A Few Hours To Be Myself
(What life is like for a closeted transgender person)
by Debra Davis
October 7, 1998
What is it like to be transgender? Most people when they think of transgender people, picture images of RuPaul, Drag Queens who entertain, transsexuals who they might know or have heard of because they transition at a work place, or possibly my own very public transition in the Minneapolis Public Schools last spring.
The vast majority of T people live extremely closeted lives. The shame and guilt of feeling different because of our gender differences is overwhelming. Our suicide rate is 17%. One out of six of us succeed in killing ourselves.
We keep our secret from everyone, including our closest loved ones. Fear and trepidation are what we continually live with. Fear of being caught or recognized if we do venture out of the house. Fear of being harmed physically or laughed at or worse. Fear of being in a traffic accident, meeting up with law enforcement or medical staff who have no understanding of who we are. I have lived with these fears. Some of them I still live with even though I am out and proud as a transgender person.
During this time of celebrating the coming out process my thoughts go back to a few years ago. It seems like an eternity but in actuality was less than 10 years ago. I remember some of my first ventures out in public as a transgender person.
I was married with children. Teenagers. The logistics of just getting out of the house with my things was challenging. I never left the house dressed as my feminine self. My children didnt know I was transgender (or at least I thought they didnt know). I would rent a cheap motel room and than change there.
The particular motel that I used often was located about 10 miles from my home. It was ideal. I could park right by the room door. I only had to cross an 8 foot piece of sidewalk and 5 more feet to get in my car door. I felt there was some degree of safety behind locked car doors and sunglasses.
They would have great deals on rooms if you rented early. As little as $19.95 a night. It was a nice, clean, little room with a double bed and a full bath. It was next to the hotel laundry and vending machines so there was some noise. I never spent the night there so the noise really didnt matter.
If I was lucky I would get out one night a month, usually on a Saturday. In the afternoon I would get some of my things together, usually hidden in boxes up in the rafters of the basement or piled in the garage with the rest of my tools and stuff. When the kids were busy I would load them in the trunk of my car. Hanging clothes were hidden in the closet in enclosed bags, so I needed to be a lot more creative in getting them from the bedroom to the car with out being seen. I would also need a good excuse if my children happened to catch me. During this time my partner knew that I was transgender and would help me when she could.
In the middle of the afternoon I would go and check into the motel and put my things in the room for safe keeping. I would register as my male self and always pay in cash so there would be no paper trail. I then returned home and finished some household projects or chores.
Later in the afternoon I would leave saying I was going to some sports event or something. I would sneak into the motel room because I was afraid someone might notice a man going into the room and then a woman leaving. In actuality, I never saw more than a dozen or so people in the two or three years I dressed there. (And they were always at a distance)
I would start the process of dressing for the evening. For me it was more than just getting into the clothes a woman would wear. I would go through a transition from man to woman both mentally and outwardly. My mind needed to match my presentation. The process took about two hours from start to finish. I would then polish my nails and just sit and just be me while the many coats of polish dried.
I remember one particular Saturday. When I had finished with my transition, I peeked out the closed curtain on the front window of my room to see if anyone was near. When the coast was clear I donned my sunglasses and hurried out the door to my car. I breathed a sigh of relief when the door closed and locked behind me.
I left the parking lot by the back way so I wouldn't have to drive by the office. Someone might happen to look outside and see me driving the car and noticing that I was transgender and than checking the license number of the car to check where my room was and then know what my name was. Now I think all of this was a little paranoid, but at the time I was scared to death to be out.
I pointed my car towards my destination. I was scared that when I had to stop at a stop light, the car next to me would look and notice I was there and laugh or something. I always felt much safer when the sun went down. Darkness was my friend.
This nights destination was a small gathering of transgender people at a private home at a remote location. It only lasted a few hours and I headed back to to the hotel. Inside I didnt want the evening or the feelings to end so finally got enough courage to stop and go into a little hotel bar across the freeway from the motel. I walked in trying not to look petrified, not knowing what to expect. I sat down at a dark table near the back. There was a man and woman singing on stage and a few people dancing. There were probably not more than a dozen people in the place.
The bartender came over to see if I needed a drink and I asked for a glass of white wine in the best voice I could muster up. She smiled a nice smile the entire time and didnt seem to mind me being there. I listened to the band and watched the few people who were there dance. No one seemed to notice I was there.
Later in the evening, during one of the bands breaks, the woman who was singing came over and smiled at me and asked if she could sit down. She said she had noticed me come in and that I was alone. We talked some small talk and it became evident to me that she had no issues with me being transgender. She was very sweet and kind.
She later became one of my first friends in the outside world. After events out I would go to that bar, knowing I would be safe because she and the friendly bartender were there. I could be me for a few more hours before I had to retreat to my motel room to undo and get back into the male life I was living.
I will never forget the extreme fear, and at the same time the joy of being out as my feminine self. All of these emotions mixing and turning inside of me at the same time. Even though I was out to myself and thought at that point in my life that it was probably OK to be transgender, I lived in phenomenal fear of being discovered. I was a typical, closeted, transgender person.
© - Debra Davis