by Melanie Yarborough

Lucy Silvay, MA MFCT, is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Counselor, and has worked with Gay, Lesbian, and Transgendered clients. She has done considerable work with individuals on the "Coming Out" process, and examined these issues. These are some of the many important points she stresses:

-Cross-dressing encourages secrecy and hiding. Most crossdressers want to be ordinary and average, to fit in. Coming out is therefore defined as admitting to a tough audience that you are their worst nightmare! Many expect negative reactions and draw worst-case scenarios. All this builds the myth that the closet is the only safe place to be.

But a large part of these predictions of doom come from one's own internalized transphobia. After all, we were all brought up in the same straight society. We assume that others are intolerant Puritans, because we were ourselves trained to be intolerant Puritans. We were trained to dislike unconventionality and diversity. And when we do overcome internalized transphobia, others opinions and reactions lose their power over us.

-You need to have support before you come out. The contradiction is this: you need support to come out, but at the same time you need to come out to get support. My experience with disenfranchised members of society is that one can only come out fully to oneself in conjunction with the support of others. You can't come out to yourself in isolation. The transgender community is an ideal venue for coming out, simultaneously to yourself and to others.

-Does coming out mean outing yourself at work, to your whole family, to your church? No. It means selectively disclosing who you are to special people in your life. First, it's best to come out to someone transgendered like yourself. Support groups are an opportunity to discover and explore yourself with others. You need to see people who are out of the closet. Find out how they did it and what they experienced doing it.

-Don't think of coming out to non-transgendered people until you respect and accept yourself. Only a strong sense of self-worth can prepare you to face the consequences of coming out. Have no expectations, either positive or negative. And remember, people may surprise you!

Keep in mind that coming out is a process. Gay and Lesbian historians studying the coming-out process have concluded that the average length of time it takes to designate oneself gay or lesbian is between 2 to 4 years, after one's first same-sex experience. If you date this process from the first time you crossdressed, it could be at least this long.

-Coming out is NOT about sacrificing yourself. It is NOT about becoming victimized. You may need to postpone it if it means: endangering yourself; getting financially cut off; getting thrown out of your home; living in a hostile environment where you have no recourse from harrassment.

-We need to deconstruct the closet. It is a small, dark cramped closed space, where we're alone and cut off from others. It's built from negative, self-destrutive elements....We need to see coming out for what it is: self-liberation.

Coming out brings the recognition that your life is not a prefabricated ready made affair. It's an odyssey.

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