Standing Out, Fitting In

Last night I attended a support group hosted by the Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition. They meet every Wednesday evening and give trans folk of all stripes an opportunity to discuss their transition, their weeks, their fears, and their triumphs. I learned a lot just by listening and plan on attending regularly.

Earlier in the week – as the meeting time approached – I was feeling a bit of what I call spiral anxiety – which is rare, as my SSRIs help me manage my anxiety very effectively. Spiral anxiety is a series of insecurities given mental form that no amount of reasoning can dispel. Normally – pre SSRIs – they’d drag me down into a full-on panic attack. Now, they simply don’t go away easily.

The spiral of thoughts was very familiar. I used to have them every time a social event approached. Frequently, the panic attack would happen right around the time I needed to leave to make it to the event and I’d stay home, citing last-minute illness.

Given the nature of this particular event, and the newly-manageable spiral anxiety, I was able to process where – precisely – this anxiety comes from.

I have never felt a part of a group. Never. That may shock people who have considered me part of their group, but it’s true. A friend once observed that while people thought I was standing in the center of the room putting on a show – oblivious to everyone around me – I was actually lurking in a corner, watching everyone’s reactions to me and taking notes.

I have always felt that furtive remove. I have always suspected people didn’t really know who I was and might not accept me if they did. What I have not always known is who I was hiding, or perhaps more accurately, who I was protecting. But I developed social camouflage so that when spiral anxiety didn’t manage to completely derail social events, I was able to stand out as a means of fitting in.

Not that I felt I was successfully doing either – truly standing out, or truly fitting in.

Last night, sitting among my trans peers, I felt some discomfort that I might not be fitting in. These are mostly people who know each other and have done so for years. But – to my relief – I didn’t stand out, or feel the need to. I wasn’t there to put on a show. I didn’t need to hide who I was.

So there I was – balding, with a five o’clock shadow, light eye makeup, sparkly silver fingernail polish, wearing pink dangly earrings, a pink sparkly sweater, pleather flared skirt, plum tights, and knee-high leather women’s boots – for the first time believing that with time, with an effort to make connections, and with self-care, I could fit into a group – any group – all the while becoming more and more me.

And I sat back and appreciated my new perspective – not standing out at all, simply fitting in.