My Coming Out Letter
I posted this letter to Facebook on January 14th, 2014:
Deep breath. Here goes.
I am a woman.
That’s to say, in common parlance, I am transsexual. Actually I disagree with that term; I believe I have a female brain and am therefore female from birth, and this is my body and therefore a female body. Thus I am not transcending sex as much as aligning my body and mind with my desires, through extreme body modification. I say “desires” because I choose this. I choose happiness. I believe I was born this way and there is strong scientific evidence to support the physiological basis for this experience, but ultimately I choose life over non-life. I choose to say yes to myself, my tastes, my wants, my goals. This is a selfish act, an act of self-affirmation and self-assertion.
Today (Monday) marks 8 months since I started hormones. My journey began at a very young age, struggling with having female friends and being unhappy about how people saw me. Admittedly, I am not the most typically feminine person in demeanor or behavior. If you’re a girl born with a traditionally female body, and aren’t immediately obviously a pretty pretty princess from a young age who loves all things pink and has tea parties in her pageant dress…say you’re a tomboy who possibly crushes on other girls…well, that’s pretty okay in our society, you aren’t considered less legitimately female. If you’re a girl like me, and you aren’t immediately obviously a pretty pretty princess, then things get murky. It leaves a lot of room for misunderstanding and self-doubt. Add that to my own individual brand of perfectionism and gender bias, and my life became a pressure cooker of stress under my unrequited desires to be seen, and to avoid being seen the way people labeled me. That stress and discomfort and inability to connect with people caused me half a lifetime of unhappiness. That unhappiness indeed led me to my realization — I had built an amazing life supporting myself as an artist in my favorite city in the world, and worked really hard at surrounding myself with amazing inspiring people…and it still wasn’t enough. I was still unhappy, I was still lonely, I was still disconnected. I had a hard time experiencing the love that so many people clearly sent my way, from fans of my DJing and karaoke nights, from people who appreciated my spirit and friendship, and even from childhood friends. The ways in which I hoped transition would improve my life have proven true, I’m thrilled to report!
The recent phase of my journey began on Halloween 2012, right before Hurricane Sandy. The story of that day is interesting but inconsequential. The short version is, I had an experience that caused me to face my truths and stop running away. Since then, I’ve spent every second of free time (sacrificing my music production) to research transsexuality and transition. I began therapy in March 2013, and began hormone replacement shortly after in May.
I feel immensely lucky to know you all, to have a large strong community that enthusiastically supports my choices. I am far ahead of the curve in terms of my body’s progress, and because I’m still employed, and because I’m not in frequent physical danger like many other trans people, and that I have a loving partner who sees the real me.
Please know that one of the most impolite and offensive questions you can ask a trans person is the state of their genitals and if they’re gonna go “all the way” — I am a woman mentally (from birth), emotionally (via my new hormone balance), and in many ways already physically. My desire to get surgery, financial ability to get surgery, fear of surgery, or whether or not my particular body can handle it, none of those things make me less of a woman. However, I will volunteer the information that yes, I intend to get genital surgery.
The extreme body modification I mentioned consists of estrogen injections, testosterone inhibitors (until I don’t have testosterone to inhibit), hair removal, facial feminization surgery, and ultimately gender confirmation surgery/genital reconstruction. Hormones have affected me in many ways, including: redistribution of of body fat, loss of muscle mass, changes to the shape of my face, breast growth, regaining hair on my head, losing body hair, skin has become thinner and softer, my energy patterns have changed, my sleep needs have changed, my experience of sex is very different, I’ve had some changes to the appeal of certain foods, I feel I can better access my emotions, and I sometimes get emotional very suddenly or have strongly contradicting emotions.
Regarding surgery, I sympathize with the compulsion and fascination to size someone up and understand what’s going on with them physically. It’s both natural to wonder AND a filthy habit, based on society’s overwhelmingly immature perspective on sex and gender. Who cares if her arms are a little beefy, her hands are a little ‘too’ big? People with less-common configurations of body parts or gender-typical traits are still squishy lovable human beings, who can be cool and inspiring and awesome and sexy.
Trans is a vague umbrella term, so it means a lot of things to a lot of people. As far as it applies to me, I DON’T identify as trans. While I wear that badge proudly, in my case trans isn’t something you ARE, it’s something you go through, it’s a medical history. I am proud of being trans (and a lesbian), but I identify as a woman.
Transitioning isn’t changing who I’m attracted to, which is typically other women. Yes, this makes me a lesbian (or at least I choose to identify as such), and that’s how I always conceived of myself since I was a little girl: first a tomboy, then a lesbian.
“Why would you WANT this?”
Nobody wants this. Nobody wants to put their body through this, or expose themselves to danger and ridicule, or even put up with the mundane hassle of telling everyone about it. I transition because I AM something (in my case, a woman!). I can’t escape it, and I don’t want to. I’m not becoming something new, instead I’m more fully actualizing myself. In my particular case, I’m embracing something (womanhood) that many people feel is a disadvantaged position with many negative aspects. I don’t think the grass is greener on the ‘other’ side, I think the grass is browner, but it’s my grass and my side. I deal with being strongly emotional sometimes, but I’m grateful for the experience. Transitioning doesn’t prevent me from being a feminist, or thinking women get a raw deal, or being critical about other women’s behavior, or being proud of my femininity. Indeed I’m as proud as one can get, because I’m one of the few people lucky enough to be forced to stare their femininity in the eyes and say yes and choose it.
