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The Power (and Cost) of Coming Out as Your Authentic Self

I'd rather feel hurt than stay trapped in fear and shame.

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#TransparentTuesdays

To be honest, sometimes I wonder if being out as trans and non-binary is worth it.


I’ve never really wondered that about any other aspect of myself. “Coming out” is always scary and hard, but in all the other ways I’ve done so, it was with the absolute conviction that living as my authentic self would be worth it in the end.


Over a decade ago I began a healing journey that made me overhaul nearly everything about my life and identity (and body image!), to express and align with my inner truth. And let me tell you… it was terrifying.


I cared a lot about what people thought of me at the time. Practically every moment of my life was dedicated to people-pleasing, managing other people’s experiences, and following what I thought were the “rules” for being acceptable, so even small changes (like not wearing makeup, setting boundaries, and admitting I wanted to be successful) made me feel like I was going to die. I was positive that the only reason people liked or tolerated me was that I had successfully convinced them I was “normal,” and that revealing my true self would shock and disgust everyone so much that people would either immediately attack me, or I would end up completely alone.


Dramatic, I know. But that’s what it felt like!


To be clear, I didn’t decide to start showing up as my true self because I stopped being scared of retribution or abandonment. I did it because I realized letting fear and shame control my life had led to a life that was making me miserable.


The thing is, fear and shame exist to keep us safe, not to help us thrive. Hiding your truth, pretending to be something you’re not, managing other people’s emotions, and staying hypervigilant to avoid rejection or abandonment is stressful, painful, and exhausting. When we’re acting from a place of fear and shame, we end up with careers and relationships that feel frustrating and disappointing, and lives that feel suffocating, joyless, and just wrong.


And that’s what I had done.


I knew how much I was suppressing, flattening, and hiding (both the best of me, and the worst of me), and I struggled with the constant shame of being “too much” deep down. I was terrified of people finding out both how selfish, lazy, stupid, and broken I was, and about how powerful, magical, passionate, and gifted. The effort of constantly monitoring and managing myself (to keep anyone from finding out about my shameful too-muchness) was soul-crushing.


When I realized how much it was costing me to live this way, I decided it was time to finally start conquering my fears. I knew it would be scary and hard, but at that point I figured… how much worse can it be than this?


During that time, I became obsessed with a beautiful quote by Anaïs Nin:


“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”


Photo of a red rose bud
Photo by Wyxina Tresse

I recognized myself in that. Hiding had become more painful than the thing I was hiding from. (Oof.)


So I started facing my fears, and letting people see my too-muchness. I stopped tamping parts of myself down to be more palatable, and started telling the truth about what I thought, felt, needed, liked, and wanted. I stopped doing anything I didn’t really want to do, and started unapologetically pursuing all the things I did.


Before each new “reveal,” I steeled myself to be attacked or abandoned, sure that this would be the one to disgust and engage everyone. And every time, when nothing much happened, I was shocked. I genuinely believed the only thing protecting me from some kind of unbearable catastrophe was the fact that I had meticulously kept everyone from finding out about my too-muchness!


All that time, I’d been trading my own freedom and happiness, to avoid a consequence that never came.


Granted, not everyone was into the “new me,” and I experienced plenty of rejection and loss as I started embracing my authentic interests, values, boundaries, and personality. But at the same time, I was suddenly attracting new people—people I felt more connected with, because they were drawn to the real me— like a magnet. So while some of my fears did come true, I was also rewarded with an influx of goodness I could never have previously imagined.


Another unforeseen benefit was that the less I hid my too-muchness, the less fear and shame I felt about it.


Every time I openly expressed a part of myself I’d deemed unacceptable or unlovable, that part started to feel more neutral. I stopped identifying as “too emotional” and started identifying as just “emotional,” without judgment. “Too needy” became “a person with needs,” and “attention-seeker” became “a person who needs to feel seen to thrive.” Eventually there was nothing left to come out about, and nothing left about me that felt unacceptable or unlovable.


For the first time, I really owned the fact that I can be stubborn, arrogant, impatient, obsessive, and emotionally volatile– and the more I owned it, the less unworthy it made me feel. I also fully owned the fact that I am charismatic, ambitious, innovative, whimsical, and a leader– and the more I owned that, the bigger and more joyful my life got.


I remember thinking this was the key to everything, and decided to never hide any part of myself again.


