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Societal pressures impacted ULS lecturer’s coming out

Trans comedian and actor Ian Harvie had to calm many concerns about coming out.

Sixteen years ago, the concept of gender identity was far less discussed than it is today and this silence gave some concerns about coming out as transgender.

Ian Harvie, a trans comedian and actor in Amazon’s show Transparent, told a crowd of about 50 people in the Oval Theater on Tuesday about the concerns he had with coming out as trans.

“I asked my mother if I was a boy what my name would have been and she said ‘I already had two boys at home. I was going to the hospital with a pink dress, you were coming home a girl no matter what,’” he said. “I said ‘oh, so that’s what happened.’”

Harvie said he was raised in an environment of love and that’s one of the things that ultimately helped him accept who he is. They had these burlap signs in the house that said “God doesn’t make junk,” he said, and as corny as they were the signs were manifestations of his parents raising him to love everyone no matter what.

That was a unique view for a pharmacist and shop owner in small town Maine to have, which he said made his parents’ concern for him and his siblings more about their safety than not accepting them.

“My brother and I were standing back there (behind the counter), my mother was teaching us how to make change and so the paper was a quarter, we’d get a dollar, we’d give back 75 cents and count it out,” he said. “Someone came in one day and said ‘oh my God, what lovely twin boys you have,’ and my mother flipped out and said ‘that is my daughter’ about me.

“Its funny because I was very excited about that. I didn’t know why I was excited about that, but in the moment I was like ‘yes, we’re twin boys, yes’ and my mother was like ‘no.’ Her reaction somewhat quieted something in me at that time that neither of us knew what that meant. I think she was afraid for me, more than anything.”

Harvie said one of the things that kept him from coming out as trans sooner was the concern that it would cause his mother to have a stroke. He said that he’d already come out as lesbian and been active in ‘80s protest movements in the area, which cause her to worry enough. He was concerned that adding one more thing would be too much for her.

“I also remember this thing my mother said when I was a kid,” he said. “I was in the back seat of the stationwagon and this was when it was OK to ride without seat belts and I was standing in the back with my arm over the long bench seat. I remember my mom saying something to my dad like ‘I vow to keep this family together no matter what,’ and I don’t know what was happening but that was b*****. Remembering that was what allowed me to come out to my parents.”

He said that he came out to his parents in a letter that he left with them at the end of the day on Easter and didn’t speak with them for two weeks because he wanted to give them time with the idea. Ultimately, it was his mother reaching out to him for them to start talking again.

He said she messaged him on instant messenger that if he hadn’t sounded so certain in his letter that she would have thought about trying to talk him out of it, but that certainty stopped her.

“It took me a long time to be certain of who I was and I was so glad that came across in this letter because I didn’t want to debate who I was with them,” he said. “Because who I am and who you are and who we all are is not up for debate. You think about those crazy, bigoted people out there who want to have a discussion about our identities. It’s not up for discussion in that way, it’s not up for debate. I am who I say I am.”