Mein Freund Ben hat für ein slovakisches Magazin für queere Jugendliche einen Artikel über das Coming Out als Transgender im mittleren Alter geschrieben und sowohl sich selbst als auch mich dafür interviewt. Das Interview ist auf Englisch und wird auch in slowakischer Sprache erscheinen.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Coming Out Later in Life – The Transgender Experience
Coming out is a process of being honest with yourself, then with a close friend, family members and sooner or later being honest with your classmates or coworkers. The experiences vary from person to person. Some people know incredibly early on, even before they reach puberty, who they are and can articulate it very clearly. This coupled with a supporting family allows coming out to happen rather sooner than later.
Many people come out in their teenage years or their early twenties. This has an increasing trend thanks to the growing visibility of the LGBTQIA+ community in the media. Not everybody has the option to come out early on, one of the reasons being lack of safe space, danger of losing family bonds and/or fear of discrimination in working environment.
This article brings the story of two people, which came out as transgender in the second half of their thirties. What played a role in coming out later in life? How did the people in their surrounding react? What are the greatest challenges they are facing? Find out in the below interview.
Julia is a 40-year-old (feeling like 28) trans woman living and working in Germany. She has two adorable daughters aged 7 and 10, which live with their biological mother. Julia has regular contact with her children. She has IT background in business informatics and developed herself to her recent (mixed) role as Project Manager, Scrum Master and Agile Coach. Julia hopes that by sharing her story she will be able to bring hope and confidence to other trans people.
You can follow Julia on Instagram at @becoming.julia.
Ben is a 37-year-old trans man living and working in Slovakia. Besides loving working with data, he loves to create. He is a data analyst/reporting specialist by day and an artist by night. Ben enjoys writing, especially in English language, even though his mother tongue is Slovak. He’s been writing for 20 years. Most of his life he focused on writing poetry, but during the past two years, he got into writing prose as well. Black and white photography is another passion of Ben’s. He hopes to bring awareness about the life and struggles of transgender people in Slovakia. He also would like to be a “big brother” to other trans people, which are considering transitioning.
You can follow him on Instagram @ben.tay.wright.
Q: At what age did you realize you are transgender?
Julia: I realized in a sense of “giving it a name” at the age of 39.
Ben: I was 36 when I admitted to myself that I am trans.
Q: How did you come to the realization that you are transgender? How long of a process was it?
Julia: Looking back at my entire life I must admit that I always felt it. My first memories go back to age of 4 or 5. I grew up in the 80’s / 90’s and my parents themselves were raised during and right after the 2nd World War and experienced traumatic things. They were raised in a sense of survival and fitting to norms. Topics like gender identity were not even known in our family and every topic related to this was a taboo.
So, I never came to the idea that there might be a technical term for what I felt deep inside me all the years – wishing to be a girl. Even worse: I’ve always been a sensitive person and other kids took this as a justification to bully me at school because I was different. I hated school!
Therefore, I locked all these feelings in my heart, feeling like an alien in this world and being convinced that I was “wrong”, never being understood by others. This feeling stayed all these years, but I tried to suppress them as I was deeply ashamed for how I felt. This cost a lot of energy, which caused massive stress and depressive symptoms over the years, which I never understood. I even dreamed of being a girl, I was thinking about cutting my genitals, I hated my body looking more and more male during puberty.
In my last relationship in 2019 I felt my female inner self rising more and more, but I labeled it as cross-dressing fetish and was still ashamed for it, even though my girlfriend was supporting me, when I dared to tell her. But in the end, we broke up – one reason was my increasing inability to fulfill the male role which she liked to see me in. My inner self broke apart, I was not able to cope with this at all. I still did not understand why, although transgender topics became more and more public.
The point of no return came in June 2020, roughly one year after we broke up. I lived alone and was trying to recover from my traumatic experience of being forced to act like a “manly man”. My need to change my appearance to a female look became stronger from day to day. I started to use nail polish, wear female underwear, started shaving my entire body and so on. I saw a burnout coming due to massive workload at work and after months of unfruitful fighting for improving this situation I finally was out of energy. I went on sick leave of more than 2 weeks – the best decision I could make.
