A Canary’s Cage: The Eventualities of Coming Out
I ’m sometimes asked what my old name was. For a long time, I wouldn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable so I’d answer. Lately, however, I’ve been honest about how my old name feels poisonous. Like scar tissue, I’m careful not to break open healed skin. People might think, “What’s in a name?” And maybe one day it’s possible to bestow love upon all parts of oneself but despite my efforts, my old name conjures the same feeling it gave me before I came out: imprisonment. Every time someone called me by that name, it was another padlock on the cage.
As a trans person, another question I get often is, “When did you know you were trans?” But I don’t think it’s the question they mean to ask, because I’ve always known. I liken this question to, “When did you know you were cis?”. No, I think the question people really mean to ask is, “When did you know you had to hide it?”. Because that’s the moment it truly begins.
Since I was around seven years old I realised I had to hide who I was, purely from the reactions of those I loved most when I would express myself. I was eleven years old when I first attempted to tell my mother. I remember the way she tried to convince me (and herself) that it was just artistic tendencies. And when I told her of my innocent young affections for a boy, instead of a girl, this was painted over with ‘an admiration for masculine style’.
It confused me, I thought I wasn’t being clear enough, so I proceeded further, which landed me in the chair of four different child psychiatrists until one of them agreed to see me regularly. But I knew telling more of my truth would only set me further on down this rabbit hole, away from my mother. So I pretended to get better and told the psychiatrist how much happier I’d become. I even adopted extrovert traits, the polar opposite to my usual quiet demeanour. This was the path of least resistance.
When I was fourteen the burden of keeping my identity secret was much heavier. I’d go to bed every night praying to whoever would listen, let me wake up in the morning as my real self. My cage was shrinking and I couldn’t break the locks, so I decided to simply bend the bars and quietly slip out. In the middle of the night when everyone was asleep, I went downstairs and took the sharpest knife from the kitchen drawer.
Sitting at the table, I thought to myself, “These are my last hours. I have to think everything through, about the consequences of what I’m about to do. Make sure there isn’t another way out I might have missed.” I went down the list of family and friends and how it would affect each of them afterward, but nobody knew who I really was. If they were to weep, those tears were not for me, but for someone, they’d created in their heads.
As I got to the last person on the list, my four-year-old sister, I suddenly felt selfish. She wasn’t much of a person yet, just a beautiful ball of potential, blissfully unaware of the blizzards and blazes to come. But what if she too, felt trapped? I couldn’t let her grow up believing that in times of such hopelessness, there’d be no other way out than what I was about to do.
I had to live, to be the person that would love her still if the rest of the world wouldn’t. And in the wee small hours, a four-year-old saved my life while she slept. I made the decision to reveal myself and deal with whatever tribulations came after it.
”For the first time in my life, I felt what it was like to breathe."
Telling my mother was petrifying. It wasn’t well received. She blamed me for hurting her and found any excuse to punish me. She spun a venomous narrative to others and turned her nose up at the bruises and cuts I came home with.
I’d finally left my cage, the door wide open, tipping me outwards into the harshness of the world. But I had the chance now to find my own home and salt the earth behind me. Upon coming out to my older brother, the most masculine person I knew, I braced for pain and yet was welcomed with a hug. He heroically held a stark and tarnished mirror up to our mother.
For the first time in my life, I felt what it was like to breathe. I look back now and think about the difficulties I and others like me faced. Despite the blinding bright light of the new days, uncaged, I was sure to hold fast to the ideology that being trans would not define me. When people were inevitably confused, I’d try to hold their hand through the fog of who and what I am, but respectfully learn my own boundaries too.
There will always be darkness in people, but to that, there is no worthier combatant than kindness. I’ve not only given myself the freedom to be a full human being, to be my most original and unbound self, but I’ve also felt the familial love I longed for most. Not for a facade, but for the real me. And, surprisingly, my own self-evolution caused others around me to grow as humans too.
Revealing our true forms to the world, unapologetic and authentic, it quickly became clear that this liberation was known only by a few. The rest of the world might catch up, but they have their own cages, different and more spacious than ours, but confined nonetheless. We of all people understand that breaking free from those shackles is a daunting thing.
Contrary to popular belief, freedom is not free. There is always a cost, but I can say with certainty, it is the only price worth paying.