Why I'm Coming out as Queer, Not Trans, for National Coming Out Day

October 11th 2015

Aron Macarow

I remember dressing up in homemade t-shirts for National Coming Out Day in college. Mine loudly proclaimed in permanent marker, "Transmen belong here, too," speaking to the challenges that I was having coming out as transgender while attending a women's college. Meanwhile, my now ex-wife wore a shirt that said, "I'm a lesbian and I love my boyfriend." (The letter "O" was creatively transformed into the trans symbol in a way that only works for students wearing hand-drawn shirts.)

I changed clothes halfway through the day. Wearing a t-shirt announcing to every stranger on campus that I was transgender proved to be too intense.

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Six years later, almost everyone in my life knows that I transitioned and that I'm queer. But I still won't be wearing a t-shirt disclosing that I'm trans for National Coming Out Day. Lately I even wonder if the holiday applies to transgender people, at least in the same way as for those celebrating their sexual orientation. Despite similarities, the differences are significant, causing my relationship to the event to change. The differences also expose some of the schisms within the LGBTQ community, and perhaps point to why it doesn't always make sense to collapse sexual orientation with gender identity.

Coming out as queer is about telling my truth.

When I come out as queer, I am revealing not just a core part of my identity but a truth about who I am. I am not straight; I am queer, or depending on the audience, bisexual. Coming out informs you of a fact about my state of being and identification in my present life.

I don't always have to come out for someone to suspect that I'm queer thanks to the rise of queer culture and fashion, but it's still a lifelong process. Heterosexuality is assumed, and if I want to be seen as who I am, I have to continually out myself as not straight. Coming out is also seen as the panacea to being "in the closet," a positive celebration of not hiding your identity despite perhaps being a minority within the larger population.

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Coming out as trans is not the same as coming out as LGBQ.

None everyone in the transgender community has the same experiences. Coming out as trans used to be a declaration, and in my case, stating that I was male rather than the gender that strangers likely perceived. Much like some queer people, I felt trapped in hiding before I came out, viewed as someone I wasn't.

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While I had to come out to those around me as trans prior to my medical transition to be seen as male, I don't need to do that anymore. Now, coming out as trans involves an element of risk; it may undermine how someone sees me if they know my previous gender history. It is no longer necessarily a declaration about my state of being that is required to be seen as who I am, but a disclosure of a fact about my past self. I am male and because I was previously assigned female, I am also transgender.

Coming out, with all it implies, feels like a negation of my male identity.

This is why collapsing the T into LGBT doesn't always make sense.

While transitioning may be a lifelong process of medical management for some, coming out as trans doesn't have to be.

Nowhere is this disconnect more obvious than in the difference between being "closeted" and being "stealth." While being closeted is usually a negative that is overcome by coming out, living stealth is choice that some trans people make to not disclose their gender history in favor of living as any other cisgender person. Sometimes this decision is made out of concern for the challenges of being out as trans. But other times a person may simply no longer identify as trans after their transition—and that's fine, too.

This year, I'll celebrate being queer on National Coming Out Day. But what about my gender identity? I'm going to save that for Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31, when I can be visible as a trans person without feeling like I'm coming out as something I'm already out as: male.