Exhibit Closed Until Further Notice

(When the Sideshow Attraction Turns Out To Be You)

by Devon

Looking back at it now from a vantage point 12 years later, my transition was a nightmare. Not that I thought it was smooth sailing at the time, but I couldn't really appreciate the magnitude of the ordeal while I was smack in the middle of it. It took a while for it to sink in -- about a decade, in fact. Optimist that I was then, I had expected any problems to be minor. I was lucky enough to be passable from the get-go and completely accepted as female in public, so that wasn't a problem. No, most of the trouble stemmed from a single source -- my friends.

For someone planning eventually to be stealth, I made several mistakes when I transitioned, and they were lulus. The first was remaining in the same place, the second was maintaining contact with people I knew before, and the last -- a really egregious one -- was allowing friends to exploit me unmercifully. Certainly, these blunders are understandable -- this was new territory, and I didn't know any better. But that doesn't stop me from digging my nails into my palms when I recall that period of time.

When a person transitions, he or she is typically extremely vulnerable, hungry for acceptance and approval, and I was no different. I'd lost a few friends and some family over this, and I desperately craved support. To my joy, my remaining friends heaped loads of reassurance and validation on me. They seemed so enthusiastic and pleased to be a part of my transition. It felt wonderful to be surrounded by all that acceptance, I can't deny it. At the time it was mother's milk.

I was inundated by dinner and party invitations, people wanted me to go places and do things with them, folks called or dropped over just to hang out with me. I was flabbergasted by all the unexpected attention. One married couple in particular took me under their wing. I had known the guy for a number of years, but then his wife and I became quite close, best girlfriends. They introduced me to new people, all of whom seemed anxious to meet me. In fact, between them and the rest of my friends I was meeting a lot of new people.

Soon, I began feeling uneasy about the number of people who knew about my situation. There were some troubling signs that had escaped my attention previously. Many of my new friends seemed to be titillated. It was evident in their excited expressions, in the way their eyes glistened, and in how the talk centered around transsexual topics. They couldn't get enough. Belatedly, I woke up to what was happening. For many of them, I was an unwitting guest on their personal "Jerry Springer Show." For others, I became an opportunity for them to demonstrate how admirably open-minded they were.

Regardless of their motivations, all the elation and exuberance I'd felt about receiving so much acceptance dissipated quickly. I felt used. Through sheer naivety and gullibility, I'd allowed the situation to get completely out of control. It was my own fault, and I owned it. Nevertheless, I resented the insensitivity of my so-called "friends" in taking advantage of me at a time when I was most vulnerable.

Unfortunately, by this point, although I was unaware of the extent of it, my friends had informed so many people about me -- people who, in turn, told other people, who told still other people, and so on -- that the circle of insiders with knowledge about my situation had grown exponentially. After so many iterations of gossip mongering, it was only a matter of time before things started turning sour in a big way. Weirdos began coming out of the woodwork.

The first one to enter the picture was an ex-con who called me "li'l darlin'" when he introduced himself at a party. This heavily tattooed character expressed great interest, grinning at me with very large, very white teeth. He told me that he had known some "she-males" in the joint, and really dug them, so he figured I might like to spend some time with a righteous dude like him. I informed Captain Mullet that I wasn't interested.

Next, the "Six Degrees of Separation" principle came into play. Unbeknownst to me, a neighbor who lived in the duplex across the street, a husky guy with a beard whom I'd never spoken to, had found out about me through a mutual acquaintance. I started getting harassing phone calls from him, although I didn't know he was the culprit at first. In a low voice, he would mutter veiled threats, things like "I know who you really are, and you're not going to get away with it." Unfortunately, he had CallerID blocking, so at the phone company's suggestion I used *57 (Last Call Record) to record his number at the central office; I also started tape recording his calls. After three more, the police identified him as my neighbor and paid him a visit. One of the cops told me the guy's story was that he was "just joking around," and he'd promised not to do it again. I was relieved when he moved shortly afterward.

Finally, there was the attorney I met who turned out to be a "trans-fan." Introduced by a friend-of-a-friend, he confided that he was looking for a relationship with someone with "both male and female qualities." He found me "an exotic creature." I told this scumbag to tell his story walking.

I'd had enough. Clearly, drastic action was required to rectify things. I could see no other option but to get the hell out of Dodge. I relocated, and in so doing, cut off contact with the entire group of people who'd exploited me so ruthlessly. I left no forwarding address or phone number. By all appearances, I'd dropped off the face of the earth. The speculation was that I'd taken a job with a company on the East Coast. No doubt quite a few people were sorely disappointed to lose their private sideshow exhibit.

Since then I've lived a life of relative stealth. No one knows of my situation -- not my employer, associates at work, friends, or the guys I date. However, although distance separates my former friends and me I'm always aware of the possibility of worlds colliding. It hangs over my head like the Sword of Damocles, the price I pay for my carelessness. Still, I was incredibly lucky, luckier than I had any right to expect. I managed to escape a dangerous situation relatively unscathed -- sadder, but infinitely wiser.

Perhaps my unfortunate experience can provide a lesson for others. After you transition, if people seem to descend upon you in droves, offering friendship and approval, watch out. Be on guard. Be wary of overly friendly types. Turn down invitations. Don't roll out the welcome mat. You do not want to meet lots of new people during this time. Granted, all that attention is very intoxicating, but you'll be better off without it. Here's a news flash: People are not tripping over themselves to meet you just because of your sparkling personality. Most importantly, make it clear to everyone you know that you expect them to protect your privacy, which means keeping their mouths shut about your situation. Try to make them understand that loose lips could place you in grave danger. Heed this advice. Learn from my mistakes.

Otherwise, a tattooed, mullet-wearing ex-con with a shirt unbuttoned down to his navel might soon be paying you a visit, li'l darlin'.

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If you have any advice you'd like to share, please contact me , and I'll give it a permanent (and anonymous) home.