I see it as a necessary decision to live my life without depression and regret. Many therapists, psychiatrists, and endocrinologists would agree.


Are you seeing a therapist or psychiatrist?

Yes. I am seeing a psychiatrist. Coincidentally, during the 70’s and 80’s he was the in-house psychiatrist for UVA’s transgender clinic. There is no therapy or drug that gets rid of being transgender. The only recognized treatment is transition to the desired gender with, optionally, hormone therapy and/or various surgeries. I do not see a therapist because I am comfortable with my identity. Therapy is usually sought out to help a trans person deal with societal stressors like abandonment or rejection. My psychiatrist, who I see for an hour once a month, prescribes my medication for ADD and anxiety which are not related to being trans. He also produces histories and support for the doctor that prescribes hormones.


How long have you felt this way? How do you know it’s not a phase?

Since I was about 7. I don’t really remember much before that. Good grief, it would be the longest of phases. Besides, being trans is something a person is born with. See the attached timeline at the end to get the specifics about what I was feeling and when.


Is this because you are bisexual?

No. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not connected as much as mainstream society wants you to believe. A trans person can be straight, gay, or bi just like a cis person can be. Being trans has little if anything to do with the act of sex. It’s about having a sense of self.


Why can’t you just dress like a man? Why do you have to alter your body?

I’ve dressed in men’s clothes for years and it’s not enough. I need to be able to be perceived as male by myself and others. I know I won’t be a “real man,” but the changes that come with testosterone and a mastectomy are enough. Using a male name and pronouns goes a long way. Hearing my voice drop and my chest disappear will be a long awaited miracle.


Are you sure you’re not just confused because you didn’t have many feminine role models?

People are trans regardless of their environment. I had plenty of dolls and makeup at my disposal growing up and many female friends. In fact, I love all things feminine. Just not in myself.


What do you expect? What can I do?

I expect everyone to gradually become more accustomed to using my correct name (Tate Bellamy Holden) and pronouns (“him, he, his”). Please no threats, mockery, passive aggression.


What can I expect? Will you have to have any procedures?

Over the course of the first year my voice will gradually get deeper, I will have a mastectomy, my body fat and muscle will become redistributed to look more like that of a man, and my face will look more masculine. Testosterone treatments and a mastectomy are the only procedures I want to have at this time. There are two kinds of mastectomies for FTMs. The most common involves incisions under each breast and leaves significant scars and nerve damage. An alternative is called “Keyhole.” In this procedure the tissue is extracted with liposuction from around the aureola. This leaves almost no scarring and nerves intact. However, it is possible only for women with very little breast tissue. I believe I will be eligible for this procedure. At some point several years from now I may have to have a hysterectomy, but this is not a guarantee. Testosterone causes cycles to stop and if too much tissue builds up in the uterus it can cause pain and health risks. Drugs like birth control can be used to induce cycles periodically to solve this problem temporarily. I already have this problem because of PCOS, so a hysterectomy would not be the worst thing in the world for me.


When will this happen?

I hope to begin testosterone as soon as possible - the fall or winter of 2018. I am going to try to schedule the mastectomy for January of 2019. I will let you know when I have hard dates.


How does T….. feel about this?

He is very understanding and supportive of the whole thing and isn’t going anywhere. He listens to my concerns, reassures me, and looks toward the future with me. He just wants me to be me and be happy. I would encourage you to open a discussion with him on the matter.


Will I have to get married again?

Possibly. If i want a passport I would have to update my birth certificate to say male. Fortunately gay marriage is legal in VA.


Will T….. lose any benefits?

No, but we do need to make a living will to make things easier. He would receive my life insurance and 401k. All of my savings are in his name as well.


Can you still get pregnant after starting this process?

Yes. However, it would be very psychologically trying for me. I would prefer and alway have preferred the idea of adoption. And yes, there are agencies that adopt out to gay or trans couples.


What challenges will you face?

Fortunately I have happened upon some very knowledgeable and accepting doctors. Many trans people have trouble finding medical care. This is improving, slowly, due to better training and the internet community sharing resources and information. I do have to be wary of my job stability, however I am protected by laws. A business can not technically fire me or refuse to hire me for being trans. I also have to be aware of my safety in public especially in the first year when I may not be as clearly masculine or feminine. When I am able to pass as a man I will be read as a gay man next to T….., so I will need to be aware of my environment and behavior. But this is something that I’ve had practice dealing with in my last relationship. FTMs actually have it much easier than you would think compared to MTFs. Women who transition to be male progress much faster and pass as male much sooner than men who transition to be female. We also have less to fight against. Men often find the need to have their adam’s apple shaved and feminization procedures done on their face. Their voice can’t change without much practice and possibly vocal cord surgery. The biggest challenges women face with passing as men after testosterone is their wide hips (which I am fortunate to not have), possibly scarce facial hair depending on genetics, and a perpetual baby face. But the reason you so rarely hear about FTMs is not that they don’t exist. They just slip into the mainstream so easily. There is also less violence against them and a lower rate of suicide. That is not to say it doesn’t exist. But for some reason, bigoted people feel less threatened by a woman who wants to be a man than by a man who wants to be a woman.


What are the risks?

