Born Again, Hello World

As Sharon, I spent much of my existence lurking in the shadows until the new millennium approached. Then I began to venture out. I mainly went to gay bars and to a local TG social group that had monthly meetings. I took a big plunge went I attended my first tg conference. It opened my eyes to some new possibilities. Then in late 2000 and into 2001, the party started as I came out to family and friends as a transgender. (That word is new to our vocabulary and encompasses a lot.) At the time, it was easier for me to say transgender than to say transsexual or crossdresser, because I wasn't ready to define who or what I was. Most of my family was accepting, and I was relieved at how well it went. 

The logical progression at that point was to get out in public and shed some of my fears. Shopping did not pose a challenge as I had done this in the past with some success, although always fearful of the unexpected (being spotted, harassed, recognized, arrested, you name it). Merchants weren't a problem; they want your money. The only obstacle was the teenager. (Young people have more time on their hands and are more observant than adults. Teenagers love being the informer. If they see someone out of plac e, they usually have no qualms about spitting it out.) Once I was no longer cowering around, though, they had nothing to inform others of. I was just another shopper, albeit my manner of dress wasn't completely kosher. On a few rare occasions, some teens were unrelentingly bothersome; the only way to get rid of them was to approach them directly and explain I was transgendered.

Next stop in my progression: restaurants and bars. I have never had any bad experiences in a restaurant and have dined everywhere from McD's to some of the top St. Louis establishments. Bars and nightclubs posed a totally different atmosphere, with cliques of people from varying social backgrounds. I have gone in just about any nightclub/bar imaginable and discovered that not everyone was ready for someone from the transgender community, but most everyone took it in stride. I think being able to dance gave me a little advantage in being accepted. Having been out for a few years, I have gotten to know several band members. Now when I go to a new place, but know the band, a little friendly wave from them makes the other patrons more accepting.

These days, I find most of my interaction with people is at nightclubs/bars. Usually during the day, people are just going about their own business, but once in a while a sales clerk might talk to me. A nightclub, though, is where people are most likely to come up and ask a question or make a comment. This is where I have to think and be ready to respond and sometimes even force myself to keep my cool. Some guys have hit on me; some have threatened to hit me. When I'm on the dance floor, women often dance with me. Occasionally a guy will, but I always have to remain a bit on guard, as guys often are not as friendly as they appear. This is especially true of the 20-something group.

First experiences play a big part in the lives of a transgender, and the last several years have been full of them. Each experience has its own bit of a thrill, from coming out to a family member, to ordering a Big Mac at the counter, to eating in the finest restaurant in St. Louis. Some of my more memorable and offbeat experiences include: spending a whole weekend in LA en femme, flying our friendly skies both before and after 9/11, marching in parades (Gaypride, Mardi Gras), having a photo shoot with a professional photographer, and going in a full length gown to several places including the zoo, art museum, casino, and several nightclubs. I have been to several long gown events, including a New Years Eve Party where I was the only transgender. Thanks to a male friend, I did not feel out of place. Having a male companion along either makes me less noticeable or people just think we are a couple. Maybe they think we are a gay couple. People are going to think along the lines of their preconceived notions.

Every new place and event is an experience. Now sometimes I don't even notice when people gawk or whisper to whomever they are with. I suppose I could pass if I wanted to, and I do to some people, some of the time. Most of the time, I prefer to wear clothes that stand out from the crowd. I know most people have heard of the words transgender, transsexual and crossdresser, but how many have actually seen or talked with someone from our community? Well, now is their opportunity. All I ask is they respect me as a human being. I will tell them anything they want to know.

With my newfound freedom of expression, I intend to continue to enjoy who I am and what I do. I'm not looking to change the world, but I believe my continued presence in public helps to make people more aware, and hopefully more understanding and more accepting. Even though only a few people talk with me, everyone that sees me observes someone who is approachable, someone enjoying life, and someone who isn't lurking in the shadows.

Sharon DeWitt

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