This is a chapter from TransLash Zine Vol. 6: Anti-Trans Hate Machine (April 2023).
I used to think that once the closet door had been opened, it couldn’t be closed again.
Coming out had to be an irreversible act. Surely, no one would choose to return to concealing their true self after having felt what it was like to live authentically, right?
I now know that this is not the case. Some unfortunate people come out of the closet, only for the people around them to force them back in and lock the door.
I was one of these people.
When I came out as trans to my father, he was serving as the bishop of our ward – the man in charge of the spiritual wellbeing of the local church congregation. He was always busy, and when he wasn’t at work or at church, he was tired, too worn out to interact much with us.
So I made the foolish choice of coming out to him while he was sitting behind the desk in his office at the church house.
I claim it was my choice, but I do feel like my hand was forced – the appointment had been set weeks ago by the ward clerk.
It was supposed to be a meeting between me and the bishop, checking in on how I was coming along in finishing the goals of the former “Young Women’s” program, which the girls of the ward were being encouraged to complete before it got phased out for a new program.
He had set up these interviews with all of the Young Women, seemingly in order to turn up the pressure and get as many as he could to finish the goals.
Participating in Young Women’s, especially when it came to working on the program’s goals, was always a source of discomfort and dysphoria for me, and I had no interest in completing the program. But my father, unaware of my emotional inhibitions, had been pressuring me for weeks, both as my father and as the bishop, to complete the goals.
It felt like every interaction we had revolved around those goals. Every time I talked to him I had to choose between lying about intending to complete the program, or being truthful about why I wasn’t going to work on it anymore, which was a conversation that would inevitably lead to me being forced to reveal facts about my gender identity and lack of belief in the church that I was afraid my father would not have welcomed.
For a long time I chose to lie, and it weighed heavily on me.
So with the meeting looming, I decided that it was just a matter of bravery. After all, isn’t telling the truth always the right thing to do? And aren’t parents supposed to love and support their children unconditionally?
Bolstered by this naive reasoning, I resolved to come out to my father during the interview. When he asked how my work on the goals was coming along, I told him the truth: I hadn’t worked on them for a long time and I had no intention of finishing the program.
I told him that the program’s foundations of developing the skills of successful women and mothers were not things that I was comfortable with, because I did not feel they applied to me.
I told him that I was actually a boy, and that I had felt that way for a long time.
The look in his eyes chilled me to the bone. It was anger and disbelief and righteous indignation all rolled up into one icy glare. He was silent for a few heart-pounding moments, then he spoke.
At first I thought, against all the odds, that he was going to be supportive, but over the course of the conversation it became clear that he thought my trans identity was just a “struggle” I would have to overcome. A trial placed in my way to strengthen my eventual faith in the gospel and happiness in womanhood.
I tried to hold out, to be assertive and show him that I was who I said I was, but it was to no avail. In the prayer he gave to end the meeting, he asked God to guide me through my confusion. Afterward he hugged me and told me not to worry, that even with all that I was “struggling with,” I was still a “beautiful daughter of God.”
I was devastated and disappointed. And that was only the beginning of the mess.
“True Female Spirit“
That night, he told my mother about our conversation, despite me never giving him permission, and despite the fact that anything said in the Bishop’s office is supposed to be confidential.
I could hear her sobbing.
The sound still haunts me.
Over the next few days, my parents kept cornering me and instigating conversations. They asked me who else knew about what I was “struggling with.” I made the mistake of mentioning a friend at school who was agender, and they started insinuating that maybe this friend had influenced me into doubting my womanhood. I told them that I knew I was trans before this friend came out to me, but that didn’t sway them.
They continued to show their suspicion and distrust any time I talked about any of my friends.
They told me I shouldn’t say anything about my gender identity to my little brother, because they didn’t want to “make things hard for him.” A few days later, they heard my brother calling me by my nickname (which has the benefit of being gender neutral as well as three syllables shorter than my given name) and they told him, while I was obviously within earshot, that he should use my full name because “it’s a beautiful name” and “it shouldn’t go to waste.”
Once, after a long argument in which I kept trying to explain why being seen as a boy was important to me, my father asked me if I ever felt unsure or doubtful of whether I was really “not a girl anymore.”
I fell into his trap, trusting that his question was genuine, and I admitted that there were moments when I wondered if it might be easier to just try again living as a girl.
He told me that those thoughts were my “true female spirit” crying out against the cruelty I was doing to her by pretending to be a boy.
When I continued to be stubborn about my gender, they insisted on taking me to therapy.
Eventually, I agreed, hoping that a qualified therapist would take my side, or at least be able to help my parents see that their actions were harmful.
I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up.
The “therapist” they took me to worked for Family Services, a church-run organization, and I doubt he was actually a licensed therapist.
He asked me what name I wanted to go by but never once used it.
He dominated all of our sessions talking about how he thought I should think about my “gender challenges,” and the few times he did let me talk or ask me questions, he would tell my parents exactly what I had said at the end of our sessions.
I learned to stay silent or nod and smile when he asked questions. I grew to despise everything about my situation and wanted nothing more than to stop going to therapy, and I viewed the arrival of Covid-19, with its office closures, as a blessing.
That feeling didn’t last. With office closures came school closures, and I was stuck at home, with no respite from the relentless attack from my parents. Eventually, I grew tired of fighting a battle I was never going to win.
I stopped correcting them when they intentionally misgendered me. When LGBTQIA+ issues were shown on the news or talked about around the dinner table, I kept my head down and my face blank.
