An Island of Closet in a Sea of Outness

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.


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8 Responses to An Island of Closet in a Sea of Outness

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Wow, Andy, that’s interesting! (I’ve enjoyed the rest of your blog entries, but this is the first one that has outright surprised me.) I honestly thought that this blog entry was going to go differently — since my assumption would be that Dana would know about who you are in order (at least) to have a greater understanding of what you might prefer in a hair cut (which I do think she does a great job with). I don’t have that close a relationship with anyone who’s cut my hair (more of none, since I tend to avoid getting my hair cut altogether), but it’s interesting that someone who is close to you in actual hands-on (pun intended?) ways is in that outer circle. In any case, the way you have illustrated and acknowledged this reality of having these varying levels of knowledge and distance is very cool, and I appreciate the insight.

    • Hi Liz,
      Actually, Dana isn’t the one who cuts my hair. She just gives the shampoo and rinse. Actually, the person who cuts my hair does know my trans status. I plan to write about her some time in the future. It’s Dana and the rest of the people in the salon I was writing about this time around and I am not out to them. Thanks for your comments – you’re actually right on the money.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Aha! Now I’m less surprised :-). Thanks for that additional context about ‘Dana’ — sorry about any confusion on my part! But salon as a metaphor for (a part of) life is still very intriguing…

  3. gr_transguy says:

    If it works for you to keep that island and doesn’t make you uncomfortable, then go with it. At home, I’m still called “mom” (well, out in public too), my mom still calls me by my birth name (which isn’t so bad because it’s technically gender neutral), and I’m still referred to by female pronouns by my family (my mom even referred to me as “she” in the presence of the exterminator…he looked perplexed). But so what–that’s my family and that’s how they’ve always known me. I can’t actually imagine them referring to me in male terms. I think it would feel awkward. I know for some guys it would be awkward to be called “mom” in the grocery store. I guess we each just have to go with what works for us individually.

  4. Cameron says:

    I didn’t have a particular barber/hair-cutter/whatever before I transitioned. I just went to supercuts or la flamme or whatever was convenient. Then, when I was in CA for the year I transitioned, I looked up a barber shop in the neighborhood and started going– the first barber I’d ever gone to, and the first to know me only as a guy. He was hysterical– Bill the Barber. He reminded me of Gramps in a lot of ways, actually. But I wasn’t “out” to him; I passed (which was new for me at the time) and I didn’t feel like filling him in. It’s the same thing with the barber I’ve gone to since I came back to Boston– I’ve never felt like filling him in on the trans thing. I’m out in so many areas of my life but ultimately there will always probably be a few where I’m not. Ultimately we all navigate the arenas of outness/stealth in ways that make sense for our distinct lives.

  5. jas says:

    I like this blog entry. thank you for sharing.

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