[general content on sexual abuse, trans identities]
Three weeks ago, I realized that the person I’ve been has been dead— that I am no longer Chungyen, but Elle. At first it was so incredibly painful that for a few days, I was physically sick. This part of me that I’d always thought existed was just gone. I’d been pretending, maybe hoping, that it was still there.
After this realization, the idea of continuing to live as someone else quickly became unbearable; I knew that I had to start being myself, right then, or I’d never get to where I wanted. The idea that I should hold onto that dead person was just not feasible anymore. Since then, I’ve made some drastic changes. At The Twenty, I went by Elle for the first time. Well, I told everyone that my name was now a single letter of the alphabet— “L”. I thought it would be gender neutral enough while also letting me gradually get used to people calling me by my real name. Then later that week, I decided to say goodbye to that dead part of me in one of the most difficult, yet liberating, moments of my life.
But my ability to pass as male has quickly diminished as more and more people, especially those that I am close to, have been forced to confusingly navigate things. I mean, almost all of my friends are writers, and names get written down. A lot. On day two of my writing retreat, a friend accidentally wrote Elle down instead of L, and so on. It’s happened a few more times since then, but explaining that confusion would only draw more attention to me.
For the past year or so, I’ve known that I am trans. I thought that I could continue (uncomfortably) passing as male, and then work on presenting differently over time, waiting to do most of the work until I finished my college undergrad degree. I didn’t want to come back to school and suddenly have to awkwardly explain all of this stuff. But after this realization, I know that it would be impossible for me to live as someone I’m not for another two years. It would kill me.
I admit that I’m frustrated— I do identify as a woman, but there are many ways of being a woman. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to fit a cis gender stereotype and have long hair, wear dresses and makeup, look “pretty”, and so on. There’s women who present themselves more masculine and other women who present themselves more feminine, and there are women who just are, with their own kind of expressions that they’ve formed. I don’t care much for binaries, but people will probably expect me to conform to one— especially if I go around saying I am a woman but don’t “look like one” very much.
Unfortunately, my progress as a survivor, as someone who is healing from abuse, has forced my hand. My gender identity is tied into my survivor identity in a way that I wasn’t expecting— they influence one another, existing in an inseparable shared space. Now my need to survive, to be who I am despite the abuse, has forced me to come out sooner than I thought. I can’t be someone I’m not; to keep holding onto Chungyen would prevent me from moving forward and healing in the way that I need to. And I am sick of being stuck here.
But let’s be realistic: in the majority of the United States, there are no legal safeguards from discrimination based on gender identity or sexuality. Only 16 states protect people from being fired, being evicted, being denied a loan, etc., for being not cis gender— and none of these states are in the South. It’s scary to think about this. Things are beginning to shift here in Kentucky, but I still expect trouble for at least a few decades.
I understand that I am a relatively privileged survivor; I have a supportive family, extremely remorseful abusers, and economic and social standing that could cushion me. That’s why I have opened up my life like a book— not just because surviving means no longer hiding the abuse, but because I know that for every one person who can speak out, thousands of people can’t, whether it’s for reasons of economic/physical/social safety, a lack of emotional/physical energy due to the many medical and mental health conditions caused by extreme trauma, or just not being lucky enough to have the talents I’ve been given. By sheer luck, I exist in a space where my abuse was severe enough for me to understand many different perspectives, while at the same time, I have the resources to create this space on the internet. That’s not something I can just throw away or ignore— it has to be done. It must.
So it’s not an option to go back into hiding. It’s not possible for me to keep being a dead person. Yesterday, I shared this site on Facebook, broadcasting it to hundreds of people— friends, family, people I work with, people who are my classmates, and others. Soon, I will come out as trans— not because I want to, but because I have to.
Whatever the fallout from all of this is, I will survive.
I am not going back.