I spent the first week of analyzing my job situation, searching for solutions, trying to envision my future and recover from stress. These days I was also consuming a lot of internet content. News, blogs, videos. I can’t remember the exact trigger, but something I read created an initial suspicion inside me about being trans and I started asking myself if this has something to do with me.
After this initial spark, the transition came over me like an avalanche. I started crawling the internet and reading about transgender topics. Learning all these terms out there, constantly reflecting them with my inner perception. I did dozens of online tests (be careful with that, they are based on gender stereotypes!), watching YouTube videos like “10 indications for being trans”. After one or two days I was fed up with thoughts, fear, pressure, insecurity, anxiety about the future. I needed to talk to someone and so I talked to my ex-girlfriend (today we’re good friends), who was supportive and sweet.
After roughly two weeks of research and talking to my friend I was finally sure what my feelings always wanted to tell me: I’m a woman inside. I’m a transwoman! BOOM! My world was upside down in a blink of an eye.
So, after 39 years of suppressing true myself, Julia, in order to get along with our society’s stereotyped gender roles my journey of transition finally was about to begin.
Ben: I was 36 when I realized that I am transgender. It didn’t happen overnight. It all started by getting tired of living according to the expectations of my parents, my friends or general public. I was raised in a Catholic home and talking about sexuality or gender identity was never on the Sunday’s table. I never felt like a girly girl. I was also misgendered when I was a child. I remember a photographer which took my children’s portrait and thinking I am a boy. Well, he was not far from the truth. In that time however, that’s not what my parents thought or accepted. I was rocking a short boyish haircut and because I didn’t reach puberty yet, it was easy to misgender me.
My parents had a pretty clear picture of my future. I was supposed to get married to a nice man which will take care of me and I was supposed to give birth to a child or two. This is how “normal” life looks according to movies and also majority of the general public. I tried hard to fall into this picture, I dated guys and tried to find “the one”. It never happened. I have never married and never had children. At the age of 34 I started not caring about how my life is supposed to look like. I started step by step doing whatever was making me feel better. I buzzed my hair to a few millimeters. It was an amazing feeling. I didn’t do it because I knew I am trans, I did it because I was trying to find things that make me feel like me. I got some tattoos on me. I always liked tattoos, but never dared to get some. The reasons are multiple – my parents not being a fan, the church not allowing it, my (now ex) boyfriend not wanting me to get any. Few months later, I started to be extremely anxious about my wardrobe. When I opened my closet all I could see was – you bought this because you are a girl, and girls are supposed to like pink, or colors in general, you bought this because girls are supposed to wear dresses, you bought this in orange instead of black, because you wear black too much. I got rid of some of my clothes. My closet never looked better.
At the age of 36 I was going to the therapist and thanks to her suggestion, I found out what all of it meant. As an exercise to get better in taking care of myself, my therapist suggested to buy for myself a doll. I had to talk to her, hold her and comfort her, I mean the doll, not the therapist. (smiling). I did it for a short while, but I was not able to establish a proper relationship with the girl doll. After a few months, my therapist asked me how I am doing with my doll. I told her that it’s not going well. I was brave enough to admit to her that when I was in the shop, I was originally holding a boy doll, but put him back and bought the girl. I was scared to buy the boy as I didn’t know how to explain that my inner self is portraited as a boy doll. My therapist’s reaction was “I think what this is about”. She was not only accepting, but encouraged me to buy a boy doll and see how I feel. As soon as I bought the boy doll (his name is Fynn), all the pieces of the puzzle felt into the right place. It became crystal clear – I am a transgender man.
Q: How long did it take from coming out to yourself to come out to somebody else and who was the first person that you told you identify as the opposite gender and what was their reaction?
Julia: Well, it just took a couple of days to talk to my friend about my suspicion. From this day on she was at my side and we were in very close contact. Being a little bit part of my “private project” now, my friend was also supporting me a lot, because in the beginning I didn’t know what was possible in a MtF transition.
Quite soon I came to the question: “Well then?” My inner project manager was knocking at the door and requesting a vision of next steps. Indeed, my work experience still helps me a lot in managing my transition – one reason why this is all going so fast. Soon, I had a vision of my transition and I started going straight into this direction with highest priority and focus – step by step.
