There are several meanings in the LGBT community for the word “Out”. There is being “Out” to family and friends, being “Out” in public or being “Out” at work. It may mean showing up at a family function with your partner, it may mean walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant holding your partners hand. There is the intentional telling someone that you are gay or lesbian or bi or trans. Then there is the unintentional “Outing” when someone you know sees you with your partner or sees you crossdressed.
In the Trans community being “Out” has a broader meaning, when I am “Out” I could be just walking down the street or eating in a restaurant by myself. Everything I do in public people know I am Trans; if I am pumping gas, I am “Out”; if I walk into a mall, I am “Out” as soon as I step out of my front door. When we transition there is no hiding the fact that we are transgender, if I go to a family event, someone is bound to notice that I am now living as a woman.
When we transition everyone around us also transitions. My brother had to change from calling me his brother to saying “my sister”; every one of his friends knew he had a brother and not a sister. One time I was at a lobster bake that my cousins gave and I was sitting next to one of their friends. I was talking to her and she asked me how I knew my cousins, I told her that they were my cousins and I could see a blank look come over her face. She said that she thought she knew all their cousins and I had to “out” myself to her.
If a trans-person is “Out” at work, they call an “all employees meeting”, they try to figure out what bathroom I should use, they try to figure out what pronoun to use, and the employer has to figure out how I should inform the vendors and customers. Because when we transition at work it not only affect our fellow employees, but it is also noticeable to our customers and vendors that Don is now Diana.
I have a friend who was planning on transitioning and we were talking about what she is planning on approaching her transition at work. What it will be like the first day on the job, to walk in the door and sit at her desk? What will it be like attending her first meeting, when all the men are sitting around the table? We were talking not about what it will feel like coming to work in a dress, but what it will be like facing all of her friends that she has known for the last fifteen years. That for me is the hardest part, facing people who I have known, strangers mean nothing to me, but friends are different. It is a lot harder coming out to someone that you know than it is to a complete stranger. She is lucky in one respect, she works for a larger multinational corporation and they have a non-discrimination policy that includes gender identity and expression.
One time I was up in Provincetown on Cape Cod and it was the end of “Women’s Week”, the start of “Trans Week” and I was staying at a Bed & Breakfast with some trans friends. There were a number of lesbians who were also staying there and in the evening the B&B had wine and cheese for their guest. We were sitting on one side of the room and they were sitting on the other side of the room and one of the women mentions that lesbians and trans-people don’t have that much in common. In response, I started telling my story about coming out to my brother. Then one woman told her story about coming out to her sister and before you knew it we were all sitting on the floor around the coffee table. It turns out that the “T” and the “LGB” do have a lot in common, you only have to look.