I’m astounded by how much my connections to others have grown since I’ve become more vulnerable. I hadn’t thought that revealing the truth about my gender identity and transition would offer me the opportunity to become closer to so many people from all areas of my life. It’s truly amazing to see how people respond when I share more about my experience with them.

I have a wonderful community of friends and “chosen family” that I’ve been blessed to find and cultivate over the past fifteen years since I moved away from my hometown. So, it wasn’t surprising to receive a lot of love and support from them during this process. What I didn’t know when launching into it was how my relationships with them would change as a result of my ability to show up in ways that I couldn’t previously. Before beginning transition, I struggled to connect to deeper levels of emotion that I knew were possible, and that I’ve been able to attain since introducing more estrogen to my system and inhibiting testosterone. It was also common for me to feel awkward and unsure of myself. It wasn’t that I had a hard time being social. I’ve always been outgoing, friendly, communicative, and open, and I love to spend time with friends. It was just that I often felt like I wasn’t quite able to be all of who I truly am. I couldn’t just be myself. It felt like there was still more about who I am that I hadn’t discovered and it was frustrating because I couldn’t figure out what was missing. It was like having a puzzle that I’d worked hard to put together over many years, then finding that I didn’t have a few crucial pieces to complete it, and that the final image ended up being somewhat obscured because of the remaining blank spaces. Thankfully, I found those pieces when I was finally able to understand that in order to be whole, I needed to follow my desire to fully express my femininity and live as a woman. As I’ve explained before, this understanding sprung forth along with the awareness of fierce vulnerability that has helped me become more brazenly openhearted.

I also didn’t expect the changes I’ve experienced in my relationships with coworkers. When I came out at work as transgender, I sent an email on a Friday while working from home, with the thought that this would give the majority of my colleagues the chance to read it and have a couple days to sit with my revelation and (hopefully) become more comfortable with it before seeing me in my new gender presentation the following week. Needless to say, I was very nervous heading in to the office that Monday. I spent a little time holding a power pose to help boost my confidence before I made my entrance. The first person I encountered was a female coworker who had always been very friendly and sweet to me, and who I felt safe with. She greeted me with a huge smile, and a warm hug. As we released, she looked at me joyfully and said, “Here we go!” It was the perfect way to start that day! The next two people I saw also greeted me very warmly and offered their support. Along with another work friend that I had already come out to earlier, they have all become so much closer, and more special, to me. They’ve become allies and confidants who’ve helped me settle into this new reality. An additional bonus is that one of the women, whose fashion sense I’ve always admired, has also been wonderfully generous in giving me her hand-me-down clothes.

I’ve been thrown for a loop as well by the responses I received from people I work with who are outside of my organization. It’s amazing to see what others will share when I’ve made myself vulnerable and allowed them to feel safe offering me their own sensitive personal information. This has happened time and again across a variety of relationships, but it seems most remarkable when it happens over email, without invitation, from people who I only have a casual business relationship with. Many have responded to my vulnerability by offering me theirs.

One of the big milestones for me on this journey was coming out to my friends and extended family who still live back in the rural area in the middle of the country where I originated from. I had been holding on to a lot of shame because of being transgender, and fears that others would judge me to be less than them. In my small hometown, everyone pretty much knows everyone else’s business. There’s a lot of gossip, and people can be quick to judge and offer their unsolicited opinions on how other people should live their lives. It’s also a fairly conservative place and I knew some people wouldn’t accept me, and some would speak unkindly about me. I was afraid that people would be mean to me and to my parents, and possibly even to my siblings and their kids. I was afraid that people would unsympathetically denounce me as ridiculous, and would refuse to take me seriously. I’d been raised with near-constant programming to always be aware of what others think of me and to try my best not to do anything that would elicit their disapproval. It’s exceptionally hard to shake that way of thinking and the anxiety it produces, and most of the time I didn’t believe that I would ever be able to.

After coming out to my immediate family, I had the urge to throw the doors wide open and expose my transgender truth to anyone and everyone who knows me. I resisted for a while, in no small part due to the anxiety I felt about how people would react, especially the people I grew up with. I wasn’t exactly a popular kid, and I received more than my fair share of taunting and bullying. That anxiety felt like it came from a young, wounded place deep inside me. Little did I know that the power of fierce vulnerability could release the hold it had on me.

Late one night in May, I updated my profile photo on Facebook. Before logging out and going to bed, I impulsively decided to change my gender in my profile information. I wasn’t fully conscious of how this would show up to others, or how visible it would be. I failed to recognize that the change would trigger changes to every gender reference in my Facebook history, including the announcement that I’d changed my profile photo. Whereas it had originally posted to let people know that “Jade changed his photo,” it now said “Jade changed her photo.” I hesitated for a moment, feeling excitement and apprehension. I knew that if I retained the updated gender categorization, by the next day I wouldn’t be able to put that cat back in the bag. I decided I could live with that. I was ready for it. The following day I awoke feeling a strange sense of liberation. I felt lighter, and more mentally calm than I expected. Several of my friends who already knew about my transition had made comments referring to me with female terms and referencing me wearing eye makeup in the photo. There was no turning back, and I felt a welcome newfound freedom. Since that moment, a significant amount of the concern I had about what other people think of me has miraculously vanished.

I’ve been heartened by the fact that I haven’t received any comments of disapproval or derision. In fact, I’ve unexpectedly found an abundance of acceptance and support from old friends and my extended family. People from my past have reached out to offer me encouragement and appreciation for putting myself out there in a genuine and wholehearted manner. People who I’d only had minimal connection with in the past reached out to let me know that they were with me. I’ve found that there are many people who have a strong desire to bring more honesty and openness into the world, and to move away from the pretense and ego that can create barriers to fulfilling connection.

Several months after updating my gender on Facebook, and after becoming more outspoken about trans issues and more visible there as a trans individual, I took the opportunity to be explicit about my transgender status on National Coming Out Day. It was a spontaneous act spurred by a courageous post from another friend. I wrote a heartfelt message to let people know more about who I am, and to state my intention to be a good trans advocate and educator as I do my part to bring about more understanding and equal treatment of trans women and men. I went away from the computer for a short period of time and when I returned I found that several dozen people had already responded positively to my post. More of the same followed. An overwhelming outpouring of love and inspiration was generated by my announcement, and I was totally blown away and brought to tears by all of it.

All of these experiences indicate to me both a need and a craving for more authentic connection. Now that I’m capable of it myself, I intend to help it spread.