Being Your Beauty: Gabby


42 years old

Pittsfield, MA

I haven’t touched these boxes in five years and the reason is because coming out was a violent, traumatic process for me; and one that I only came to specifically because of the subject matter of my second novel, Viscera.

My life was increasingly about trying to understand myself as a queer person and about coming to a deeper understanding of what it meant to be queer. I knew that I identified as queer; and I knew that I didn’t just identify as bisexual. I knew that I wanted to know more, and the more I learned about queer identity, the more I started to become interested in writing Viscera as a book about trans people.

Now, at a certain point while writing it, I recognized that all of the characters were queer—were trans—and then I started having these questions about the legitimacy of me writing this book. What gives me the right to write about trans characters as (what I thought I was at the time) a cis man?

One of my characters was based on a friend of mine. I had a lot of trouble trying to figure out if I had the right to tell her story, so I asked if I could interview her about her gender. In the midst of that conversation, I recognized how deep I was in the actual headspace of that; and then it became clear that the reason I was drinking was to mask a lot of those feelings. I realized that I was, in fact, a trans person. I was about halfway through the manuscripts when all that stuff broke open. I got sober in the middle of writing this book. I came out in the middle of writing this book. I came out to myself, I came out to my family, and then I came out to the entire world.

So yeah, my coming out story happened in two phases. There was a process of coming out in the nineties; which is complicated and hard to talk about. Ultimately the reason I think of it as something that didn’t take has a lot to do with where we were as a culture at that time. It was an inhospitable environment for me to be out, particularly as a teenager. Everything was just so unsafe that I went back into the closet.

I didn’t have a full awareness of myself yet. As I see it now, the bar for being a girl is that you feel like you’re a girl. It seemed impossible at the time; but I also knew that it was this fundamental part of my identity. I knew that I had a really different relationship to fashion and femininity. I told anybody who would listen that I should have been born a girl.

I also thought about it in terms of presentation. I knew that I wasn’t presenting in any way that I wanted to. I felt like I was presenting in a way that I had to in order to be safe, make a living, etc. So that was always on the forefront of my mind.

Being out is a political act. The second I dressed in my own clothes and walked out of the house and was visibly transgender—it became a political thing. My life all of a sudden was political; and there’s no way out of that.

I used to work at a coffee shop in Pittsfield, and I was one of the only assigned male at birth employees. I remember feeling so much more comfortable working in a group of all women. The longer I worked there, the more comfortable I felt gesturing in ways that felt more like myself.

I knew that as someone who was presenting as a man, I wasn’t allowed to speak in ways that felt more feminine. The way I would kind of express it to myself is like, the more I allowed myself to have a limp wrist and not worry about it, the more comfortable I felt, the more authentically myself I was.

There was this running joke with everyone who worked there, like everybody called me a princess. And I mean, my personality is the way that it always has been. It just was masked for a certain period.

It was really great having hair because I was able to effortlessly be androgynous. You know, that’s really something that you lose when you’re bald. My hair came out when I was like 17 years old, it started coming out in the brush, like in clumps. I was devastated. I had this thick head of hair and then all of a sudden it was gone. And I wonder how much of me going back into the closet was related to that?

Cause it was like, okay, I lost what felt like the center of my ability to express my gender. I felt like I had to lean into a more masculine expression for any number of reasons, and that was certainly one of them. But all of that really was painful.

We all come to adulthood through any number of different paths. I think I advocate for there to be a multiplicity of ways that you can approach gender. And, on a societal level—just stop telling people that any of them are wrong. I do believe that the largest problem we have is our relationship to the world. Shame does not need to exist if it doesn’t serve us in any way.

I think that’s the argument that has led us to the point where we are now—in the sense that the medical community, or some subset of it, recognizes how dangerous it is for us to continue to be unrecognized and unable to easily access gender affirming care.

That has a direct correlation to the suicide rates. I think that’s why we’ve taken such a radically different approach in the past decades—because yeah, we’ve got to turn that around. And the easiest way to turn that around for kids is to just let them be who they are.

Trans identity—and the way we talk about it—has a lot to do with bodies. There’s the sense of danger to your physical body from specific hate crimes that you hear about and you think about all the time. As someone who was thinking about coming out (again), even if I hadn’t admitted it to myself, that’s kind of a defining limit. It’s like: shit, I’m putting myself in the crosshairs now—do I really feel like I can do that? There’s a lot of violence. There’s a lot of things that could happen to me from the outside. That could physically hurt me. That’s a part of the fear.

There’s also—for me—a fear of surgery, which I am slowly admitting to myself now. The process that I have to go through in order for my body to look the way I want it to, that’s another kind of violence. And then there’s the violence of silence itself—of staying in the closet, and not even admitting it to myself that all of this is going on.