Being Trans and the Importance of Online Spaces

Somehow I knew I could trust her. I reread her profile again before considering my message to her. I had come across a series of tweets almost at random in my Twitter feed from Kiva Bay talking about fatphobia. What she was speaking to was so personally relevant to me that I knew I had to at least reach out to her. I told Kiva about how I had experienced fatphobia as a male presenting person who had recently lost a significant amount of weight. I included a line that was something like “If you only knew my whole story,” to which she replied “my DMs are always open.” At the time I was still tweeting under my male name and handle, but I was very much aware of and following certain elements of trans Twitter and of course I knew of my own transness. I nervously clicked open my DM tab and typed out my coming out message to a total stranger. After that, it was down the rabbit hole.

I ended up pouring my heart out to Kiva about being transgender in the closet and my own internalized fatphobia. When I finished, I held my breath, waiting for her reaction. Relief spread throughout me when she immediately offered her support and followed my account.

This wasn’t the first time that I’ve been able to exist online as a trans woman. I remember getting America Online (if you can mimick the sounds of a dial up modem, we would be really good friends) when I was fourteen and it didn’t take me long to find other trans people like me. Back then though, there were some scary places for young people to traverse in online spaces; chat rooms with seedy men, pornography seemingly wherever you would turn. It was sensory overload for my dysphoric and hormonal body. I would sign on to secret screen names to be able to express myself online, but yet that expression was never done in a healthy way back then. I obsessively researched how Gender Confirmation Surgery (then called a sex change operation) worked, while also exploring my sexuality with explicit chats with strange men. I discovered an appreciation for written erotica, which is now no surprise to this writer. My memories from back then now both terrify me and yet also bring back fond memories.

Sometimes, when my parents weren’t home, I’d dress up in women’s clothes and log in to my real account and just chat with my friends on AOL Instant Messenger. Those were my favorite times of all. I wasn’t some perv looking to excite strange men for validation, I was just being myself, like any other girl. In college, when home by myself, I would do the same. As time went on, there was an endless series of anonymous people who would come in and out of my secret online trans life. It felt so transient, that kind of life.

Strangely enough, that all ended the day I came out to Kiva. She became someone that could out me as trans in an online space for the first time in my life. It was both terrifying and absolutely freeing. When she didn’t humiliate me right away, but instead befriended and encouraged me, it gave me courage to carve out even more online space for the true me, for Katelyn. A few weeks later, I had started a new Twitter account @closettransgirl and began taking the first few tentative steps into the online world as Katelyn.

Since then I’ve watched myself brim over with confidence. I began writing again and was published on a major sports site. I’ve met so many wonderful, supportive people on Twitter that stand in contrast with my unsupportive wife who urges me to stay in the closet for life. I’ve come to see that a life as Katelyn is not only possible, but maybe even full of promise. My writing has hit new heights as I feel so free to express myself.

Having others accept me as a woman online, I’ve found, has been excellent for my gender dysphoria. It makes life tolerable for me right now as someone who is in the closet and whose family situation won’t allow me to begin a transition for awhile. Whenever I am down, I know I can turn to my Twitter, where everyone respects my pronouns, where my friends don’t question my gender, my transness. As I continue to grow into my womanhood, the importance of being able to be myself in online spaces just can’t be underestimated.

If you, like me, are in the LGBT closet or can’t live openly as your true self, please please please don’t hesitate to reach out to me either on Twitter or through email (listed in my bio). My DM’s are always open. I want you to know that there are spaces that you can use even now to be yourself. I promise that I will support you and help you grow in anyway that I can find. Why would I so freely do that? Because there was a time when I was that scared, secretive person, and someone was kind enough to reach out their hand and help me start navigating my path. I’m going to repay that kindness by paying it forward.

Authors note: Kiva designed and created my lovely avatar that I use both here and on Twitter. She used a photo that I had sent her of myself to do it. I’m absolutely in love with it and wanted you to know that she does commissions and can be found at kivabay.com.

Written by

Political journalist. The first openly trans Capitol Hill reporter in US history. Writing about more than just trans issues. Follow her on Twitter @transscribe

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