The big chunk of coming outs started only after these first 2 – 3 weeks. Finally, I was crystal clear on my identity, everything made sense – I was crying a lot during these days. Sometimes because of my fear, but mainly because of the massive release I felt. But there was only one direction to go: forward! And nearly all the people I came out to during these times were happy for me and supported me. Especially women were super interested, the reaction of men was a bit reluctant in general.
Ben: This is actually hard for me to say. During the period of two years when I was trying to do anything to make myself feel good in my own skin, I also blogged about my feelings and thoughts on who I am. If I consider blogging as coming out, then two of my friends from abroad read the blog first. The three of us are all writers. I thought they’ll be cool with it. I was already using my preferred name as my pen name. With the blog post, I just added another meaning to it. Whoever read the blog post afterwards, received a tiny coming out from me. This happened very shortly after realizing that I am trans.
When it comes to having a proper talk or announcement that I am trans, it took me good half year to gather my (imaginary) balls. I started by coming out to my psychiatrist. She was lovely, she supported me, also said that she was not surprised. It was her idea as a “homework” for our next session, to announce this to my family. And the good boy I am, in few days from our last session, I did it. I came out to my parents and brother. It was the scariest thing. I am very lucky to have an understanding and accepting family. Because of my catholic background, I honestly thought I will be rejected and lose my family bonds. My dad’s reaction was that “this is good news”. He took it as a chance for me to live a happy life and was proud that I was brave enough to come out.
Q: How did you communicate these “news” to your family and what was their reaction?
Julia: My parents were one of the first people I came out to. It was only 2 weeks to a planned vacation with my kids and my father and I needed to tell my parents before. So, I invited them to my home stating I had to announce something important – well aware of the arc of suspense.
Before I told them my mother did a wild guess: “Are you gay?” No, this is not the case – at least not from my old gender role perspective. I told them how I felt, that it was a big burden and that I finally realized what it was, and I could not hide it anymore. My mother was surprised, but after the first moments of irritation she was really interested and asked thousands of questions.
My father was kind of shocked, nearly said nothing. He sat on his chair and looked like he was doomed to death. When I was asking him how he felt, he became very silent and just said he didn’t feel well. Such “abnormal things” were never known in his youth, he said. “Abnormal” – thanks for this unappropriated judgement, dad. But now, after more than 10 months he slowly starts accepting it. It’s still hard for him, but he started calling me Julia and he really tries to get along with it – for me. And I recognize that as a bold act of love!
For my kids it’s more difficult. Both were always Daddy’s girls. Together with my mother I started showing them a video clip about LGBTQ+, which was produced by a German TV channel especially for kids. First they stated: “Ah, Daddy, we already know this! Boooring.” I needed to laugh because they are growing up with this and it’s nothing special anymore. But telling them that I am “one of these” made a difference. They started crying and were afraid of losing their daddy. The older one locked herself in another room for a while.
As I only see them every 2nd weekend it took a couple of months for them to slowly get used to the new situation. They went through a long period of denial and being against it, especially the older one. She kind of accepted the fact now, but she doesn’t want to talk about it. There were some weekends when she didn’t want to come to my home, this was touching me deeply and I cried later on, because I felt like losing her a little bit.
My ex-wife sent them to a psychologist to support them, but he has no experience with trans topics and stands for a very traditional role model. I had a conversation with him, because he wanted to get to know me, and he pointed out several times that kids need a father and a mother. His honest recommendation was to get back to my male role for the weekends when the kids are here. Wow! A clear sign that he does not understand the situation of trans people at all, very unappropriated and showing a lack of respect.
In the meantime, the little one sometimes starts calling me “mommy” or plays around with combinations of “daddy” and “mommy” or Julia. I guess it still takes time for them to fully accept the new situation.
Ben: I have a lot of anxiety, especially social anxiety. I prefer writing as it takes away the fear. I used email as the channel for both coming out to my psychiatrist and my family. Email made it really easy for me. I wrote my family an email titled “Congratulations! You have a son.” I explained how I feel, the terminology, what are my plans and made the announcement focus on the benefits rather than make them feel like they are losing something. I sent the email very late and also told them not to reply immediately, but to sleep on it, so to give them a chance not to have a hard reaction. In one hour an email from my dad popped up on my desktop. My heart was beating really hard. I was hesitating whether to read it or leave it for tomorrow. I read it.