Testosterone will present the risks associated with being male. For example, I will have to keep a closer eye on my cholesterol (which is good right now) and my hairline. I’ll have all of the side effects of going through a second puberty, namely the potential for acne. But I never had that as a teenager so I doubt it will be much trouble. As far as surgeries are concerned, I only plan to have the simplest and least invasive procedures. I will not have to be intubated or catheterized for the mastectomy. The hysterectomy is still only a distant possibility, along with an oophorectomy (removal of Fallopian tubes and ovaries),and there is a chance I could have that done inter-vaginally. This would actually be good for me because, as I have PCOS, I am at a higher risk for cervical and ovarian cancer. It would also reduce the amount of testosterone I have to take. But these procedures are things I don’t really have to start thinking about until maybe my mid forties.


How common is this?

In the US there is about one trans person for every thirty cis people, so approx 11 million. Out of all of these individuals, there have only been two stories that have hit the media about people changing their minds about transitioning. However, suicide rates are very high both before and after transition. This is determined a lot by whether or not the trans person has the support of family or friends. Last I checked, suicidal ideation was at about 55%. It’s a bit higher for MTFs than for FTMs, but scary nonetheless. I do not have suicidal ideation, and that has a lot to do with the fact that I have options now and I have T... and S..., who support me. I hope I can include you.


What if you do regret it?

This is something that I have been fantasizing about for over a decade so that’s highly unlikely. If for some reason I did regret it, I would simply stop taking testosterone, get laser hair removal, and call it a day. The only thing that would not go back to normal is my voice and chest. Surgeries could fix those, but honestly, those are the two things that I hate most about being female.


Do we have to tell all of our family and friends?

I will leave that up to you. The people who receive this letter are the individuals who I feel absolutely need to know. You can tell others as you see fit and as you become more comfortable with the idea.


Where can I learn more?

Check out the links at the bottom. I may email additional information if I find it applicable. Be wary of just wandering around on the internet, though. There is a lot of faulty information out there. There may also be more graphic information than you want, especially on YouTube. YouTube is a great resource for trans people, but cis people can quickly fall down a rabbit hole of TMI. Also be wary of books and articles written from a religious or conservative (ex: Fox News) perspective or written before 2013. In 2013, transgender was removed from the DSM V as a mental illness. It has been replaced by gender dysphoria. This means that the anxiety and depression associated with gender incongruence can be treated as a mental illness, but not being transgender itself.


What if we need some time to process this? What if it’s hard to see you right now or during your transition?

I can understand that completely. There will be an awkward middle ground during the first year when I won’t look entirely male or entirely female. This may be too much for some people. And it may be too much to see me after transitioning. Some of you have known me as a female for a very long time. Whatever you decide, I will respect your wishes, even if that means I have to make myself unavailable. But I hope that your homes will be once again open to me as I am still me. I may change on the outside, but I’ll be the same person. Perhaps more open and honest, but the same.


Can we ask questions?

I am encouraging it. But let’s keep it above the belt. And please make sure it’s a real question and not a rhetorical passive aggressive statement.


Sources and Further Reading:

Endocrine Society - endocrine.org/advocacy/priorities-and-positions/transgender-health

Harvard University - sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2016/gender-lines-science-transgender-identity/

American Psychological Association - apa.org/topics/lgbt/transgender.aspx

Scientific American - scientificamerican.com/article/is-there-something-unique-about-the-transgender-brain/

Transas City - transacity.org/the-transgender-brain/

7 Questions Answered About Transgender People - abcnews.go.com/Health/questions-answered-transgender-people/story?id=30570113

Human Rights Campaign: Resources for people with trans family members - hrc.org/resources/resources-for-people-with-transgender-family-members


Please message, call, or email me to let me know that you have received this. If you can.

Remember, I haven't changed.

I'm still a girl and have always been a boy.

No I won't stop cross stitching and yes I’ll keep throwing axes.

I’ll nurture pretty flowers and cut down trees.

I'll give T….. fashion advice and change my own tires.

I’ll keep decorating my house like a gay man and refuse to do dishes.

I'm amazingly still me.


My Timeline

7 years old

  • Convinced mom to give me a boy’s haircut

  • Felt isolated from girls, had many male friends

  • Asked for just as many boys’ toys as girls’

  • Don’t remember much before this age other than it was hard to keep a shirt on me

9 years old

  • Bottom dysphoria was in full force and never stopped

Through 18 years old

  • Felt sexless or without gender (continued into thirties)

  • Unhappy with breast development and menstruation

  • Occasionally had periods of being hyper feminine as an effort to fit in but these never lasted for more than a week

  • Frequently said “I feel like a football player trying to wear a dress” (continued into thirties)

18-19 years old

  • Discovered that women could transition to male and recognized the desire in myself, but it was financially and socially unavailable

21-22 years old

  • Discussed transitioning with partner, but had no insurance or money

  • We would joke that I was a “gay man in a lesbian’s body”

23-31 years old

  • Forgot about transition as a possibility - had no insurance

  • I ended up in a cis, straight relationship and tried to be as feminine as possible but ended up with anorexia

  • I felt like my sex was my only currency

  • Being femme always felt like an act

32 years old to now

  • Have been slowly transitioning socially for the past few years

  • I only dress in men’s clothes, use men’s body products, and have a man’s haircut

  • Strong aversion to doing “woman’s work” - I felt it only befell me because of being female and I resented that

  • I feel like I’ve always had weight problems because I never liked my body so I felt no reason to take care of it

  • I’ve always hated having a feminine name

  • Wearing a packer/stuffer and sports bra help with dysphoria

  • Now I have insurance and money and husband’s support

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