Living in a still deeply homophobic society in many ways, I say: to the individual still struggling to accept their sexuality and struggling with internalized homophobia, I would give the gift of unconditional self acceptance.The true, deep belief in their bones that they are perfect, beautiful, handsome, and lovable, just the way they are. Regardless of what society, their church, or anyone else may say, they would know they need not change themselves, but only to accept themselves.
I just came out of the closet and I’d like to make a proposal: after June, Gay Pride Month, we start a new observance in December. I propose we begin “Gay Grief Month.” Allow me to elaborate.
Beyond the commemoration of the Stonewall Riots, it makes sense that Gay Pride would begin in June. Summer is upon us and the damp days of Spring are behind us. Warmth is coming.
But it’s December my friends and, we all know what that means. Winter is coming . . . Some of us will hop on airplanes and face the pain of our relatives misgendering us, calling us the wrong name, and facing coming out in one form or another. Some of us will be warmly and tenderly accepted by our families; others of us will not be.
I am unsubscribing from going home for the holidays this year.
I have a chronic health condition that drains my energy and I don’t have the energy to face the question: what happened with so-and-so boyfriend? He seemed nice.
Well, my dear extended friends and family, I’m gay. That’s what happened.
I was chatting with a trans friend of mine as I came out of the closet — she mentioned a joke within the LGTBQ community: following Gay Pride Month in June, we should have gay wrath month.
A quick take to Google confirmed the shared necessity of a Gay Wrath month, to acknowledge the hurt and the rage and the anger that is underneath the pride. Our pride is hard fought, it’s not without pain. I googled another phenomenon I’m experiencing presently but found nothing on the Internet to speak of it: can we have a chat about gay grief this month?
I came out of the closet this year as gay at 32 years old. I’ve lived a full life, tried to love a lot of men, had multiple careers, and experienced a whole lot of heartbreak prior to the day I called home and told my mom and dad I’m gay. It took my world unraveling, an unfortunate tick bite, and a brush with death for me to realize I only had one life to live and I didn’t want to live it from inside the hell of the closet.
Through some grace of the universe I can’t fully describe, I found it deep in my soul to start uttering the words and accepting the long haunting and terrifying truth about myself: “I am gay.” And so began my spiritual and sexual awakening.
This was initially shocking news to me, but not necessarily to those around me. I’d wished there was more of a surprise element to my loved ones and close friends. My denial ran deep, despite some of my more obvious unconscious attempts to advertise my gayness. My facade was cracking and at last, I’m out. Most days, I’m proud of who I am.
I was almost annoyed by the lack of fanfare and the candid remarks of those that knew me best: “Honey, I love you and this isn’t really a surprise to me.” As my family has been quite accepting, I’ve been forced to face the grief of staying in the closet so damn long, the grief of pretending to be someone I was not my whole adult life.
I’m writing this piece somewhat selfishly. Writing gives me room for my anger and now, for my sorrow. But I wonder, perhaps this grief of mine is more collective than I realize.
I’m still in the thick of it, mourning the loss of my fantasy heterosexual life. I lived so deep in the heteronormative cave I hadn’t heard of The L Word until my friend told me I should watch it. (I must say I do have joy that The L Word: Generation Q is being released just months after my coming out!). I’ve spent a lot of hours on my couch eating vegan ice cream, blazing through seasons of The L Word and yes, crying. As if I’m going through some terrible break up. I never cried over a man like this. In fact, I never got the upset of break ups and images of women crying on their couches grieving their boyfriends departure.
I was always relieved when men left. But with the ending of my straight life, the opening of a new decade, a new gay decade. I have a lot of feels, my friends.
I’m still coming out, day by day, hour by hour. I come out more every day with the clothes I dust off from their hiding place in my closet, the hair I buzz back a little further, the makeup I wipe off. Straight folks I haven’t seen for some time don’t recognize me when we bump into one another in the aisles of Whole Foods. It’s hard sometimes.
This is my first holiday season gay. And I have a lot of feelings. I have a lot of grief, grief I’ve dubbed my “gay grief” to my friends. The awakening to my life as different. It’s always been different, I just didn’t know why.
This Thanksgiving was my first holiday out as a gay person in the world. It’s the first time my parents really met me, Whit. Well hell, I’m just meeting myself. Gay, masculine-of-center, beautiful. It was emotional and beautiful and hard all at the same time. I woke up Thanksgiving morning in a puddle of tears as my ‘Gay grief’ streamed down my cheeks and out of my eyeballs and from deep in my body. Longing to be acknowledged, heard.
I chose not to go home for the holidays; I’m tender. I’m a baby queer in my infancy stages of lesbianism. My parents are liberal and progressive and I didn’t grow up in a religious household and yet, this time of year is full of grief. It’s complicated this year.
How many of us, freshly out of the closet or out for years and decades, struggle this time of year? Can we go home? Can we be who we are with our families? Can we bring our partners home? Can we wear what we want to family holiday gatherings without angst? Or must we fight our way through holding back the grief as our relatives and families misgender us, call us by our pre-transition names, give us side eyes at new haircuts or new clothes? It’s a lot this time of year.
My grandpa doesn’t know I’m out; I haven’t told him I’m gay. If I did see him this time of year, would I have to do an outfit change? And if I chose to tell him, could he even hear me? He’s nearly deaf and I don’t feel like shouting at him “GRANDPA, I’M GAY. I LIKE VAGINAS!” And what if my gayness causes him a heart attack? It’s a complicated time of year. I can’t be the only gay person struggling.
Some days, my life feels like an episode of The L Word. I live in Los Angeles, I have a lot of queer friends, and we like to do gay things together. It’s beautiful and lovely and magical. October 2019 felt like a pride month of sorts for me, complete with gay girl karaoke parties, roller skating celebrations, and a lot of “firsts.”