My dad wrote that he couldn’t wait for tomorrow to react. He wanted me to receive his initial honest reaction. He said that he perceives this as happy news, that I have a chance to be happy. He also said that he has no problem addressing me with my preferred name and using the pronouns he/him. My mom was quiet for a few days. I think it took her a week to be ok with this. I appreciate that she opted to stay quiet instead of saying something inappropriate immediately. The icebreaker was when I had to call her because a package was arriving and after talking about the delivery, she asked me how should she call me. She has always called me “squirrel” in Hungarian language. With my mom we talk only Hungarian and with my dad only Slovak language. I told her that I am still her squirrel, she can still call me that way, only the name of the squirrel has changed. I am glad that she came around.
My brother was cool with it. He literally didn’t care. He was very practical about it. Just tell me how to call you and what shall I say if somebody asks me and that’s it. He said a little joke, which made me laugh so hard. He was worried how to talk about me in his job. If they ask about his weekend, whether he can say that my brother and I, but then they will say “we didn’t know you have a brother”, and he suggested that his answer would be “me neither”. I imagined this scenario and I was cracking. My psychiatrist also had a laugh at this.
I have an uncle, and my dad has announced it to him. I have no idea what was his reaction. We are not in touch much. I have no other family. I am neither married nor have children therefore the coming out to my family list was very short.
Q: How did your colleagues or boss react in your job? What kind of steps did the company take to accommodate your needs and show they are inclusive?
Julia: Funny, but true: coming out in my job was one of my easiest steps. This happened in October 2020. I was out for around 3 months and I was a bit tired of telling the same story repeatedly and answering the same questions again and again. So, I decided to create a little video (btw: it’s also available on my YouTube channel) and tell my story within 3 minutes in crisp written form. My colleagues were deeply touched, some of them were crying, but they were super supportive and interested in this. Of course, a lot of them knew me for nearly 20 years, this was a big change for them as well. But they directly accepted it and gave their best to respect my new name and pronouns.
For colleagues who I’m not working with closely, I wrote an email and encouraged them to forward it if required – and this happened, but I did not expect so much feedback! There were two highlights. One of the highlights is meeting Ben. I was glad to get to know him on his last day and I’m still happy that he was so brave contacting me. The second one was our Global HR lead and member of the board. She invited me for a talk, and we had an awesome conversation. She offered me her support whenever needed and explained her personal reasons why diversity is so important for her. Impressive! And such a good feeling to be supported by top management.
Even from an internal process perspective, things were easier than expected. I requested my name change and this was done including a new email address within 2 days – even without legal name change. Obviously, I was the first one in Germany having such a request in our company, but my HR counterpart was open and willing to support me. A great experience. Now, as my official name and gender change was approved by court in April 2021 the last data was changed in our HR system, but these were only there for tax reasons, etc. and kind of “cosmetics”, not visible in my day-to-day business.
Ben: I want to highlight from what Julia mentioned that it is important to talk to your transgender workforce and understand their needs. It’s ok that HR or managers are new to the transgender topics and they don’t know what to do and how to do it. Making an effort to educate oneself is really important. In companies the learning includes not only understanding what trans people go through, but also researching the law properly to know what can or cannot be done for their employees.
I want to applaud the company and all people involved in handling Julia’s case. Changing the email address and name in all communication channels is necessary in order for a trans employee to feel good and accepted. Both German and Slovak laws allow the companies to give email address to their employees with their preferred name even if they legally did not change it yet. What is a wow factor in Julia’s story is that the Global HR Leader has taken the time to sit down with her and have a conversation.
I wasn’t lucky like this. I didn’t receive the basic support I needed. I tried to gather information for the company to help them grow in the knowledge, but it was not well received. Most Slovak companies are not yet ready to accommodate the needs of transgender people. This is also the reason why I am out and proud. I want to contribute to improvement of the situation in Slovakia so that nobody will have to go through what I went through in my job.
Q: What do you perceive as the best thing about being transgender and what do you see as the greatest challenge?