All of this is to say that I know “coming out” as your true self is terrifying, but also that it’s absolutely worth it.


A few years ago, when I started learning more about gender from the queer community and thinking deeply about my own identity and expression, I came to understand myself as non-binary (which to me means I’m also trans). There were so many layers to wade through and process that I kept it to myself at first, but I never once questioned whether or not I would eventually come out.


To me, being non-binary is a deep, true, and essential part of me, infinitely more relevant and useful for describing myself than anything I could get from a personality quiz, demographic cohort, astrological chart, or diagnostic manual. It feels so authentic, so expansive and vibrant, and so central to who I am, and thinking about it gives me a euphoric, sparkly feeling of “fuck yes” deep down in my soul.


I was terrified to start telling people, but never doubted that—like anything else that has ever felt this right and alive inside me—coming out would be scary, but worth it!


Photo of a woman with her arms raised in a sunflower field.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

It’s been different this time around, though.


In many ways, telling people who I am has been amazing and exhilarating. I feel more seen, known, and accepted than ever before when someone “gets it,” leading to brand new levels of vulnerability, intimacy, trust, and connection in those relationships. I get a thrill of pleasure every time I hear someone use my pronouns (they/them), or introduce me in gender neutral terms like “this is my sibling,” instead of “this is my sister.” In those joyful and affirming moments, I think coming out as non-binary is the best thing I’ve ever done.


But there are harder times too, when the cost of coming out feels too high, and I question if it’s even worth it.


It’s not so much the moments of outright rejection, nastiness, or microaggressions that get to me (although those certainly don’t feel good). The hardest part is when I tell someone who I am, and they act like what I’ve said either isn’t true, or doesn't matter.


Some people in my life (who love me and support me in every other way!) seem to find the whole concept of gender identity so absurd, confusing, or off-putting, that they refuse to get on board. No matter how many times I try to explain it, or tell them how important this is to me, they can’t (or won’t) change the way they see me.


This isn’t just about language, either. I have an infinite amount of patience and compassion for someone who is trying to update their language and just struggling to remember, so I don’t get upset if someone occasionally uses she/her pronouns or gendered language to introduce me, and I won’t necessarily correct them.


The hurtful part happens when a person I’ve come out to doesn’t even try to change their language, or when I do speak up and I’m met with frustration or ridicule. These moments hurt because it’s clear the person didn’t “slip-up.” They’re using the language that they’ve decided is appropriate for me, based on who they’ve decided I am— which tells me that they either don’t believe me, don’t respect me, or just don’t care.


Before I came out as non-binary, I found gendered language, assumptions, and treatment irritating. It always felt inaccurate and wrong on some level, but it wasn’t hurtful, because I’d never told anyone how I felt, or asked for something different. I assumed that once I did speak up, things would change.


I assumed that people would believe me.

I assumed that telling them would matter.


I can’t think of anything else I could tell people about myself that people would treat with the same disregard, condescension, irritation, or indifference.


It feels like people would have an easier time believing and affirming me if I told them I had joined a cult, decided to become a runway model, found Jesus, become obsessed with chicken fighting, or quit my job to enter a BDSM relationship as a 24/7 submissive slave. They might not “get it,” of course, and I’m sure they’d have a lot of questions and concerns. But I can’t imagine any of these declarations being met with an eye roll and a shrug from someone who loves me.


Never before have I told the people I love something true about me, and had them just…disagree.


These are the same people who champion my right to autonomy and self-determination, honor my boundaries, and treat me with kindness and respect in every other way. But because the topic of gender identity is new, confusing, and politically fraught, those rules don’t seem to apply here, and people seem to believe their view of who I am is more true (and important) than my own.


So… yeah. Sometimes I question whether being out is worth it. Sometimes I fantasize about going back into the closet, and being like “nevermind about that whole thing, you were right: I’m just a regular old woman!”


I won’t, of course, because ultimately it is worth it, and ultimately I would rather feel hurt than stay trapped in fear and shame.


What about you?

  • What parts of yourself have fear and shame kept you from owning or expressing?

  • What parts of yourself do you keep tamped down or hidden, because they feel too unacceptable, unlovable, or dangerous?

  • What’s the cost of staying hidden? Is it worth it?

Sending you so much compassion and courage today,

Jessi


PS: If you want guidance and support embracing and expressing your true self, apply for coaching with me here!

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