Today is my birthday. In a sense, it’s also Carly’s. Hi. I’m Carly.
I am a transgender woman, and I’d like you to use she and her when you refer to me. Mine is a journey from trying to live as a man toward an acceptance of the authentic self that has been wanting to come out for a long time. I’m excited and relieved to be telling you a little bit about her.
It’s challenging to find the words to share how I came to this realization and turning point in my life. Much of it has been painful, and that pain came from the failed efforts to live the way I’d imagined the world expected me to live. There is joy in saying to you now that the pain is giving way to happiness, a liberation of a secret that no longer feels like it must be a secret.
This coming-out story is a collection of moments, memories that retrace parts of the narrative without necessarily sharing specifics about the work and heartache that came with mining those moments. They are threads from a tapestry.
You could stop reading here without missing the main point — that I’m trans. There is no “reveal” beyond what I’ve said. The rest is a curvy revisiting of those threads as I process an important transitional birthday the best way I know how.
A work in progress
In a different year, I began a writing exercise for my therapist to journal the layers of discovery happening inside me, but what I was really doing — without realizing it — was beginning this piece that you’re reading. At the time, I couldn’t imagine finding the courage to let it become Carly’s coming out. Transitioning was still a maybe.
I listed some important people in my life — boss, doctor, therapist, siblings, friends, healers — and then pointing out that they are all women. I wasn’t ready to say, “so am I,” as in, “I too am a woman.” This was as far as I could go:
I might be too, or at least, the best version of myself (better half?) might be. And she might even be the woman I’ve been waiting for all these years.
A rambling, grasping first draft of plot points and self-analysis led what later would appear as a natural destination:
Maybe I’m the only woman, after all these years, who can fix me, save me, love me. I’m still exploring. I could change my mind. After all, it’s a woman’s prerogative.
Music, literature and movies have been important connective tissue between me and the people I’ve communicated with as an adult. Shared cultural literacy often helps bridge the gaps between what I want to convey and my ability to do so without borrowing another’s words — or, at least, bringing a metaphor along as tone or touchstone. The rough draft of this story, begun long ago, was sprinkled with such quotes and lines.
“My head is awash in clichés and movie quotes,” I wrote as I journaled the beginnings of this piece way back when. In most cases, they were lines that awakened something in me that had no name yet, or something that I had suppressed because of shame, confusion and cultural conditioning. While those lines and others resonated on some level, I was missing the point. Or refusing to hear it.
“The smell of barber shops makes me sob out loud,” is how I remembered the subtitles of a line from a Pablo Neruda poem referenced in the 1994 film, “Il Postino.” And later, from the same poem: “I am tired of being a man.” Only Neruda knew for sure what he meant by those lines, but they tickled a struggling, searching part of me in ways I could barely process when I saw the film in a cinema in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while on vacation in 1995.
That was seven months after my wife and I separated, and more than a year before we finalized our divorce. (We remain friends, and she knows about Carly and is happy for her. She sent me a wonderful, loving note of support last night.)
From “As Good as It Gets,” there was the memorable utterance from Jack Nicholson’s character, Melvin, “You make me want to be a better man.” To Carly’s ear, it sounded like, “When I am with women, I want to be better than the person I am trying to be — a man.”
From “Keeping the Faith,” there was Father Brian (Edward Norton) telling a dear friend, “I feel like the best version of myself when I’m with you, and that makes me doubt everything else.” To Carly’s ear, it was a lot like the line from “As Good as It Gets,” but with a twist that I have yet to put into words. I heard it as colors, not a collection of letters. It felt like fabric.
I mention these not to prove anything, but to share dialogue that resonated in ways I needed to explore before understanding why they touched parts of me that needed that exploration.
It occurs to me that they are from the ’90s, a decade in which my eight-year marriage ended (and a stronger friendship began), a time when I dared to imagine that I could be good enough to work somewhere other than my hometown newspaper. To live somewhere else. And then to live somewhere else after that. A period of transition. There would be much more. Even now, another transition is underway.
I, like this collection of words that has undergone many revisions, am a work in progress. A slow bloom, as my friend Jill likes to say.
A stretch of vacation, my longest in years, began today. The timing is intentional. Not only is October my favorite month, but there is much to do. There are men’s clothes to sell, give away or put away. There will be a celebratory “I’m out!” therapy session Monday filled with happiness and tears. First, there was a birthday manicure at noon today (color: Perfect Match Cherry Bomb) at Finger Bang, where Amanda, Ryan and others have been supportive with pedis, wine and real talk. And perhaps most emotionally, I will be keeping up with the responses and questions from people who hadn’t seen this coming.
And I will be exhaling.
This transition will be hard for many reasons. So far, I’ve been lucky. In all the times when I’ve been out in public as Carly here in the Pacific Northwest, there has been only one unpleasant moment. It was an exchange between two men who talked about me as if I couldn’t hear them while I walked past.
“That is one ugly woman.”
“Uh, I think that’s a guy.”
Mostly, men stare — perhaps trying to figure out what they’re looking at — and then quickly move on, if they seem to notice at all. Women tend to smile and say nothing or have thoughtful, uplifting things to say.
Last month, comedian Lane Moore posted this concept on Facebook: “a full-length movie that’s just women complimenting other women on the street.” My friend Amy replied that it would be the feel-good hit of the decade! She’s right!
‘The future is female’
Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, and Chelsea Manning and are inspiring, but so is every transgender woman whose story I’ve discovered. So are all other women. There is no one way to be a woman, which is something that’s taken me a long time to accept. I will talk about that when I feel comfortable doing so.
My friends and loved ones: I am the same person, but with a different wardrobe. And a lot more footwear.
I’m the same person, just happier. And with a new letter at the end of my name.