Later, when they asked me if I’d found comfort and peace after my “confusion” and if I was okay being “our [birth name]” again, I put on a smile and said “of course.”
It was official. My trans identity, in their eyes, was only a phase. They had sheltered their cherished daughter through the storm of the adversary’s lies!
In reality, their actions brought me to the brink of destruction.
Those moments when it seemed like it was worth trying to live as a girl again? They were unbearable. They didn’t come because I actually felt like a girl, but because I was so emotionally exhausted by trying to prove my gender to people who would never accept it. But at the same time, I was afraid of the idea that any part of my brain would want to try to be a girl again. What if that meant I really was a girl?
What if my dad was right, and I was fighting against my own “female spirit,” and destroying my relationship with my family in the process?
The battle between the part of me that wanted to give in just to finally gain some respite and the part of me that was repulsed by any notion of being a girl put a massive amount of stress on me, causing very strange emotional responses.
I began to overanalyze everything– all of my behaviors and every interaction I had with other people– all on the basis of whether it might reveal that some inner “female spirit” existed.
Is my writing style a girl’s writing style?
Do I walk like a girl?
Is my relationship with my brother that of an older sister rather than an older brother?
Where is the difference?
Do I think like a girl?
I withdrew even further from my family. I stopped being able to enjoy reading, which had always been my escape from my world, because I was convinced that something in the way I experienced reading was inherently female, and the idea sickened me. I wasn’t safe inside my own brain.
For a long time, the only relief I could find from this onslaught was when I was asleep, because it was the only time I wasn’t constantly thinking in circles, obsessing endlessly over every tiny detail of my life. I eventually became able to compel myself to go to sleep. For hours each day, I would force-shutdown my own brain, consigning myself to the groggy sickness that came from oversleeping rather than trying to deal with my racing thoughts.
In short, I was miserable. In trying to coerce me into seeing myself the way they thought I had to be, rather than trusting that I knew my own heart and giving me freedom to be myself, my parents had sacrificed my wellbeing at the altar of their worldview.
It took me a long time to get better, but I eventually did. The first step, in my case, was the vital choice to stop fighting.
Acknowledging that I did not have the ability or the energy to change my parents’ minds at that time gave me space to rediscover who I truly was, rather than just who I’d morphed myself into in my attempts to resist being rewritten by my parents.
I was able to step back. I told myself, “whatever I am– a boy, a girl, or anything else– that will be okay.”
With that foundation, I was finally able to start healing from my spiraling, cyclic thoughts, letting them go rather than grabbing at them to hold under scrutiny. I was able to be compassionate with myself.
Gradually, I even regained the “ability” to read without feeling dysphoric and sick.
I was once again healthy and I knew who I was: the guy I had always been.
I have found the lasting impacts of being recloseted to be quite interesting. For one thing, experiencing authenticity, no matter how brief and costly it was, made it harder to go back to how I’d been living.
When in-person school resumed, I could never quite fight the feeling of being one degree removed from all of my endeavors.
After all, it couldn’t really be me playing a song up on stage or walking at graduation when some other kid’s name was on the program. Nor could I help the feeling that I was lying to every person I met right out of the gate, the moment I introduced myself.
The feelings of separation and falseness I dealt with as a result of being recloseted have since receded, just as the spiraling thoughts and obsessive self-scrutiny did back then.
Just as I did back then, I evaluated and accepted that I did not have the ability to safely change my circumstances. Then I gave myself compassion and space to feel whatever I needed to feel and be whoever I needed to be while I waited for my right time to act.
With this approach, already tried and tested, I was able to survive until I could move out and begin to live as myself.
While I wish that I’d never had to go through the pain of being recloseted, I can say that the authenticity available to me, hand in hand with the coping skills I learned along my journey, have felt all the more rewarding and well-earned because of it.
So, to anyone who’s found themselves back inside a closet they did their best to leave behind: be wise, and bide your time if you must.
Be as patient and compassionate to yourself as you can.
The reward is worth any wait.
Anon, a 19-year-old transmasc, attended his first year of college at an institution located in an area where the majority of the population adheres to a religion that is anti-LGBTQIA+, often explicitly so. He grew up in a religious, conservative, higher-income household, which gave him a lot of mental baggage to unpack and a lot of concepts to deconstruct and relearn.
Anon is not on social media and we are respecting his privacy boundary.
ABOUT TRANSLASH ZINE
TransLash Zine Vol. 6, released on April 24, 2023, is a companion to our #AntiTransHateMachine campaign & the launch of Season 2 of our podcast series, The Anti-Trans Hate Machine: A Plot Against Equality. Day by day, the attacks on trans kids grow louder, and more anti-trans bills keep moving through state legislatures. In this season of the #AntiTransHateMachine, we illuminate how the right wing has fueled these bills by generating a breathtaking and wide-ranging disinformation campaign. Listen to #AntiTransHateMachine S2 on Spotify Podcasts and purchase the print edition of Vol. 6 right here.
Since 2019, TransLash Zine has been an independent publication by TransLash Media that supports our mission of telling trans stories to save trans lives. We feature uncensored art, writing, and photography by TGNC people––and we pay contributors. Our first six issues were developed and produced in collaboration with POC Zine Project, and POCZP founder Daniela “Dani” Capistrano continues to support our content and partnerships strategy as editor-in-chief and creative director of TransLash Zine. Learn more: www.translash.org/zine
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