I was fourteen when I came out of the closet as gay. I only knew what being gay was because of some sex ed stuff from 5th and 6th grade, and because we had gotten a computer at home when I was ten. A Macintosh LC II, it came with a big yellow book called "The Internet Yellow Pages.” Had my parents been aware of what that book contained, I don’t think they would’ve left it in the open.
That book would be the portal to the queer world - It had a whole section on “Sex” and it opened up an entire world for me. I needed this world because in my real world, in 1992 in Solon, Ohio, I had no gay role models. There was nobody on TV that was gay, there was nobody in my life that was gay, there was nobody at school that I knew was gay. There was only me, trying to figure out who I was and what it meant. Not having any role models meant that I found out a lot of things the hard way—I was abused by peers in high school and taken advantage of because I didn’t know any better—about sex, about relationships, about friendship. I was so desperate for recognition by someone who was like me that I latched on to whatever I could find, and that had serious consequences for my mental health, my social growth, and my ability to form healthy relationships for years to come. Lack of visibility left me a victim.
I came out as transgender non-binary/genderfluid just under a year ago. Once again, the internet helped me. It helped me understand such a thing existed, it helped me understand the terminology. But more than anything, the world has changed. There are trans people who are visible—in the media, in the arts, in technology, in sports, etc. There were non-binary people that I could meet and talk to and become friends with—on and offline. This, it turns out, was the key to navigating the very strange and confusing and scary and concerning feelings and emotions I was having around my gender.
To my count, I had my therapist, two personal friends, the person I was dating, an entire community of people on Facebook and a ton of incredible allies who were personal friends. There was a whole group for people I could talk to about my feelings and my questions and my experiences. I could see that nonbinary people had tremendous success in various fields (Alex Newell, Justin Vivian Bond, Rose McGowan, Jill Soloway, Amandla Stenberg, Justin Elizabeth Sayre, and more). Heck, there was a conference about being non-binary in the tech world, where I work! All of this and more gave me the confidence to come out as non-binary less than two months after it really clicked for me, unlike the more than 5 years I spent in the closet as gay. It was the visibility of trans individuals all around me that gave me, and gives me the confidence to be me and to fight to be recognized and respected as me, at work, at home, in my volunteer work, or just out in the community. It has helped me become the advocate for myself and others like me that I couldn’t be back when I was fourteen.
Trans visibility has given me a second lease on life and is allowing me to truly be me, all of me, without regrets, apologies, or equivocation. That is what visibility means to me.
Bryan Guffey is the chair of the Midwest Institute for Sexuality and Gender Diversity board of directors.