While the world celebrates and congratulates Bruce Jenner / Caitlyn Jenner for coming out in a very public and lucrative manner, I cant help but think of my own experience and the experiences of others who have had to ‘come out’ in a less then glorified way.
You see when I first became ill I worked hard to keep my symptoms and limitations secret. I was scared. I was embarrassed. I felt alone. What would happen to me, my job, my life and my family? As frightening as it might be for those of us with diseases and illnesses, however, ‘coming out’ is something that is ultimately inevitable. We will eventually have to reveal to the world how sick, in pain, restricted, immobile and unwell we truly are. For many of us there is no closet to hide in for long. Coming out is also made harder by the fact that it can take many years of investigation, prodding, probing, rejection, searching for answers, examining, fighting, dozens of doctors and specialists and a lot of humiliation and hurtful accusations.
Slowly as I grew more and more disabled and after a lot of tests, doctors and specialists I had to concede to a lot of things, including the loss of my much loved career. In the years that followed, my coming out meant that I would lose my friends, my family, my job, my identity, my abilities and life as I knew it. Some even attacked my integrity and honesty and made light of how serious my health truly was.
My coming out was not hailed on the cover of magazines. My coming out was not praised for being brave and courageous. My coming out has not earned me millions of dollars or acclaim. My coming out has been a 24 hr a day battle and, sadly, I don’t think I am alone. I think there are many millions of people around the world who have been through a very similar experience and there may be many millions more before attitudes will change.
Society doesn’t see me as being a wonderful statement of humanity, a thing of beauty and something to be respected and celebrated. I don’t have thousands (or even a dozen) of people tweeting and wishing me well. I, and many like me, will not ever receive the accolades that Bruce / Caitlyn will get despite the fact that there are many more chronically ill and Autoimmune sufferers in the world than transgender numbers. Why are we so willing to celebrate the challenges of one group and not the other?
Although it is not my intention to downplay or demean the journey that Bruce / Caitlyn has been on, but I am not sure whether it included dozens of doctors who would ignore him/her. Whether he/she would spend a life in physical pain and at times unable to leave the house or be bedridden. I don’t know whether he/she would be unable to earn a living and whether he/she will end up crippled in pain and possibly live out his/her life in a wheelchair and alone (or institutionalized). Coming out for me, whilst incredibly difficult and painful, did not earn me the millions of dollars and the empathy and support of nations but it is the reason that I write and and I hope and I advocate, so that the many, many millions of sufferers and fighters around the world, who do their utmost JUST to survive and maintain a life (sometimes in the most heart breaking of circumstances) can ‘come out’ and be loved and supported in the way that they deserve.
Bruce Jenner / Caitlyn Jenner carried their fight inside for many years and so do all of us who fight the fight against diseases, pain, attitudes, medications, discrimination, shame, guilt, rudeness, isolation and rejection. Whilst Bruce/Caitlyn may now be able to live life as they would like to live, sadly this is only a dream for the rest of us but it’s a dream that I want to do everything I can to help come true for so many of my brothers and sisters all over the world. I hope that by writing these articles (despite the pain and emotions) and reaching out to the world (despite the rejection and judgements) that these small steps can make a difference.