Sometimes you go on a bunch of bad dates, and all they seem to want to know is what it was like to come out in the South. They say they’ve never been, say they’re too afraid of it — the guns, the hate, the humidity. They say you don’t really have much of an accent, only when you say “y’all” or talk about “art,” topics which draw their eyes away from you and towards the window, looking for an hour from now or should they buy another round to get there sooner? And you get tired of it — telling your story over and over, explaining yourself, justifying your queerness, your Southernness, your reason for being. Inevitably, the guys lose interest. You wait for them to text you back, lying in bed, watching headlights paint the walls of your closet.
And then sometimes you remember when you thought you wouldn’t make it to 18. Or 20. Or 23. Sometimes you remember the days when the only time you spent alone with another man was through a confessional screen. When you thought men’s eyes were closed doors. Closed doors were unanswered prayers. The red silk robe in the back of your mom’s closet: forbidden fruit. How you always saw the garden through the eyes of Eve, not him.
You saw the garden until you rebuked the garden. Rebuking the idea of forbidden, you grasped for the walls of the closet in the dark until you found the doorknob (itself a kind of fruit) and stepped out.
And you let the light in.
When men ask me about coming out down South, this is what I want to tell them:
When I grasped for the closet’s walls, running my blind hands along their lengths, I was raising a story. I was writing in Braille a story to add to the Book of Ages. The chapters so many had written before me. Each wall, a page. Each page, a letter. Each letter, a story. Each story, a voice. Each voice, a reason to learn to love listening. Listen —
The walls have been humming all this time, the voices of their authors singing Come out. Come out. Come join us. It sounds like thunder. It sounds like cicadas refusing sleep. It sounds like music and how I am not ashamed to tell you.
Ben French is an interdisciplinary artist + writer based in Minneapolis.
He hopes you let the light in, too.
Cross-and-bible door illustration courtesy of thefreedictionary.com.