lonely male student in a brick college walkway with arches and dramatic dusk lighting.

The Trans Experience – Back in the Closet

I never knew that if you passed too well, you could suddenly find yourself back in the closet.

We recently had one of younger members return on winter break after their first quarter in college. Let’s call him Mark. I’d had the chance to talk to him before he left for school about whether he’d enter this new environment as an out and proud trans person or try to go stealth and simply live as one of the guys. He was excited for the opportunity to find a new support community at school but was unsure how it would go and liked the idea of just blending in.

We talk a lot about “passing” in the trans community and for many it can be a major focus of their transition. We all want to be accepted, safe, and loved, and at first it can seem like “passing” as our identified gender and being able to blend is the only/best way to accomplish that. You’ll often hear me say that we can’t focus on passing as the goal though, because 1) we can’t control how our bodies will react to hormones and 2) many in the community can’t afford or are unable to get surgeries necessary to make going “stealth” possible. It’s important to give ourselves and others in the community the slack and space to just be themselves, even if they don’t meet standard definitions of beauty, femininity, masculinity, etc.

However, in all of the conversations I’ve had about passing and the desire to blend and be fully accepted as our gender, I had never thought about the other side of that coin which Mark experienced at school.

When Mark, a very intelligent but shy mtf guy, got to school, he was accepted fully as a male. He realized his identity as a trans person was very much back in the closet. Granted, he’s now seen on the desired side of the gender fence, but he feels he’s lost his connection to the LGBT community. He went to an LGBT event on campus and felt confronted as someone asked him why he was there. His situation is complicated by the fact that the folks in his small, tight-knit housing situation don’t know he’s trans and don’t seem to be the most open minded. As such, he doesn’t talk openly about his history and is worried about them finding out through the grapevine if he’s too open with folks around campus.

When he said he told the person at the LGBT event that he was there because he’s gay, my heart broke. I love this kid and I was sad to hear he didn’t feel comfortable even outing himself to LGBT folks.

For early transitioners, we have to be in the closet because we can’t pass and aren’t comfortable being outed for fear we won’t be accepted in our true/inner gender. Being in the closet is often excruciating because we’re repressing our true selves for the benefit of others in order to remain feeling safe and accepted by folks around us. But Mark is now living a different kind of closet experience, he has the validation of being accepted as man, but in order to find the community and support he still needs, he will have to out himself and face the risk of negative reactions in his inner circle. Quite a conundrum.

How would you handle this situation and what do you think Mark should do?