A few weeks ago, I was at the salon where I’ve been getting my hair cut for over 10 years. I was reclined in one of those sink-chairs, my legs sprawled out in front of me, a towel behind my neck, my head back, waiting for the shampoo and rinse that would precede my next haircut. The young woman who was taking care of me — I’ll call her Dana — walked up with a couple folded white cotton towels in her hands.
When she first started working there years ago, her skill was impressive even though she was really young and fresh out of high school. I told the owner of the place to hang onto her because she had good hands. After that, if she was working when I went in, I was *her* client – no one else gave me a shampoo and rinse but her. The thing was, back then, I didn’t know I was trans. That’s different now.
As Dana draped the towels across my shoulders and chest, I realized that she had just taken them out of the dryer. “Oh, nice and warm,” I remarked. “Of course,” she replied with a smile that was as warm as the towels. “Because you’re special.”
“Special?” I thought to my self. “You have no idea…”
I contemplated her comment. Special. It felt good to hear that.
Then I got to thinking — there are so many different ways to be special, some of which could be seen as good and some perhaps not so good. For example, Harvey Milk was “special,” but then again, so was Jeffrey Dahmer. I figured, at that moment in time, I was on the “good special” list. I couldn’t help but wonder what list I would occupy if she really knew who I was, if I came out to her.
As I come out in more and more places in my life, I have looked to the time when I can be out as me 100%, everywhere, out of the closet, out of prison. I imagine that there will be some difficulties, but those would all be in the comfortable context of my living as just plain ol’ me.
Each time I come out, I experience, more than anything, a sense of relief as my arena of outness grows. First, it was just a few close individuals. Then it became my immediate family. Then my extended family. Then more friends. Then a few co-workers. In the trans community. At my church. In my photography classes. A tiny drop of outness grew to become a small puddle. Then a little pond. Then a small lake. I came to imagine a time when I would be out completely and live my life paddling around in a sea of outness.
With that trend, I knew I would eventually come out there at the salon, and that thought caused me to wonder. Would my relationships with all the people there change? Would they accept me? Would they still tell me about their children and grandchildren, share photographs of their lives, even offer to pick up some lunch for me while they’re bringing it in for everyone else? We have shared life with each other, one haircut at a time. They’ve known about my father’s illness, my nephew’s high school graduation, when my mom has visited, even what kind of car I’ve driven, and I have been informed similarly about them. Would that all change?
Basically, I wondered… would I still be special?
And if I was, what kind of “special” would I be? The way it is now? Just me, but with a different name, and oh, please mind the pronouns, thank you? Or would I be special? The odd man out? The different kind of person? Would I continue to get the warm towels or would I have whispers behind my back?
Then a crazy idea popped into my head. I turned it over and around and looked at it from different angles, and I settled with it. Heck, it’s so crazy, it just might work!
In the beginning of this process, I was closeted in most ways and out in very small, isolated ways. Well, why not flip it around? If I am out in most ways, why not be closeted in very small, isolated ways? Or in just one way? Why not let this little salon be a tiny island of closet in my sea of outness?
I imagine that there are trans guys who would read this and cringe. Who would think, “No way in hell could I put up with that!” And to be honest, there are things about this scenario that are less-than perfect.
For instance, I have a hell of a time finding decent magazines to read in that place. All the Women’s Day and Cosmo and Better Homes and Gardens from the past six months can’t take the place of one good issue of Sports Illustrated or Men’s Health. (They’re there — I just have to really hunt for them.)
Then there’s the whole female name thing, and the being seen as female thing.
To be honest, I am not ashamed of my female name – I am glad that my mom named me after her maternal grandmother because she was a great lady and I loved her. The name just doesn’t happen to fit me any more. But I’ve had this name for nigh on 50 years now, so hearing it applied to me by a handful of people won’t be bad. By keeping that name alive in one little corner of the world, I can sort of recognize my mom for giving it to me.
And being seen as female — well, that’s not ideal, but there is a familiarity around it because that’s where I’ve been for so long. It has a certain kind of comfort associated with it. Does acknowledging that make me any less of myself? I don’t think so.
Once in a while, I hear guys talk about the things from their old lives that they will have to leave behind, things that they liked and might miss when they go on to live as their true selves. Well, I’m thinking of hanging onto one of the few nice things about my old self. It seems like an interesting experiment and I can always change my mind.
My guess is that, eventually, I won’t be able to maintain it and will have to come out even there, but I think, for now, I will keep this little island of closet in my sea of outness. For a little while anyway.