a wrong turn
[Content warning: this section contains harmful, discredited terminology that demonizes trans women.]
You know what you get when you ask the Internet to tell you what it means when you're crossdressing as a woman and you dream of being a woman, without actually looking for trans resources? You get some shitty, depressing answers.
While I knew that Wikipedia articles could have a skew that depended on who their authors happened to be, I used to generally believe that I could rely on them to at least give me the outline of what a thing is. So I read some Wikipedia articles on crossdressing and the culture surrounding it, even venturing a little bit into specifically trans topics.
My browse through Wikipedia was how I learned about "autogynephilia", the diagnosis that I was an effeminate man with a fetish. I googled for it and found other sites that corroborated that view. So I looked into what my options were as an "autogynephile".
I found some blogs and subreddits where people worked out how to express their gender in the form of a fetish, without letting it affect the rest of their life. The subreddits were active, but, I'd say they had very little community. Almost no long-time participants.
Over various threads, they'd strategize how to find situations where they could crossdress but have an excuse. Maybe even ask close friends to call them a different name sometimes, you know, like a drag queen. But only for fun, ha ha. And there was seriously a thread about how if you're an "autogynephile", your best hope was to find yourself a nice "autoandrophile", so you could settle down into a perfectly straight relationship where your awkward fetishes would cancel each other out.
But occasionally someone would drop by with a radical statement like "if you want to be a girl, you can be" or "if you wish you were trans, that's because you are trans" or "it's okay if your gender is hard to define". Things I'd also been hearing from friends of friends on Twitter.
I didn't quite believe it yet. I thought "that would be nice, but it can't be that simple. You can't just change your gender because you think you'd be happier that way."
I thought of an agender friend, and the disgust I assumed they would react with if I tried to claim my life was anything like theirs.
I thought that femininity was a really nice place to visit, but I couldn't live there. I was just a tourist who was in the way. So I kept reading these dismal threads, hoping to find some useful advice about what I could actually do.
(It wasn't useful.)
And then -- this is quite a shift in tone, but I have this stuff written down in a journal, it is definitely what happened next -- I told people.
I sloppily came out to 6 friends that evening.
The a cappella group I'm in does "check-ins": we go around the room and everyone gives updates on their life. You can talk about pretty much anything and it doesn't leave the room. It's probably more important than the singing. And I knew that I could tell the group stuff and hear a different reaction than I'd get from other people in my life. The rest of the group is younger than me, for one thing.
I stalled. "I'll go last."
That just gave me like 20 minutes to get increasingly nervous. Then I took a deep breath, and I told everyone about the dress.
Me: ...and uh it feels really important
Everyone (expectantly): squeeeee :D
Me: That's all. I don't know what it means.
I remember that I just ached all over after that. The part of me that hid behind an illusory masculine personality had summoned the effort to speak up and break that illusion for the first time. Even if it was just a simple thing about clothing.