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Shelley Howard: on 'coming out'

Sun 23 Aug 2015 In: Our Communities View at Wayback View at NDHA

"Coming Out" - it's almost passé these days. It seems everyone is doing it. But does that make it any easier? Engaging with society in general was actually (for me) surprisingly easy. I mean sure I did and still experience those looks. Those looks that are difficult to assess but which impact on our heightened wariness that we regard them as offensive and/or potentially threatening, trans or homophobic. I can deal with that. I have found that by targeting and engaging such people eye to eye, it is they who look away and they do so with a look that is clearly guilt. Why guilt? I am not sure, but given that the men I encounter looking at me that way often sneak a quick perve at my legs before they avert their eyes it does not take rocket science nor the artifice of 'Kinseyen' psychiatry to figure what is on their minds. Others I suspect are just shamed at being caught staring. But after all, I do not demand acceptance. Acceptance is such a personal thing. I mean, I do not accept John Key's sincerity is genuine so why should I demand he accept me? But in the same way I am bound to tolerate the fact he is insincere [not to mention upright and breathing] so too I demand he and every other human being tolerates me, preferably in a respectful manner that at least affords me dignity. Sadly, society conveniently conflates tolerance and acceptance and that conflation has corrupted our daily human narrative. So the fear of being exiled from society is probably not the quite spectre it once was. There really is a lot more open support and acceptance out there. But coming out to the people closest to us remains problematic. Exclusion and isolation from immediate family and friends is much more difficult to come to terms with. I am struggling to re-connect with my sons, in particular. I have remained in touch with my sister (who happens to be queer) and who is empathetic but at the same time is not really understanding of me. It is symptomatic of the average family paradigm I suspect. The people closest have formed an impression over the years which (in my case) I actively fostered and reinforced and which even my dear, queer sister has difficulty still letting go of, it is to them the antithesis of this more complete me. But at least my family, with the exception of my father, is coming to terms with tolerating me for who I am. I find that difficult at times. When I feel their loss from my life I struggle still to remain true to myself. Memories of the warm intimacy of special and "not-so-special-but-the-intimacy-of-the occasion-makes-them-special" family moments, cause me in moments of low esteem, to consider whether the struggle to be true is worth it. Thinking about my father leaves me feeling quite cold. I often consider this about my relationship with him. I think it is because, as I do John Key, I have sincere and deep reservations about his integrity as a person. My father has spent his life playing a role that is not his real person and my coming out has exposed that about him. There was a time when I wanted to worship the very ground upon which he walked. Today, even as he descends into the oblivion of dementia, I find it almost impossible to have any feelings or compassion for him. He has chosen to live his life as he has. Karma? For him or for me? It is though an interesting reality that while nothing can really replace that intimacy enjoyed within family relationships, friendships provide a wonderful panacaea. It is often at times when I am feeling low that something special occurs between myself and established friendships or a new relationship surprisingly unfurls either or both of which affirms my resolve to be true. Such an instance occurred just recently. I was blind-sided by a "voice" from the past. A message arrived in my "other" Facebook feed from a young woman introducing herself as the daughter of a [woman] soldier with whom I worked for a short while many years ago when I was still in uniform. She informed me that her mother had read the article on Stuff in which I featured and recognising me, she desired to establish contact. It's a funny thing in truth. She was a driver in RNZCT [transport] and I was then either captain or maybe even major in RNZE [engineers] and while I engaged with many soldiers from many different corps throughout that twenty plus year period in my life, few of them I can now name let alone recognise. Colleen though, is a distinct memory, so when her daughter contacted me I was able to recall her. Just as funny as her remembering and recognising me from the article I suppose. I do remember her as having that je n'est ce quois that made her stand out from others. We have now established contact and we plan to meet when next Colleen is able to visit her daughter and grandchildren in Upper Hutt. Perhaps too, this little life episode serves as an example that if we go through life doing and being good to each other, good things come to us when we need them to. - Shelley Howard is a Wellington trans woman and ex Army Officer. Shelley Te Waiariki Howard - 23rd August 2015    

Credit: Shelley Te Waiariki Howard

First published: Sunday, 23rd August 2015 - 10:02am

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