At many many points, I feel scared, defeated, lost, or simply like a man in a dress that will never overcome her handicap. But I keep walking forward. I’m determined to live life, make art, honor my friends and family, improve the world around me, dance a lot, travel, and make money! (heh) I’m doing this in order to thrive, not to withdraw into self-absorbtion or self-indulgence, or get mired down by my life circumstances, despite how much time it’s currently eating up. I wasn’t fully able to thrive before. Now I’m increasing my chances.
“Are you sure?”
I’m an intellectually thorough person who’s naturally inclined to constantly reevaluate her positions. So no? But…yes, I’m sure. I wasn’t 100% sure when I started taking hormones, but I am sure by now.
“Do you have a new name?”
My name was influential on my life and journey. I like it a lot. I plan to change my IDs and birth certificate to say Alexandra. However, people are calling me Lexi as a popular nickname, and I prefer it. It also helps me stay focused; it’s easy to feel down, or lose sight of my goals, or feel unfeminine, and hearing the name Lexi snaps my attention and reminds me what I’m doing. Likewise I prefer to be referred to by female pronouns. If the world constantly referred to you with inappropriate pronouns, you’d get annoyed after a while too. I recognize my appearance does not inspire people to naturally use female pronouns and terms to reference me. Sadly, that’s the consequence of the situation I’m in, and I have (scratch that, HAD) a lot of patience.
As for DJ names…well…I haven’t ironed out my rebranding yet. I loathe to mess with my business in that way. I’ll solve the puzzle soon. Until then, I’ll keep performing as Barney Iller (or Guapo Feo when appropriate). I’m eager to unify my branding as well as my musical focus.
“How can I help?”
1) If you thought I was fun and interesting before, keep interacting with me and being my friend
2) Please use female pronouns when referencing me, especially when I’m not around
3) Any suggestions/offers about DJ gigs, random jobs, or places to live are VERY welcome
4) I’d like to get introduced to the queer party scene if anyone has ideas
5) Direct donations — please contact me individually — I need lots of help
6) Help with fundraising logistics, marketing, throwing fundraising parties
I will be setting up a crowdfunding campaign within the next month or so. I also plan to sell t-shirts, and throw fundraising parties in Brooklyn and elsewhere.
“I know you do a lot of gigs, don’t you make decent enough money to cover yourself?”
Why yes, I often do fairly well supporting myself as an independent artist. However, I have a sizable monthly student loan burden, and my medical expenses (drugs, sperm banking, hair removal, ongoing therapy) have outpaced whatever additional money I was previously able to save. Without that student loan burden, I could save a percentage of my surgery costs, or live in less risky neighborhoods (in terms of safety for a trans woman). Unfortunately I don’t have that luxury at the moment. Switching to a day job would not help, I’d most likely make less money and have less free time to iron myself out, plus I’d be less happy. Most job-sponsored health insurance specifically excludes transgender-related care and procedures.
I’ve reached a point where I have to acknowledge that my transition expenses are outpacing my income. I have become a charity case due to circumstances outside my control. Despite all the steps I’ve taken, I still don’t know exactly where I’m headed with my life or body, and I have a lot to learn, but it’s critical to me to have the breathing room to keep moving forward.
Also, very few trans people manage to “save up” for surgery, and not in any reasonable time frame. I’m looking at ~30k for my face and ~30k for bottom surgery.
Please spread the word. I WANT to reconnect with people. I WANT to connect with people who care about me and who are interested in where I’m going.
A profound and lifelong thanks to Julie Covello aka DJ Shakey — my now-ex after 6 1/2 years — without whom I wouldn’t be here, as a woman or as a DJ, despite the sorrow we’ve experienced as a result of my circumstances. We are still very close, personally and professionally. And we STILL REALLY LOVE TO DJ TOGETHER, so if you were inclined to book us together in the past, PLEASE STILL DO.
There is a small army of other people who’ve been instrumental in my success. You know who you are, I love you dearly.
I’ve been trying to write this post for weeks, nay months, but I’ve realized I can’t say everything I want to say in a single post. This dialog will continue ongoing throughout my life and I’m very glad to speak to anyone who would like to be part of the conversation.
THANK YOU ALL
Lexi aka dj barney iller
P.S. Many people, after learning about me, comment that we’re “not that good of friends” or “I don’t know you that well, but…” I think people say that out of politeness. If you thought you knew me before, or thought we were good friends, you did and we were and we still are! You knew me as well as anyone ever did. Nobody knew about this, not my mom, not my partner, not my closest friends. Please don’t think this revelation betrays our friendships and intimacy. You weren’t missing out, except for my aggressive denial and secrecy.