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  • Aisling Salisbury

The Hardest Thing To Do, So Don't Rush It

As you may or may not be aware, I am a transwoman and I am proud to be living my life as the person I knew I always was. The other day I was asked about 'My Story' and more importantly my 'Coming-Out' experience and if I had any tips. It's something that I am more than happy to share. So I am happy to take a break with "political" posts as my mind has had enough of research and reading. It will be good to write something from the heart.


Like many reading this, I guess you knew from a very early age of who you were. Even if it was just a feeling there was always something you couldn't just shake from your life. Like a monkey on the back, something just didn't feel right growing up. I am no different. My earliest memories of knowing this was around the age of four. I am fortunate though to have grown up in a time that had more open-minded views in that "do what you want, just be happy" and more importantly I grew up in a time of the Internet. Many in the trans community would agree that the Internet was a massive help because it showed many that we weren't the only ones to feel this way and have questions. I would've been about 12 or 13 when I realised that "I wasn't the only one."


Even though I had discovered I was not alone and was in puberty, which like many, was a disturbing time, even for those that aren't questioning their true gender, it's fair to say there was a lot of denial in my youth. That denial of "I'll grow out of this phase" but the truth is, for those who truly battle these feelings for years and years it's clear that it's not a phase. For me I always thought, get to 18, officially an adult now and move ahead with therapies, hormones, coming out etc. etc.


Despite knowing of places to go, Australia wasn't entirely at the forefront of transgender care. It was only certain places and/or doctors. The mainstay of Australia being the Monash Gender Clinic had a reputation at the time that was less than favourable. Yes, they were the whipping boy for this kind of treatment and only the bad stories would be reported. Some which included those about to have "THAT" surgery wanting to cancel it. Even whilst being rolled into the theatre and getting told "that's normal to be afraid" and the doctors convinced patients to go ahead with the procedure. Needless to say, many lawsuits were filed against them. Other reports were that some who would go and see these doctors would effectively be told "you'll never 'pass', so forget about it all together" and those reports were coming from doctors who refused to refer patients to the clinic because they were concerned for their patient's mental wellbeing. This wasn't the reason why I delayed seeking help though, I just kept simply making excuses for myself.


It wasn't until I was 22 when, for some reason I felt, I couldn't keep doing this anymore. I wasn't doing anything drastic but I was just getting very stressed and anxious for the simplest things. I do admit, I doctor shopped. My regular family GP would've been greatly supportive (which I found out later) but at the time with him being the family GP I wanted to play it cautiously. I found another GP and got referred to that Gender Clinic, which by now had a mass clear-out and new staff members on the team and was starting to join the 21st Century when it came to transgender care. I went through about a year of therapy and was in a great place. As corny as it sounds, just finally unloading and talking to someone does wonders. It's not just a phrase, it's the truth! I didn't go as deep into, treatment as I could have, because, well I'm a goal-orientated type of person. For me I thought, I can't just do this without a) telling my parents and b) having financial stability behind me. Point b) was easy. I was working my backside off saving money but the "coming-out" thing petrified me.

From the ages of 22-31, a full nine years, groan. I didn't do a thing about point a). I always knew who I was, but remarkably I wasn't as stressed or anxious as I had been prior. I don't believe the phase idea was evident in that "oh it was a phase, but I'm cured now". In those nine years, I worked hard, started saving (COVID is burning that up fast now) and even had a very serious relationship, I mean engagement level type and nearly having a child together (it was an ectopic pregnancy, I would not wish that trauma on anyone). She knew about me she met Ash first in fact. As for the engagement she said "no" not because of the "other woman" but more logistical, which I understand, but only now. Short story, she lived in England, I lived in Australia. We loved each other, but she was right, one of us would have to give up their lives and any time off would always be spent travelling back and forth halfway around the world to see family and friends. It's amazing how Northern Hemisphere people are petrified of a flight more than 10hrs long. How Australian's laugh at that. So yes, although I had a relationship I never denied who I was. In a way life was good.

When it comes to my advice of coming-out as trans I want to say this first. Every situation is different. Find what works for you, everyone is different and each situation is unique, so what worked for me, might not work for you. But these are my recommendations to hopefully guide you:


1. Seek Professional Help

See a counsellor or psychiatrist! Your feelings are deep and simply just coming-out won't fix what you feel deep down. It's important to find yourself in a good frame of mind before you take such a major step. You also need to do your research if you feel trapped whether by family, location or facilities. The help is out there! Whether it be online or in person. Once you find a support network for professional help you will be directed to a counsellor or psychiatrist that will be able to assist. Even before the current state of affairs in the world many do Phone or Facetime sessions. So if you are in the middle of nowhere, it doesn't mean you can't seek this help. Don't use that of all things as your excuse to not find it.


2. Read the Book 'True Selves'

This is an amazing read and resonated with me greatly. It contains a lot of help and ideas. I would recommend that if anyone you come-out to has questions, then direct them to this book as well.


3. Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Don't rush any of this. I get the premise of 'life is short' and I too have regrets that I didn't act sooner. Just because you might be doing it slowly don't think you are failing or that it will never happen. I have seen many in my time who have immediately had the so-called epiphany and go all guns blazing and have got to the finish line and then realise "Oh, was this what I wanted? Or was there something else that was the main problem?" Now yes some have done this to make up for the lost time and haven't regretted it but there is a danger here in having the one-track mind and losing sight of the bigger picture of life.


