Scores of readers responded to “Truth and Transgender at 70,” which appeared in The Washington Post in late April. The story recounted the journey of a transgender woman named Kate Rohr and how her marriage of nearly 48 years not only survived her transition but also was strengthened. The overwhelming majority of emails were positive.
In the article, The Post asked any readers who are transgender to share their own experiences of coming out. Specifically, we wanted to know who or what finally compelled individuals to tell family, friends and colleagues.
About 130 people answered. They range in age from 21 to 75, live on at least three continents and span the professional spectrum, including police officer, technology entrepreneur and Air Force veteran. They variously identified themselves as transfemale, transmale and “genderless,” “gender fluid,” “non-binary” or “neither.”
A surprising number said they’d been accepted and even welcomed by family, friends and co-workers. Yet some admitted to depression and suicide attempts as well as past drug and alcohol problems.
Some also acknowledged being victims of violence. One 48-year-old transgender man, who identifies and dresses as male but has not yet had “gender affirmation” surgery, recounted how he’d been attacked and threatened with death because he used the woman’s restroom at a truck stop. After barely escaping, he wrote, “I came out to everyone but my biological family the same day because I was so angry.”
The following are among the stories and memories — many poignant, all thoughtful — that we received. The individuals are named as they permitted.
From Sorel Coward, 51: “All of my life, fear and anxiety has haunted me like a specter,” she wrote. “The fear of what others might think of me, fear of the disgust, fear of the disgrace, the anxiety of being laughed at and marginalized. The horror of losing everything and everyone I loved. In the end, this, too, was a lie. So I told Jane, my wife of 23 years. She became the first person ever that I would trust enough to say what needed to be said. ‘I am transgender.’ From that day on, nearly 18 months ago, our love has deepened and grown. We have fallen in love with each other again.”
From Billie, who is in her 60s: “Gender is not binary,” she wrote. There is male, female, transgender and then “everything in between. ... About 40 months ago, I discovered a whole different world of guys who cross-dress and look the part. Most do it because they HAVE TO. Some like me do it because it makes them happier. All just want to be free to experience this non-traditional part of themselves.”
From Mary, 63 (who has not yet come out): “I feel so close, but am still afraid,” she wrote, explaining that she has felt male since she was “very young.” She worries that it's “too late” and the risk might be “too much” for her to finally be who she is. “This has been a life long struggle of pain and shame. How now do I ‘turn around’ so drastically?”
From Caleb, 37: “Beginning at age 28, a slowly growing existential despair started manifesting in more concrete ways as I watched friends marry and have children,” he wrote. “I couldn’t explain why this caused such anxiety and self-hatred. It wasn’t because I couldn’t find the right person. It was a sense of being somehow distinct, isolated, and utterly alone in a way others don’t experience because they at least have ‘hope’ for the future. ... Eventually what I’d repressed at puberty — being male (in what felt like an ontological rather than merely behavioral sense) — came out. I felt relief and then tremendous fear. I’m still in the process of coming out.”
From T., 21: “My best friend was who I told first, if I remember correctly. She was not surprised at all, neither were my other friends. … Next I told my sister, who wasn’t surprised either and just asked me if she can call me ‘bro’ now! She also said our mom wouldn’t care. So, last, I told her. The first words out of my mother’s mouth were ‘I can’t believe you have had to deal with this your whole life’ and hugged me.”
From Gracie, 75: “It is a long, long process to become as completely a woman as I can be, and I am starting very late,” she wrote. “Gender dysphoria has been compared to what determines that you are born left-handed instead of right-handed. Should you, as was the case, be forced to perform as if you were right-handed even though you are left-handed? Should I act as a man when I am a woman? … Generally, I cannot recall being so at peace or content. It is simply beyond my ability to describe.”
Several readers also shared their blogs and websites: