On Sunday morning, August 3, 2014, which was also my birthday, I threw up this video on my Facebook timeline, prepared to lose more than I ever had. Not even my closest friends knew that I was secretly prepping to do this. People were shocked, though largely accepting of me. However, I knew there were a few people whose “day of the Lord” I had ruined.
Including my father’s.
In the prior year that I had been living out and proud as Nina, I had endured, learned, and grown immensely in my inner strength. I had already come out to my mother, sister, and closest friends. I had worked a job in NYC. I had forced myself to face strange looks, whispered criticisms, male advances, and a myriad of scary, first-time encounters. Most of all, I had decided to maintain the body of voiceover work I had done prior and simply rebrand myself under “Nina Sumter”, a name I have yet to legally change to.
I have evolved even further since the making of this video and I’ve wanted to make more videos like this one to reflect that evolution. However, for now, I will christen this new blog with my coming out video. It’s a bit long, but I hope you find it insightful in some way.
I thought hard about how I wanted to go about this. Whether it was worth making a lot of noise for the sake of clarity or instead candidly saying it outright hoping people would understand its brevity. In my personal experience, I’ve found that unless people are really passionate about something, there’s a high chance they will remain passive, say nothing at all, and be content with justifiable ignorance. So I couldn’t believe it would be okay to assume that anyone who would see my message on Facebook would feel that kind of passion towards me to drop everything, immediately read what would initially seem like a much-ado-about-nothing update, and then reply with heartfelt support (or indirect disgust) that such a message would undoubtedly stir up. And I don’t believe I’m wrong for doubting regardless of how many friends Facebook says I have.
So in the midst of my apparent pessimism, I had a brilliant epiphany. Since people prefer not to read anymore, maybe I should be the voice actor that I am and record it. Then no one can claim it was tl;dr. Only time will tell if my plan worked.
But then, I had another epiphany: Why not share this in the spirit of a TED talk? That way, I’m not just talking at you, but engaging you, the listener, in a personal experience. To teach and educate anyone who may not be familiar with what I too barely knew about just a few years ago & eventually would come to understand for myself.
I knew I wanted to do this right. Once and for all.
I remember when an actress I know (No names) came out as a lesbian. It was a brief, honest announcement laced with her usual wit and humor. I also had a chance to witness the outpouring of support and love from fans & people who value her as an actress and friend. The announcement came and went and everyone got on with their lives, but for a while I wondered: “Could coming out always be as natural and simple as that for everyone?”
Maybe, but probably not. I’ll get to why I think that way later in my talk.
Society, mainly my generation and the ones after, have, for the most part, embraced the existence of gay men, lesbian women, and bisexuals with some leeway given to the queer, asexual, and almost everything in between. It’s become socially acceptable, though still remains tolerable in some circles, to wear your sexuality proudly on your sleeve. There is more national support than ever before – twenty states as of prepping for this talk – to have the legal right to marry someone who just happens to have the same sex chromosomes as you.
Speaking of biology, let’s talk about mine for a moment.
My two sex chromosomes happen to be XY. Which caused me to have a penis at birth. Which then caused the doctor to assign me the male sex. Which then caused my family, friends, and society at large to expect my gender to be one-in-the same as my sex by default, even though sex and gender are two separate things. Notice how I, and the majority of us for that matter, never had any say in how we identify and are raised according to what biology decides to give us between our legs.
Everything regarding our sexual orientation and gender identity – how biology says we should reproduce and what society says we’re “supposed to be” – is highly policed & typically assumed to be self-explanatory. And assumptions have a tendency to make an “ass out of you and me.”
Male is to Female as Black is to White. Any gray deviation from that neat little gender binary can mean social ostracism and death. That’s what the majority of us are socialized to believe and this needs to change. The truth is that while humans are easily categorized XX or XY, gender is not so simple. Gender is this nebulous & fluid spectrum by which we use to determine and define our personal identity for ourselves. This covers both gender presentation (i.e. how we look and dress outwardly) and gender identity (i.e. how we think and see ourselves in our minds).
So let me say something that has already been said by others before me and will challenge the mindset of some listeners. Gender is, in fact, NOT defined for us at birth by a medical specialist or our parents. Gender is something we establish for ourselves in our own minds that we believe is right for us as we mature. And once in a while, a human being, in all their biological/neurological complexity that baffle scientists to this day, may come to the sometimes-difficult conclusion that their biological sex and their gender identity do not align. That their body is betraying how they see themselves on the inside or how they may feel most comfortable presenting outwardly. Or both. That misalignment is neither a defect nor a mental disease. It is the same as how many of you have never questioned your identity as a man or a woman and feel perfectly comfortable in how you present to the world within your XX or XY sex. It’s just who YOU are, right?
Except for one thing. There are thousands of individuals who did, have, or are questioning. To them, something is off. They may be uncomfortable and distressed with the sex they have been assigned, or the gender everyone has unconsciously preordained them to align with because of how they look. Sometimes those who do not conform have been called “sexual deviants”, liars, oddities that don’t belong in our society. They have been often discriminated against, denied basic human rights and health care, maligned in entertainment with demeaning portrayals, and even assaulted or murdered in fits of unreasonable rage. Many of which go unpunished or undocumented.
A shame that our gender identity and presentation affects everyone we know and don’t know when it should only be about us.
And so, me, coming out to you as a transgender female, in this moment, is likely going to have a similar effect on you. Probably just enough for you to remember why I asked the question earlier: Could coming out always be as natural and simple for everyone? And probably just enough for you to remember that my answer was “maybe, but probably not.”
It has been said that people fear what they don’t understand. This rings especially true when it comes to those of us who identify under the umbrella group “transgender.” What I have detailed was only a small portion of the wide variety of painful stories and real hardships many transgender people face daily.
So, how does my story fit into this? Well…
At the start of 2012, I began soul-searching and took a good hard look at everything I had been suppressing and experiencing throughout my life. All the pieces didn’t come together immediately, but once I accepted that I had been lost in perpetual self-loathing for much of my life and had merely adapted to the unwanted changes that assaulted my body little by little, I arrived at a conclusion: I was, and had been, extremely unhappy and no amount of success or relationships would fix me. I hated my reflection and how the world assumed I was okay with being male and the privileges that came along with it.
I didn’t and couldn’t truly love myself.
Some of you know I’ve been pursuing a professional voice acting career and have taken theatre acting classes. What you don’t know is that I struggled with making my voice public because that would instantly brand me as male when I had spent the better part of my online life remaining androgynous, queer, or assumed female.
As long as I wasn’t identified as male, I was very happy with that, but obviously that was not conducive to pursuing a voice-over career. Eventually, for the sake of my ambition to succeed, I swallowed the bitter pill and in late 2008, I began my journey. I said good-bye to what little of my identity I held onto. The part of my being that felt most natural and real to me inside was replaced with a cold reality. With my voice public, I had no reason to hide my face either. Like I had done all my life, I settled for the man in the mirror because that was the only way I believed I’d ever find success.
Continuing to adapt and accept something I didn’t want progressively made me miserable. Year after year.
This is the last individual picture I have of me dating back to 2012. Coincidence that it was a professional headshot during a time when I had thrown myself into theater acting. My utter discomfort during this photo session was all of my frustration, disdain, and unhappiness hidden throughout my life, condensed in a few hours. This photo represents the masculine front I subjected myself to out of fear, believing that I had everything to lose by being anything but.
For the longest time, especially throughout college, I had felt like a actor on a stage. My training as a actor only made this simple fact clearer than day. This was not the real me. I could not be truly vulnerable in my acting because I hated myself while telling myself the same lie over and over: I am okay.
Eventually, I did what any person who has to tell themselves that they’re okay does. I began seeing a therapist. One with LGBTQ certification. I needed clarity from someone with more knowledge than I thought I had about myself.
After embracing the possibility of my gender identity being different from my birth sex, I was terrified of what this new knowledge of being transgender was going to destroy – my life, my career goals, what little connection I have with my family, and my place in this world that I had built up were all at risk. I was scared that maybe, I’d get it wrong. I was scared that I would be unable to handle the backlash on my life that already has been difficult enough to survive.
Finally, I found the source of my problem. I was sacrificing my own well-being and love for myself to live a painful lie for the sake of everything and everyone but me. I couldn’t and wouldn’t do that anymore. I didn’t ask for this, and anyone who claims that people like me chose this has never truly tried to understand how deep this goes. The only choice I made was to stop lying and quietly hating myself.
Now, I’m no longer as afraid and restrained as I used to be. I’m happier with how I feel. I have opened up on the inside, which has translated into how people identify me on the outside. I say more of what’s on my heart, and I’m becoming a stronger person each time I come out.
I needed this, and it is in that completeness that I am able to come out publicly as the female I’ve always been. Special in her own way and still the same person as before, but no longer a slave to herself or society’s definition of the gender binary being the norm.
To conclude, I have a few confessions to make.
To everyone in my social circles: I deliberately cut myself off from nearly all of you to avoid creating any further memories that involved reinforcing the masculine shell I never wanted any part of. You likely didn’t notice anything or care a whole lot either way, but I hope the majority of you can now easily decide whether or not to retain contact with me. For those who will accept me, thank you. I look forward to reconnecting with you some time soon.
My second confession is to those wondering about what this means for me as a voice-over artist. I’ll let my animation demo speak for itself. Enjoy.
Just because I am a woman does not mean giving up on roles that require male tones that would obviously limit my potential to succeed in the voice-over business. I’m just like Nancy Cartwright (Bart) or Veronica Taylor (Ash Ketchum) but with a flipped vocal range and not nearly as amazing. Being transparent about my gender as it relates to my voice acting career was another difficult mental hurdle for me. I feared I was sabotaging my reputation, or would be quietly discriminated against for my gender identity by being excluded from casting opportunities. Thanks to many talks with another trans girl friend, I made a simple decision: To become so good, valuable, and hopefully liked in the industry that casting directors won’t be able to ignore me.
My last confession is for those listening who, like I was, may be struggling with their identity or just can’t find the will to love themselves.
You may look at me and say how brave or strong I am to basically resign myself to forever being out as trans*. Believe me when I say, I am not those things. We all seek after that inner strength that allows us to press on day after day, but if we cannot love ourselves, then we aren’t really living. And if we aren’t really living, then our capacity to be strong or brave or vulnerable is greatly diminished. I’m only just recently learning how to be that way because I too learned a valuable lesson: No one – not your family, not your friends, not society – should stop you from being able to love yourself in whatever form of self-actualization that may take.
I’d like to believe that one day the majority of humanity can reach a level of enlightenment that celebrates our deepest complexities which makes us all human in our own right. That in the midst of lacking understanding for each other’s differences, we can connect with each other intellectually and emotionally in ways no other species can.
I have included URLs below if you would like to learn more about the “T” in LGBTQA. I feel it is imperative that resources are made available to educate and empower those on the outside to become aware of the atrocities we face and to perhaps create more genuine allies of the LGBTQA cause. Most of all, however, I want to be a reminder that just like you are more than your gender, trans* people are as well.
So please allow me to come out to you properly.
Hi, my name is Nina. Professional voice-over artist. Creative Director of EtherFuture. Comic writer. Graphic Designer. EDM lover. Casual Cosplayer. Long-time anime geek. Human being and friend.
Thank you for listening.