Coming out as trans was a huge moment in my life. I’d been stuck inside for months (thanks, COVID) exploring myself and my identity and was very excited to start living as my true, authentic self. Looking back, I may have come out without thinking through all of the ramifications that it would have on my ability to survive. I really took for granted a lot of the privileges that passing for a White Man in America afforded me.
For one thing, it was extraordinarily easy for me to get a job. Not necessarily a great, high-paying job, but an above-minimum-wage job with decent hours? Simple! Just show up, put on a good show, be a little charismatic, and boom! Job acquired.
When COVID hit, I lost the last job I’d been holding onto. The business I started with my girlfriend went under, and the industries I’d had part-time work in all went on hiatus. I’ve been existing almost entirely on unemployment, along with the occasional odd-job like paid blog posts that I can do from home. That work has largely dried up, with one lasting long-term gig where I write an article every week for a math tutoring center.
This has made my continued growth extremely difficult.
Because I’ve been trying to stretch the money as far as I can, I haven’t felt comfortable buying things like clothes or makeup that feel like “luxury” expenses. So I came out as trans, and then… I’ve just been wearing all the same clothes that I did before. I haven’t been able to explore with makeup as often as I’d like (but I do get to play around with nail polish fairly often, which has been nice). When I go outside, for all intents and purposes, I am still a “man.” Or at least, I am perceived as such by everyone around me.
My voice still sounds masculine, because I haven’t begun the process of medically transitioning (maybe there’s a longer blog about this, because I’m fairly certain I’d like to, but I don’t have health insurance and paying even a small amount of money for hormones feels like taking money away from rent and food and slowly killing myself). When I go through a drive-through and place my order, people refer to me as “sir” without having seen me. It startled me when, about a month ago, the woman at Starbucks asked me for my name (I don’t go there often). I said “Chloe” and there was a long pause. Finally, she said, “Did you say… Chloe?” like I might have been mistaken about my own name.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that I did, in fact, come out, and it wasn’t just some wish-fulfillment dream that I imagined happened three months ago.
In general, I’ve been feeling stuck—completely frozen in place, unable to move forward, and unwilling to go back. Coming out to myself was such a huge step, and then coming out to everyone in my social circle was a transformative and powerful moment for me. Since then, though, I’ve felt hampered by the judgments of strangers and friends alike. I don’t look “trans enough,” so is it really real?
There’s also the fact that I’ve been paralyzed with fear. I do have a couple dresses. I have a pair of heels, a few sets of stockings, and a fair amount of makeup that my girlfriend gifted to me as a “starter kit.” But I haven’t felt safe going outside wearing any of it. Typically, I dress up late at night, when everyone else is asleep, take a few photos, feel too scared to post any of them, and then take everything off before anyone finds out.
Part of it is that I don’t find myself attractive. Then I have to go through the whole “it doesn’t matter if you’re attractive, there’s more to being a woman than being attractive,” and “you’re attractive if you find yourself attractive, that’s how it works!” But then I’m stopped by another thought: What if someone dangerous finds me attractive? Or worse… What if someone dangerous finds me repulsive?
I didn’t realize the extent of it, but walking through life as a man provided me safety. I’m 6 feet tall, fairly built, and, as a man, look like someone you don’t want to mess with. The moment I put on a dress and heels, I no longer feel that sense of safety. The few times I have worked up the courage to go outside presenting as a woman, the off-kilter glances people throw my way feel threatening and dangerous. It’s possible I’m projecting, but it truly feels like people are less comfortable with my existence than they were before, when I was mostly met with indifference or, at worst, fear. Now, I am instead the target of internalized rage and prejudice.
Part of my fear comes from having been raped before. I was diagnosed with PTSD from that experience, and I know it holds me back in a lot of areas in my life, but I didn’t have any idea how deeply the fear of being raped again would hold me back from expressing my true self. When I was passing as a man, it took months’ worth of brainwashing and mental manipulation before rape was attempted. The man felt like he needed me to trust him completely before he could try anything. As a woman, I don’t feel like someone who wanted to rape me would hold themselves back because I didn’t trust them, or because of my size. If anything, I feel like I pose a unique challenge with which someone could prove his “true” masculinity. If I put up any resistance, I fear that they may just kill me instead.
All of this has stopped me from moving forward in my journey. I haven’t been able to grow beyond where I’ve already gotten to. I’m petrified of what might happen to me if I show myself to anyone outside of my already-existing social circle. At the same time, I can’t go back to living life how I was before. I’ve come far enough to realize that I’ve made the correct choice for myself, and that living as my authentic self involves my identity as female.
Which brings me back to my job search. Up until this point, I have made very little money as a freelance writer, and haven’t had a mentor (at least one who hasn’t tried to take advantage of me) or anyone to teach me the ropes in terms of monetizing my presence online. My survival has depended on the “day job,” so to speak, of which I have had many, and my entire professional career, up until three months ago, was under my deadname.
This week, I had my first-ever job interview as Chloe. I was excited. Possibly too excited, but it’s the first time since coming out that I’ve had any real hope that I might have a future. Not only was it an interview with my new name, but it was an interview for a job on staff at an up-and-coming film studio as a screenwriter, which is the very thing I moved to Los Angeles to be (it’s also one of the only industries that I know of, at this point, that will hire non-passing trans women).
I won’t find out for two weeks whether I will be invited to a follow-up interview (wish me luck), but I’m not feeling confident. The interview got off to a weak start when I realized I had forgotten to change my Zoom name from “TheJustinXavier” to Chloe, and the woman interviewing me seemed rather confused. When I explained that it was my old name and quickly changed it, the energy changed. The interview ended 15 minutes before it was scheduled to and without my being asked any difficult questions.
The fact is, I can’t survive in this world without a job. But I also feel completely lost and hopeless in terms of what types of job I could realistically be hired to do with everything else going on. I’ve literally never worked a job that hired transgender employees. I’ve never had a trans coworker. I don’t actually personally know any trans people who can help guide me, or avoid the pitfalls of this life.
My options seem to be, “pretend I’m still the mask I was wearing before; the husk of a person with a comforting male face and name,” or “continue attempting to find work with your new name, despite having only partially transitioned.”
And I don’t know what to do. I feel paralyzed. I feel completely stuck, like I can’t move forward without living in even more fear than I already am, and I can’t move backwards without living with more depression. If fear and depression are my only options in either direction, how can I possibly make that choice?
I’m honestly asking. If there are any trans people out there who can offer advice, please do! I’m willing to work. I’m tired of living this “barely on the edge of survival” existence. I’m tired of existing in this in-between space, where I haven’t fully blossomed into the person I’m becoming, but I’m so far beyond the person I was before.
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your responses <3
-Chloe Jade Skye
October 30, 2020
P.S. The next Star Trek post is coming soon! And Friday, November 6th marks the launch of a new podcast I’m doing, called “Modern Eyes with Skye and Stone,” where I (Skye) and Jupiter Stone review films from 10 or more years ago through modern eyes (aka, we talk about how problematic they are in regards to race, gender, queer representation, etc., and how they could be modernized if they were remade today). You can subscribe now, the “Intro” episode is already up. Our first episode will be covering 1993’s Hocus Pocus.