How Making My First Trans Friend After Coming Out as Trans Helped Me Embrace My Identity With Comfort and Confidence

Photo: Courtesy of W+G Creative
In 2021, I attended a rally in Brooklyn, New York, for the Transgender Day of Remembrance—an annual observance on November 20 honoring folks who have been killed in the name of transphobia. One of the organizers said: “In these times of unrest, we have to find joy and support in other queer and trans folks.” I remember leaving disheartened and, frankly, a little frightened, because much of my journey as a transgender person had been incredibly isolating up to that point. But that's because I hadn't yet met the person who would become my first close trans friend as a newly out trans person.

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The years during which I discovered my trans identity were fraught with pain—literally. In 2017, at age 23, I moved to New York City following my graduation from college. However, due to complications from a sinus surgery in January 2018, I developed chronic migraine, a condition that involves having a migraine for at least 15 days per month. My case was severe; I was experiencing pain all day, every day, and I had to quit my job as a community organizer and move back in with my parents on the city’s Upper West Side.

I determined that my physical health was declining due to my neglect of my mental health; part of my recovery had to include addressing my struggle with my gender identity.

In 2019, in between extended hospital stays and medical procedures, I realized I was non-binary. It was difficult to acknowledge, but with the help of doctors and therapists, I also determined that my physical health was declining due to my neglect of my mental health; part of my recovery had to include addressing my struggle with my gender identity.

After a few months of working with an excellent therapist, I was able to come out as trans to my family and close friends. I was eager to share this part of myself, but I was still bedridden due to pain, so I couldn’t socialize often or for long periods of time. As the coronavirus pandemic emerged in 2020, my isolation only became more pronounced. Though I’d moved out of my parents’ house to an apartment in Brooklyn early that year, the only people I could spend time with during the subsequent months of quarantine were my two roommates.

By the time the country began to open up again in late 2021, it had been almost four years since I had physically been able to socialize at full capacity. I felt as though I was re-entering the world as a completely different person.

Reintroducing myself to the world after coming out as trans

The prospect of trying to reconnect with friends was daunting, as I didn’t know how to introduce them to this new version of myself, and I was scared that I would seem like a stranger to the people with whom I was once the closest. Even more frightening was the possibility that they might not like who I was now.

Due to my migraine pain, I could only manage to hang out with friends sparingly, and my initial meetups were consumed by my recounting of my health issues and the details of my new identity. I wanted my friends—many of whom were cisgender and all of whom were able-bodied at the time—to be aware of my journey so that they could connect with the present version of me. And giving them as much information about my life as quickly as possible felt like the best way to facilitate that.

Over time, however, this seemed to do more harm than good. When I would try to describe the details of a medical procedure and how it affected my body or what my gender dysphoria felt like, it would leave them feeling confused and me feeling overexposed and misunderstood.

It became clear that while they could sympathize, none of my friends could fully understand my experience. This disconnect made me anxious because I had always judged my progress in life through my connections with others. If my friends couldn’t understand the most authentic version of me, then how could I know that I was on the right path?

A few months into these post-quarantine reunions, I grew discouraged and slowly began to see my friends less. I didn’t see a way to maintain my relationships when I felt so disconnected from myself and others—but at the same time, I was lonely.

Meeting my lifeline: my first trans friend

Following a difficult surgery in January 2022 meant to help the severity of my migraines, I posted on Lex, an online queer social-media and community app: “Just had outpatient surgery for my chronic pain, looking for some good vibes (I hate this phrase but my anesthesia-riddled brain can’t come up with another way to say it) to be sent my way. Can’t promise I’ll respond right away, can promise I’ll appreciate your message.”

I opened the app a few hours later and was met with an influx of messages. Overwhelmed, I switched to scrolling down the Lex social feed instead. A few months prior, I had put in the keywords “sick” and “chronically ill” to filter posts and find others who were struggling like I was. I clicked on a profile that read, “Jac, gay and sick/tired” and messaged them, “hi hello from a fellow tired gay.” They replied back, “hi tired gay, how tired are u today 1-10.”

We quickly graduated to texting, and I found we had a lot in common. Jac, a tattoo artist based in Brooklyn, was also struggling with chronic pain and had come out as non-binary in the past few years. When we spoke, I didn’t have to constantly explain myself like I did with my cisgender, able-bodied friends.

A week into speaking online, I agreed to meet and get a tattoo from them—something I’d typically spend months considering before moving forward. While they worked on the tattoo, we talked about everything from our upbringings to our gay awakenings and our shared taste in early 2000s teen movies. It was the most at ease I’d felt with another person in years.

According to psychologist and somatic experiencing practitioner Sharlene Bird, PsyD, a clinical instructor at the Department of Psychiatry at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, it makes sense that my connection with Jac developed so naturally. “Seeking out like-minded, same-valued peers with common interests does provide a possibility for [easier] connection, [namely] based on shared focus and a sense of safety,” says Dr. Bird. When speaking with such people, “many topics don’t need to be explained; they are just understood,” she adds.

How connecting with a trans friend alleviated my need for validation

Over the next few months, my friendship with Jac deepened, but the ease remained. Unlike in other relationships, I felt comforted by the knowledge that Jac didn’t need to know everything that had happened over the past few years of my life to really get me. With them, I didn’t feel the need to information-dump.

At first, I thought this was because we shared so many experiences. While watching television, I could make an offhand comment like, “I felt really good this morning, but then I looked in the mirror, and I did not look the way I thought I did.” Instead of asking me why I felt this way, Jac would respond, “I feel that way all the time, the disconnect is so huge. Gender dysphoria always creeps up on you.” I didn’t feel pressured to explain in order to be understood; I just was.

With time, I realized my comfort with Jac stretched beyond our similar identities. Last New Year’s Eve, Jac and I decided to hang out at their house. Our friends were going out—something both Jac and I couldn’t do because we were both at high risk for COVID-19. Over a meal, we started discussing how the pandemic had limited our social lives.

“After I got sick, my friends would ask me to go to a restaurant or a concert, and I’d need to explain why I couldn’t,” Jac said, describing how their condition makes them immunocompromised. Every few months, they said, the conversation would happen again: “[My friends] don’t understand that just because everyone else is moving on from Covid, it doesn’t mean I can.” Instinctively, I replied, “It sucks, but I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t need people to understand why I can’t do something; I just tell them I can’t, and that’s enough.”

It shouldn’t matter if other people don’t understand who I am or why I feel the way that I do. I know who I am, and that’s enough.

It wasn’t until I was in a session with my therapist a few weeks later that I put together the significance of that conversation. I realized that the way we were talking about pandemic boundaries should be the way I approach friendships. It shouldn’t matter if other people don’t understand who I am or why I feel the way that I do. I know who I am, and that’s enough.

Throughout the rest of our session, I came to understand that my desire for my friends to fully validate every part of me had stemmed from the fact that I never felt comfortable with my own identity when I was younger. Now that I had accepted who I was and received that validation from myself, I might not need it from other people.

Sure enough, when I started to meet up with other friends again in early 2023, I realized that I felt no need to information-dump or seek their complete understanding of me in the way I had before. My prior tendency to share all the specifics of my health situation and identity was rooted in a need for external validation that I no longer had.

In the words of my therapist, experiencing what it felt like to be fully understood by Jac had allowed me to develop a stronger sense of self—and to have the confidence to interact with the people who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) understand me to the same degree, or at all.

As my first close trans friend, Jac gave me the time and space to explore who I was, not just in relation to myself but to others, too. Once I found that I could validate my identity on my own, I didn’t need to constantly prove myself to friends, old or new—and I could enjoy their company all the same.

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