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The story of how a lifelong performance kept me alive to take the stage that lets me live.
Are these real..?
Those three words are the closing punchline of the first comedy show I ever did shortly after I transitioned. In a vacuum they may not make much sense, but, to me, the words define my life. You see, when you’re transgender you often find yourself asking, “Is any of this real?”
Every transgender person’s story is different. Some come out early in life. Some never come out at all. Anyone who fits into either bucket is valid as a trans person. You don’t have to transition to be trans. You’re trans because you are, just like a closeted gay person is still gay. People just don’t know it yet.
Some people come out and no one is surprised. Some people come out, though, and it shocks everyone. It rattles both their own world and those of everyone connected to them. That was me. I fell into that bucket. When I came out at age 34, married and with two kids, well, let’s just say, no one saw it coming.
People often asked me, “Is any of who you are real? Has everything always been a lie?” They’re interesting questions to get when you’re still coming to terms with who you are as a person. For me, I really believed that I was going to be the same person after I transitioned. I’d just look different and answer to a different name and pronouns. As time went on, I quickly realized how wrong I was.
You see, I grew up always imagining myself as a performer. I used to daydream when I’d mow the yard that a limo with a famous popstar would swoop me up and ask me to be her back up singer or dancer. I used to imagine being cast in plays, movies, and musicals. Unfortunately, I never imagined I’d be good at any of it. I was too shy. I was too afraid to be seen and too afraid to be heard. Most importantly, I was too afraid my dreams of the spotlight would out me as someone other than who I was raised to be.
After coming out I learned an important truth. I’ve been a performer for the entirety of my life. I developed a persona that was so complete and so believing that no one saw my big announcement coming. As one person after another walked out of my life I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Has any of this been real? Have any of these relationships I’ve spent 34 years cultivating mattered?”
That’s been a hard feeling to shake while we’ve all be in quarantine. While so many people are taking advantage of our new distancing society to have Zooms with family and lifelong friends, I don’t have anyone from the first three decades of my life available to talk to; friends, family, or otherwise. It made my 36th birthday even harder this year, because, while I had plenty of friends I’ve made since coming out attend my Zoom, there wasn’t anyone else there. There were no texts. There were no phone calls.
In days when I struggle, those thoughts can consume me. On good days though, and there are far more good days than bad ones, I recognize the reality. I’ve had more of an impact on people’s lives in two years as myself as I ever did in 34 years pretending to be someone else. Now I’m able to look back and see just how much has changed. I’m no longer shy. I’m no longer afraid to be heard. While I may still be more afraid to be seen than I wish I was, my gender dysphoria won’t stop me from living my truth. Nothing can.
I’ve accomplished more living as myself in two years than I ever did as that person I was pretending to be. I’ve performed improv at the Chris Farley Cabaret in Chicago. I’m sought out for my standup at mics around New York. I sit on the board of Egalite and have been allowed incredible platforms that have led to panels, publishing, and public speaking engagements to advocate for the rights of my communities and those less privileged than my own.
Now that I no longer have to perform to survive, I’m able to perform as a way to live. Performing is a part of me. It’s who I was always meant to be. While I can’t help but sometimes ask “Is any of this real?” I know the truth. My experiences are real, the things I’ve accomplished are real, and, after 34 years I can say with wholehearted honesty, I am real. Those three words need no punchline.
Jenn Renoe is an Associate Media Director for Publicis Health Media, and a member of Égalité.
This article was originally published on Marcel
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