Julia: The best thing about my situation is that I was able to release myself from this big dark burden, which I was carrying my entire life, and which made it a torture. I’m feeling so much better since my coming out – released. I don’t need to hide anymore. Of course, it’s also a privilege to have both: experiencing a male and a female life and puberty. Since I started my HRT (hormone replacement therapy) in October 2020, I get to celebrate a second birthday now! Julia was born.
Let’s flip the coin. The greatest challenge. Wow. There are many challenges and they are hard to weigh. Let’s phrase it like this: every phase of a transition has its own challenges and opportunities to grow personally. In the beginning, my biggest challenge was coming out to all people in my surrounding. Next was going out in the public dressed as a woman. I was so nervous!
My biggest challenge now is my voice, gender dysphoria and waiting for my approval for beard removal. Voice training is hard for me. As I’m having meetings nearly all day in my job, I’m constantly reminded that I still have a male voice.
After 40 years there are still doubts sometimes, usually coming along with gender dysphoria. Sometimes I ask myself if it’s the right way to change my whole life because it can be so painful – mentally and real body pain after surgeries or even beard removal. Transition is nothing to be done just for fun! But in the end, there’s so much mental pain making it simply unavoidable to do the transition. This is important to point out as some cis people think we’re just doing this because it’s a hype or something. Well, it’s not! It’s the time for us to stand up and be a visible and active part of world-wide society.
The overall biggest challenge is patience. Waiting for the first appointment with the therapist. Waiting for HRT to start. Waiting for body changes. Waiting for the authorities to finish their processes. Waiting for approvals for medical treatment. Waiting for people to get along with us. Transition is very much about waiting and being patient and while feeling gender dysphoria this is unbearable from time to time.
Ben: The best thing about coming out as transgender is that instead of losing friends and family, I have now more. There are much more people in my life. I never felt so loved and accepted. I see that I am more social and outspoken and brave ever since my coming out. I love the fact that I understand both the male and female perspective.
The biggest challenge was for me coming out to my family. However, as time goes on and the process is progressing I am finding new and new challenges. In Slovakia, the medical transition itself is a difficult process as we don’t have enough doctors supporting the transgender community. People have to often travel long distances from one part of the country to another to receive the care they need. At this moment, the greatest challenge is to wait for HRT and top surgery. I lived in my body for so many years, I get anxious about not being able to just wake up the next day with male characteristics. I have to agree with Julia, the greatest challenge is patience. The waiting seems never-ending at times, but you need to distract yourself and let the process roll at its own terms.
Q: Did you lose any friends since you came out?
Julia: Luckily, I didn’t. All friends stayed, although some friendships seem to transform. My relationship to my male friends changes, especially since the beginning of my HRT. My interests slowly change as an effect of estrogen and the common ground seems to shrink. But still we love each other being humans, not men, women, or something different.
On top I got to know a lot of more people (especially trans people) and gained new friends. And my relationship to some women also changed. For example we went shopping or founded a WhatsApp group for girly stuff. All in all: the number of friends is increasing since my coming out. Law of attraction.
Ben: I didn’t lose any friends. Everybody so far had a great reaction to my coming out. I gained a lot of new friends and that’s amazing!
Q: Do you have any message for the readers – for example words of encouragement for the closeted queer people, which are hesitant to come out, or something you want people to know or understand about trans people?
Julia: I’d like to send this out to our queer family members, being out or not:
Trust your gut feeling and follow your heart. This is a very used term, I know. But I learned it’s so true. A transition is a deep process of finding and developing our identity and the person of highest priority is – you! Take care for your own well-being. Take your time to discover your own journey at your own pace. Don’t let others tell you what’s best for you.
From time to time checking the transition timeline from others might be inspiration, but every transition story is as individual as our fingerprints. What is yours? And last but not least: It’s your turn now. You’re right the way you are. You are where you need to be. (ok, this one is a bit spiritual :-))
You are not alone!
You are valuable as you are right now. You don’t have to wait to first come out, or to first finish the transition. You are good enough now at this moment.
If you identify as a man, you are a man. If you identify as a woman, you’re a woman. You don’t have to cross off some boxes of gender stereotypes to please people in your surroundings. If they don’t accept you as you are, they are not your friends. You have to be your first priority, your happiness matters! And as the title of this article suggests: It’s better to come out later in life than never. You deserve a chance to be fully happy and feel good in your own body.