A reader writes: I’ve never felt like I fit in until I started to dress as a male at University a few year ago. Before I left University, I threw away my small collection of male clothes because I was scared of what my parents would say/think.
“When I was 16, I was forced by my sister, in particular, to wear a dress. I did tell my sister at the time (who is three years older than me) that I didn’t feel right in a dress, but she said, ‘You’re a woman, so act like one.’ Now I’m settled in a job I really enjoy, I feel it’s time to start to transition, but I’m scared of my parents’ reaction.
“A few years ago, they found out I self-harm, and my Mum didn’t know what to say, but one morning my Dad suddenly wrestled me to the ground and shouted and spat at me, saying, ‘Do you want someone to talk all simple to you? Do you want a straight jacket? Just stop it.’
“I never sought professional help, because I felt like I needed my parents’ support. I stopped self-harming a couple of years later. I want to start to wear male clothes again, to begin the transition, but I’m scared that my parents won’t support me, especially after their reaction to the self-harm.
“I try to dress as androgynous as I can, and I’m being read as a male a fair bit already. Dad keeps on lifting my top up to see how many layers I’ve got on. I feel humiliated, but if I tell him to stop, he still does it.
“My other worry is work. If I suddenly wear male clothing, people may ask questions. Would it be better to make an announcement before I dress as male, so everyone knows what’s happening?”
I don’t know how old you are or whether or not you still live with your parents, but it sounds as if you might be out on your own. You have graduated and you have a good job. If you’re not out on your own, you might consider saving the money to do that fairly soon, if that’s possible.
You do not need your parents’ support to start therapy if you are able to pay for it yourself or have some kind of health coverage that will pay for it. I suggest you start therapy, regardless of what you decide to do. Even though you say you stopped self-harming two years ago, there is a possibility that this could start again as you become more stressed, and some professional support might be able to prevent a setback.
A therapist can also help you make decisions about how to come out at work and what to do about your parents, as well as helping you deal with any negative repercussions that might come from coming out or transitioning in any way, if that’s what you decide to do.
Your parents’ reaction to your self-harming behavior is unusual. But it’s also possible that they were scared and didn’t know what to do. Your father’s reaction, while inappropriate for the situation, could have been a fear reaction. Many times, fear manifests outwardly as anger. He didn’t know what to do, so he responded in the only way that he could at the time. I don’t know for sure, but it’s possible. And it is possible that he will respond that way again if you come out to him as trans, because the fear will kick in again.
Your father is also acting inappropriately when he lifts up your shirt. He should not be lifting up your shirt at any time for any reason. You say that you tell him to stop, but he still does it. You will need to be firm, or you will need to avoid any situation in which he can do this. This could be considered a type of sexual assault, and if you can’t get him to stop, you need to report this to your mother or to some authority figure that might be able to help you, and/or you need to avoid being around your father altogether.
I know that he is lifting it up to see how many layers of clothing you have underneath – or it appears that this is what’s happening. It doesn’t matter. It needs to stop immediately. It’s not your fault that it is happening, but it is a violation of your body and of your privacy. You will need to stay away from him and/or get outside help if it continues.
With regard to work, it’s true that people might notice a change in your appearance and they might ask questions, even though it is none of their business. I think that you have to decide what is appropriate for you and safe, based on what you know of your workplace and the laws in your area.
By the time I came out at work, I had cut my hair, stopped wearing makeup, and was dressing in men’s clothes. My coworkers thought I was going through cancer treatments. While they were very happy to find out that I wasn’t dying – that I was only transitioning – I wouldn’t recommend it as a way to come out.
If you think your change will be significant, and that people will really notice, ask a bunch of questions, and impact things for you at work, then you should probably come out first, and you would start that with your supervisor or someone in human resources. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has some information about coming out at work, and there are quite a few other resources online if you search for “coming out s trans at work.” Readers probably have other suggestions.
You will only be able to hide your true identity for a limited time before it becomes too overwhelming. It might behoove you to start making plans now to come out to your parents, come out at work, and so on. And again, I recommend finding a therapist to help you do that, if possible.
I would also reiterate that you should not be alone with your father if he will not stop lifting up your shirt, and based on the way that he responded when you told them about the self-harm, you should not be alone with him when you come out to him. You might need to find a safe place to come out to all of your family members at the same time, and/or you might want to have a supportive friend or professional with you when you come out.
Good luck to you. What thoughts and suggestions do readers have?