Sunday, February 16, 2014

On "Being Outed"

In case you have been under a rock since the early 80's, "outing" in this sense is the revealing of an individual as a member of the LGBT community. It may also refer to any orientation or lifestyle which was previously secret, such as one's religious affiliations.

"Coming out" is announcing to the world that you are, whatever you are. "Being outed", is when someone else does it to you, and of course the dreaded "outing yourself" is accidentally letting it slip.

I feel like we (the transgender community) need a new word.

Now and then I hear expressions such as "I outed myself" from people who are transgender, who are living full time as their true gender identity; in reference to revealing that they are transgender and haven't always presented as their current (true) gender identity. I feel this is flawed logic and poor language reinforcing a negative concept in our minds and in the collective understanding of society.

When a gay man is "in the closet", he's living a lie, he's not being true to himself in all parts of his life. He's at best sneaking around and living a double life, and at worst denying himself, to himself. Being in the closet is bad, it's unhealthy, one might argue that it's inherently unethical because it's at least a lie of omission. You know me, I give two hoots about ethics, but it could be argued.

When our theoretical gay man (let's call him Fred, I'm not going to mention him by name ever again, but I feel like calling him Fred) comes out, he's being honest for the first time. He's telling the truth, BEING the truth. This is good. He might get some crap for it, but you can only lie to yourself for so long before you lose the truth, and then your next big accomplishment in life is dying.

He can't ever be "outed" again, he's already out, he's being his real self. There's no lie.

When a trans person (for the sake of my tortured brain and pronouns we're gonna say a transwoman), when she comes out, it means she's now living full time as a female. There's no more lie, she's being her real self. Before she "came out" she was living as a man, pretending to be a man, lying about her gender identity. Just like the gay man. She's out now, she can't be outed again, just like Fred (so I lied, I used his name again).

But, let's say this woman "passes" perfectly. Most of the time, no one ever knows she's trans. When something slips and someone finds out, we say she's been "outed". She hasn't been outed. That would imply that she's being dishonest. Female is her real self. Saying that a transperson has been "outed" when someone finds out they are trans suggests that she's a man living as a woman and that the lie started when she transitioned. This of course is profoundly wrong, and we get extremely offended when someone states it outright. Yet here we are implying it ourselves by continuing to use the term "outed".

Saying that a transwoman outed herself when someone found out she wasn't born a woman is like saying a gay man outed himself when someone finds out he used to have sex with women. Coming out is telling the truth. Letting someone find out you used to lie needs to have another word. Let's find one. Or better yet, don't use a word for it, there isn't a word for the gay man who accidentally mentions his ex-wife, why do we need one?

"Passing" for your gender of identity is important. Not letting anyone know you're trans (and getting the subsequent and rather flattering "Wow! I never would have known, you're gorgeous!") is only important because some bigoted morons might treat you differently. By reacting to it and calling it being "outed" we are validating their unenlightened opinions and giving power to their responses. We need not to care what they think, and to steer society toward a collective feeling that their position makes them lesser people.

The first step, is deleting the subconscious impression of the term "outed" that a transperson is inherently dishonest because they are trans.

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