Opinion
9 min

Whiskers in the mirror

The costs and the courage of coming out trans

I read Kelly Worrall’s Facebook post three days after Christmas. “That takes guts,” I thought, remembering the articulate woman I’d met at a gay travel conference two months earlier.

She had just presented a talk on coming out trans in an often-unwelcoming world. I chatted with her briefly afterward and was struck by her warmth and authenticity.

Now she was coming out again.

“I’ve been experimenting with letting my body be the way it was designed, for the most part,” she posted. “Facial hair is growing out. A little sparse, but two years of spironolactone and estrogen and a few months of laser treatment will do that.”

She described shopping for “guy clothes” and grabbing lunch dressed as a guy, after living full-time as a woman. She revelled in the friendly banter from waitresses, bank tellers and random strangers, after two years of awkward silences, strained small talk and overly curious if not critical stares.

“I have put my best foot forward as a woman,” she wrote. “The result has been chaos . . . two years of glorious awakening, freedom, renewal, beauty, emancipation, triumph, tragedy, despair, loneliness, depression and suicide. It is not a healthy life for me to lead.

“So what is next for Kelly? Am I a boy again? Do I want to use male pronouns? Do I want to be called John? How many changes are people supposed to accommodate? What if I change my mind yet again?

“Well . . . if I do, then love me and accept me. Or don’t. I hope you will.”

I contacted her a few weeks later and convinced her to share her story with me over dinner. Two weeks later I brought in a video crew.

“Are you any less trans now?” I asked.

“No,” she answered without hesitation. She’s the same person she always has been: the seven-year-old who wished she’d been born a girl; the 37-year-old who, finally, courageously liberated the woman inside.

The rush of freedom was like a pent-up river breaking down dams and rushing to fill spaces it was always meant to fill, she says.

But the costs have been enormous and, at least for now, the benefits too few.

Worrall has seen her children only once since they were abducted nearly three years ago by an ex-wife incapable of sharing with a trans woman and unwilling to stand up to a conservative Singaporean family.

So the pleasure of liberation was deadened by the pain of loss and loneliness and undermined by a society only just beginning to recognize trans women, let alone like them.

“For a long time, my need to present [as female] was stronger than my need to feel welcome at places. Or stronger than my need to feel attractive or embraced by society,” she says.

“I have, however, now had a taste of what it is like to live in the world with a glaring and obvious visual dissimilarity to others,” she posted in December. “To have people’s eyes follow you. To hear whispers from folks who think you’re out of earshot. To feel the fear of never knowing when some drunk asshole is going to decide that your kind ain’t welcome in these here parts. It’s not something I would wish upon anybody, ever. It is a heavy burden to take on.”

Still, she doesn’t regret coming out for a moment. “What’s more valuable in your life than being who you are?” she asks.

Coming out gave her permission to be herself, she says. To unblock the dams and explore, inside and out. With or without facial hair.