4. Choose your "targets" (those you come out to)

Start small and you will grow with confidence. Be sure that person you come-out to is highly likely to be supportive. It is hard to guess how people will react yes, you don't know what people think. Hell, they probably didn't even guess that you were trans right? The first person I came-out to was a very close friend and work colleague who was gay and had at one point called me "the brother from another mother". In this case, I felt they would be supportive in myself making such an announcement and there was the establishment of me being a very close friend. It meant, they might "understand" a little bit and we have a deep bond that won't be broken. Another way to consider how someone might react would be to just start a conversation. One friend I came-out to happened when we were talking about trans issues, thanks to a Family Guy episode, no kidding. We started talking about the episode, yes we both laughed at Brian puking for about two minutes. Afterwards, we started talking about the episode and I just said "how would you react if someone you knew did that?" and their response was "I'd hope I'd be supportive in the right way for them. But I wouldn't care" to which I replied, "and if I said I plan to do that someday?" The response was "are you serious" . . . "yeah" . . . "wow, you do what you have to and just be happy".


5. Have Photos on Hand

Coming-out as trans I feel is different than coming out as gay. The same anxieties are there, the same threats and concerns of rejection are there, I get that! Don't for a second think I don't. Although when it comes to being gay it doesn't usually result in a massive change to the "face" or public appearance you will present to the world, either immediately or over time. Being gay means folks will still recognise you as the gender you are, it's just that you can be more open about your sexual preferences and not have to hide. To be trans means a lot more questions get raised after coming-out. Many questions that you might not have even considered, I feel it also results in a lot more talk behind your back. People are curious, it's our nature. The trans umbrella now seems to cover a lot more and with the coverage of trans issues now there are a lot more concerns that would be raised in someone's mind after being told that their child, friend or family member is now wanting to change their gender. Having pictures can help paint a picture in their mind of "oh, ok then". Whether people want to admit it or not. The immediate thought of a male wanting to be female is a girl with a beard, Monty Python sketch or a drag queen. When they see a photo of you as your real self then it can allay a lot of concerns. The first person I came out to, as I said, was supportive. However, was shocked and said "they would never have guessed" so I must be a damn fine actor then. As soon as I showed photos of the real me it was "I can see it now." Many have added after seeing a picture that I looked a lot happier and radiant, I don't see it, but those are usually qualities people other than yourself see more. As the saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words.


6. Can you speak clearly or do you get befuddled?

Even with rehearsal do you still end up getting confused or forgetting to add a point? It is hard to come-out and say to someone "hey, I feel as though I should be female" when people have learnt to look at you as the opposite or vice-versa. Like in debating, you remember all your points you want to get across, but then someone throws a curveball and you get lost. You might still get your points out but you forgot certain things you wanted to cover. The same will happen here with such a momentous occasion. The more you come out the more you will gain the confidence, it's like anything, the more experience you have at it the better. If you feel you will get befuddled or chocked up and can't get the point across then write it down. Write a letter to the person and either read it to them or get them to read it to themselves in front of you and then be there for any questions. This is what I ultimately did with my folks because they were the most important people I had to tell and I wanted every point to be addressed. However, with this letter, don't go on, be to the point and have it no more than an A4 sheet. A personally handwritten letter too is a lot more sincere.


7. Always have an escape plan

I have been fortunate that I haven't had any rejection. I know that people won't be that lucky and I'm sure I won't be at some point. I haven't come-out to every single person that I know, so I'm sure they will be in for a shock one day. I have only told those that I am closes to. It means that I at least have that support to fall back on. For example, if you are living at home with the family, be prepared to have a place to go to if they were to reject you or need time to comprehend. Prepare for the worst-case scenario, if you expect the worse then anything that happens above that is a win and will result in "that wasn't so bad."


They are just some tips I have, but as I say everyone is different so you need to find your own groove. I can not recommend step one anymore. Please do that first whatever you do! Seeking professional help can also assist with any of those steps or can help you find support networks around you if the worse case happens. There were nine years from the moment I first saw a psychiatrist and first came out to where I am now. Which is, my parents know and I live 90% full-time now. Always take baby steps.

Despite vowing initially at 18 to be upfront and come-out to everyone it was only at the age of 31 that I finally came out to the most important people in my life, my parents. In regards to that story, I am very fortunate that they were supportive. The typical "mother's instinct" was evident as "she always knew", yeah whatever. My father? I don't think was, impressed, but I also don't think he cared either. I was always afraid that I'd be shown the curve and I always expected this. Ages ago the shrink I was seeing, did suggest an option that I had never considered. He told me "you are an only child." Explaining that being my parent's only child, they might just want me to be happy and would never want to lose me, regardless of the way I presented I would always be their child. It resonated with me quite well and thankfully that's what happened in my case. I think they realised that I was a good kid, had a head-on my shoulders and never got into trouble so I believe they judged my character more than the fact I identified as a daughter not a son to them. Most importantly my character is because of my upbringing by them. Another thing I did was to allow them to name me. It was a nice touch that allowed them to have a part in the next chapter of my life.


I repeat, slow and steady wins the race. Don't rush, but don't make excuses either. Find your support network and take things from there. Good luck.


Ash


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