Coming out. Living out. Loving out loud.
Nine years ago I did this for the first time.
Nine years ago I was just barely stepping out of the closet. Grieving and terrified and this bizarre mixture of confused and solid that left me spinning for months on end. In this shattering paradox of losing everything and finding everything — all at once.
I didn’t know then what it would be to step out of the bubble of middle class heterosexual privilege that had held me my entire life. Didn’t know what it was to feel unsafe, to question the wisdom of holding hands or kissing the one I love, to always scan a room to access it’s occupants before fully exhaling.
And I didn’t know then that I couldn’t just come out once and wrap it up with a neat and tidy bow and be done.
I didn’t realize that the combination of the world I live in and the way my appearance marks me within this world would require that I come out again.
And again. And again and again and again. Forever.
I didn’t know that the way I look and move through the world would require me to not just announce but defend my sexuality — sometimes, even within my own community. To prove my queerness — as if my long hair or makeup or propensity for skirts and heels made be less gay than the others who wore their innate queerness so comfortably on the outside.
I didn’t know how much safer I was because of this, or what passing privilege was or how much those others, whose comfort in their skin and easy visibility I envied, risked that I did not.
I didn’t know that my appearance made my queerness suspect somehow, or less reliable, or something to be performed for the entertainment of random men raised to believe that two women together could only possibly be for their arousal.
I didn’t know what it would look like to live a somewhat public life online as a queer woman — never denying or hiding and still feel as if I’d need to tattoo a rainbow flag on my forehead to be identifiable.
I didn’t know what it would be to step fully into my identity as queer femme. To wear it and own it and feel a complete lack of shame around it. To know that it is deeper than clothing or makeup or even who I date or sleep with. That for me — to be both femme and queer is about identity and politics and feminism and agency over my body and my sexuality and my self.
I didn’t know I would find my home and my family in a lesbian two-step bar. That in the quick-quick-slow-slow around that wooden dance floor I would find a freedom I never knew existed — where I let my body give over to the body of the woman leading me around the floor, nothing at all between me and the music. Where I could be all of me, and be seen and known and accepted, without question.
I didn’t know what it would be like to attend pride, or to march in the dyke march — to be surrounded by others like me. To stand in the Castro in a crush of humanity — all there to celebrate our right to exist. To belong so completely in this family of misfits and outcasts and brave souls who chose to live as they were meant to live, and look as they were meant to look and love as they were meant to love — in spite of all the pain and all the loss and all the confusion.
I didn’t know what it was to be hated. To be an election sound bite. To be debated and to have votes cast against the worthiness of my love or my family or my soul. I didn’t know what this knowing would cost me.
I didn’t know what it was to love a woman. To give myself over to that bliss and that home and the perfect fit of that. The sweetness and softness and rightness of that. To be where I belonged — no matter what the world said.
I didn’t know what it was to be given a history — a history that included Stonewall and Matthew Shepherd and the AIDS Crisis and Harvey Milk and Brandon Teena. To be entrusted with this history that was not mine by birth, but was mine by a choice that wasn’t a choice at all. To know how this history would break my heart into too many pieces to ever fully repair and yet also make me stronger and wiser and braver — as all of these names and all of the fight was knit into my being.
I didn’t know that I would sit, one day, in a corporate training session and watch in tears as the Supreme Court decision was announced that made marriage equality the law of this country. Turning to look at the only other gay person I knew in the room and seeing all of it — the hurt and the fight and the hope and the dream mirrored on his face.
And didn’t know I would sit, one day, in my living room and see the faces and hear the names of 49 of my LGBT family members after a massacre that shook me, and my entire community, to the bone. That this would threaten our safety in a way that would take forever to fully recover.
I couldn’t have known, that first Coming Out Day, what these nine years would bring.
I couldn’t have known the joy and the bliss or the pain and the loss that was yet to come.
We never can really, can we?
But I knew that there was something I had to do — and that I couldn’t rest until I did it.
To all of you out there who have come out, and all of you who are ready to come out and all of you who are terrified to come out and all of you who will never feel safe to come out.
I see you. I feel you. You are brave and magical and wonderful and true.
You are not alone. You give me the courage to be me. You are a miracle.
Your existance is enough.
Nine years ago — on National Coming Out Day — I wrote this post in the anonymous blog that was my lifeline in a world that felt turned upside down. That blog — the space to tell this story in a world that didn’t seem to hold space for the story I was living — it kept me here, grounded in this reality, at a time when nothing felt stable or reliable at all.
“10.11.07 I didn’t make any huge declarations to the world today, but I’ve been taking baby steps in that direction every so slowly but surely over the past few months. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time carefully considering my friendships and relationships, wondering who to let in, and when to do it.
Feeling as vulnerable as I do, I feel the need to be careful right now with whom I invite to witness this first part of my journey. At the same time, knowing this, and acknowledging this — there is a huge part of me that wants to shout it from the rooftops.
It is HARD living this double life. I have no idea how people do it, living in the closet for years and years — holding this all inside. It has been less than three months for me, and I already find myself avoiding those who do not know. At the same time, I feel myself clinging to the people that do know for dear life. Without that inner circle walking by my side with friendship, support and love, I believe I would have lost my mind already.
It is so hard to go through life feeling as if only a small handful of people know who I really am. I always strive to live with authenticity in all that I say and do — and for the past few months I feel anything but authentic in most situations. The pressure of trying to be two different people is immense, and I long to integrate both parts of me publicly and be done with it. At times, it gets so bad I feel as if I am crawling out of my own skin, and I hear the screams in my head “Just say it! Just tell them already”.
Somehow the reality seems a lot harder than it should — not because I am embarrassed or ashamed (on the contrary, I am proud and solid and so good with it). Not even because I’m worried about how people will react (I have the most amazing people in my life). But because it seems so hard to find the right space in conversation to drop that particular bombshell. Because I hate the idea of dealing with the inevitable questions. Because I don’t relish being the topic of gossip until the next big topic of conversation comes around.
Who do I tell? When do I tell them? What do I say? Do I set up purposeful meetings and explain in depth in a series of quiet conversations with the people who matter the most? Do I find a space in the middle of playgroup chit-chat to say “Pass the peanut covered pretzels and by the way, I’m pretty sure I’m gay”? Do I tell someone and just let the grapevine do its work?
However and whenever it happens, it will happen. This ball is rolling now, picking up momentum as it goes — and I wouldn’t want to stop it, even if I could. I look forward to the day that everyone who matters to me knows everything — and I am able to step fully into this new person I am becoming. Until then, I work hard to let this unfold as it should, to not hinder it, nor rush it along, and to learn what I can along the way.”