But as my pride mellowed and the festivities died down, something else sunk in. Grief. A whole lot of it.
Grief has stages — we start in denial. (Hello? The Closet.) And then bargaining, I really wanted to be bisexual. But further unpacking in therapy proved that not to be the case. And then anger, I passed through that stage and wrote about it. But then, as psychologists have long pointed out regarding the stages of grieving, comes the real grief, the sadness. Some would call this stage “depression,” while others acknowledge grief to be much more complex than linear stages through which we pass neatly.
With December fresh upon us, I seem to have entered into a new season of gayness: I’m calling my December “Gay Grief Month.”
I’m mourning an entire decade of the ’10s I spent living in the closet, in silence, in secrecy, in a lot of pain. I’m mourning most of my 20s I spent hiding out in the evangelical Christian church. I wake up at times in a puddle of once straight tears, grieving an inauthentic life I lived.
Not everywhere is Los Angeles. I don’t take for granted that I can safely walk down the streets of my city (in most neighborhoods) with my head half buzzed and new lightning bolts etched in the side and be safe. I get more nods of acknowledgement and “cool haircut” than nasty stares or looks of disgust.
As I read the Stone Butch Blues for the first time, I find myself crying about the road that’s been paved for me. The road where I don’t have to get the shit beaten out of me for being who I am (at least I really hope not). The road I didn’t understand because I wasn’t taught it by my public school upbringing. The road my gay friends are patiently teaching me about.
I don’t take for granted that I have community around me that is very queer and affirming and loving and I knew before I came out that it was safe for me to do so. But there are still pockets of the country and families and partners and churches and marriages where coming out puts us at risk for violence. Spiritual, emotional, or physical.
No, I wasn’t going to be physically harmed for coming out, but my church’s stance was clear: acting on gay desire was a sin. About six months had passed between when I left that church family and when I came out. I needed distance to breathe and to mourn and begin to heal from the toxic messages. I’m grieving the community and the homophobia around me before I came out. I’m grieving that I underwent what felt like modern-day conversion therapy under the guise of “spiritual counseling.”
This holiday season, I’m mourning the loss of my church family. I’m grieving that I don’t feel safe to sing Christmas carols and songs as a masculine woman with a tenor voice in a choir I adored at one of Los Angeles’ hippest churches.
I’m grieving the emergence of Whit, a more gender neutral name for me, and the letting go of Whitney.
Coming out is an emotional roller coaster and while full of joy, there is an inherent grief involved. I think what may be unique about coming out later in life is the grief associated with mourning our past lives. As older folks, we’ve had marriages (or near marriages in my case) careers, kids, and more as straight folks. There’s a whole reorientation to how we lived our lives. It’s a complex type of grief. I am (as we speak) mourning the death of my self. My straight self. My strictly femme presenting, girl with flowery dresses. I hate flowery dresses. I don’t like makeup. I despise heels. But for decades, I pretended. I wore a mask. I made myself into someone I am not and now I am grieving her death.
It’s more profound than any human, animal, or relationship death I’ve yet to experience in my young life. A Facebook memory will pop up of my long straight locks, golden eye makeup, and thick mascara and I’ll be in a puddle of tears.
“Gay grief” is very real for me.
Every time I get my hair touched up and my sides freshly buzzed, I cry. It’s about the hair and it’s not about the hair. It’s about denying myself who I was for so long. It’s ecstasy about being who I really am in this world. It’s complicated. It’s messy. I’m trying to allow room for all of it.
In June, many of us strip down much of our clothing and parade around our cities with pride and rainbows. And I don’t want to diminish the value of that. But can we collectively — as queer people — create spaces to sit indoors, to remember, and to grieve together this time of year? To collectively mourn our gay pain. To talk about our feelings from the 11 other months of the year when we face ostracism, exclusion, and discrimination.
What if we used December, with the dawning of winter and long rainy and snowy days and cold dark nights, to mourn the death of our fallen people from AIDS and those that took their lives too soon or the tales like Matthew Shepherd, who was left to die in the cold after a brutal hate crime for being gay?
And December comes after November, so it naturally follows the election season. So why don’t we collectively start to plan the grief for those of us whose politicians will want to erase us and exclude us and fire us for being who we are?
And maybe it would give straight ally folks who so fervently parade alongside us in June and enjoy our bright colors and fun festivals to see the other side of the coin, a look at the collective tears we’ve cried. Or maybe we’d grieve that people aren’t as interested in our grief, that gay pride is just so much more seductive and attractive.
We could hold vigils and circles to remember, to honor those that were murdered, harmed by decades past, lost to the AIDS epidemic, massacred in mass shootings, or ended their lives too soon. Where we mourn the jobs and the marriages and partners and the fantasies of life before we came out. Where we watch the classic films about those that paved the way for us to get here.
In other cultures around the world, people grieve collectively. Space is carved out and honored. Grief matters as much as joy. How much more meaningful would pride month be if we had space, months earlier, to grieve?
Because in any journey to acceptance and integration and yes, even Pride, our grief is necessary. Alan Downs, author of the classic book, The Velvet Rage, gets at this: if we jump to pride without making space for our anger and toxic shame and grief and feelings of rejection, could our pride be somehow in vain?
Perhaps our collective grief would make our pride more meaningful.
So here’s the case for a collective month, across the country, where we join together and acknowledge the places we cannot be or choose not to be for our sanity and safety this time of year. Where we make art together, express our collective suffering, and embrace one another.
Yes, it’s time for Gay Grief Month in December, my friends. Will you join me?