If you think someone’s about to attack you, you don’t doubt your instincts. You just make the most effective move within your means.
That’s why I’ve chosen to carry mace, and not a gun.* I don’t want my most effective move to be lethal.
It’s only since I became visibly transgender ** that I developed the urge to carry a sidearm.
It’s not that I feel more vulnerable now than I did when I was in the closet. In some ways, life is even more dangerous for cisgender women than it is for me. ***
Weirdly, I can say that first hand. I’ve dealt with being perceived as a cisgender woman for most of my life. And I seem to benefit from a strange amount of male privilege now that people can’t pinpoint my gender, even though I’m not male. Maybe I’ll write more about that later.
Anyway, no: I don’t necessarily think it’s more likely now that I’ll get assaulted (at least, not where I live today). I started feeling the instinct to carry mace for a different reason:
I care a lot more about my life now than I did when I was in the closet. I’ve developed a stronger instinct to not die.
If I’m honest, I didn’t even recognize how little I cared before. It’s only as I get a stronger sense of what it’s actually like to value my own life that I’m able to tell how little it used to matter to me.
I’m speaking from my knowledge and experience right now, but I’m sure there have been academic studies done on this, too. At some point I will find them and link to them—but in the meantime, if you know about any good ones please share in the comments.
“The closet” is a metaphor for the identity disconnect that LGBTQ folks are forced into by default, just by nature of living in a society that expects everyone to be heterosexual and cisgender. Each of us has to decide if we’re going to pay what it costs to force our way out.
If you’ve never been closeted, it might not seem so bad. You’re just … hidden, right?
But it’s more complex, and more dangerous. Being closeted makes people lose interest in being alive. Some might not even realize it’s happening to them until it’s too late.
It needs to be easier and safer for everyone (especially kids) to come out.**** A study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2018 found that 50.8% of transgender boys, 41.8% of nonbinary kids, and 29.9% of transgender girls had attempted suicide.
Those are really high numbers.
This post might seem sad, but my point is that we can make things better. Things got better for me. Wouldja just look at me: I’ve developed the urge to carry mace. 😉
For me, coming out of the closet meant risking losing a whole lot. And I have lost a lot. But I’ve found encouragement from people who don’t look down on me for being the person I am. And despite what I’ve lost, I’ve gained something drastically important: the ability to value being alive.
It’s tough to have to pit something like “valuing your own life” against basic needs like staying welcome in your family. That’s what makes this so messed up.
But anyone can help others with this, no matter who you are or what your experience is. You never know who in your life has never been able to express who they are, and hopes to one day be able to do that without losing everything. One of the biggest ways to show you’re safe is to be openly accepting and nonjudgmental of people whose lives are different from yours. Also, to listen and take people’s stories seriously whether or not you relate to them.
Don’t hide your support out of fear of being judged by non-supportive people. Make it known that it’s more important to you to share safety than it is to keep up appearances. If people don’t see you showing solidarity and support, they might never know you’re willing to provide it. (This goes for all the Christians who are scared to show they affirm LGBTQ people because your church wrongly views us as though we are embracing sin.)
When you do show it, it signals to closeted people in your life that you’re a person who won’t judge them based on what they’re not, but might even celebrate them for who they are.
Those people have made a huge difference for me. You and I both can be those people for others who need us.
* You might be surprised, but I’ve often thought about getting a gun. Mostly because I like tools and mechanisms and gadgets and wow, a gun is an interesting one. But also it’s a gun.
** I didn’t become transgender; I’ve been transgender ever since I was wrongly labeled as a girl. Transgender is a term that refers to anyone who is a different gender than the gender assigned to them when they were born. I made a whole page about transgender terminology if you want to know more.
*** I’m agender, but I was raised and socialized as a girl.
**** Ideally, the closet wouldn’t even exist in the first place. We wouldn’t start out assuming every single person is cisgender and straight—we’d allow for people to have differences from the very beginning. Because, surprise: we do.