(some explicit language about sexual trauma in this post; just be easy with you today.)
Good morning! Here’s the candle and this new light and a slow waking. Here’s a day of new beginnings — here’s a day of breathing in with fear and exhaling with fear and watching how even this is a place I want to be able to unfurl into.
What’s got a strong heartbeat in you this morning?
Today is National Coming Out Day, intended to be a day when LGBTQ folks can stand in solidarity in their openness about their lives: Yes, we’re here, we’re queer, and you already love us. It’s a day to honor those in our lives who don’t already know that they love (or know, or care about, or work with, or are friends with) someone lesbian or bisexual or trans or gay or queer by offering them that information.
Last night, just before bed, while working on a grant proposal, I spent about an hour with the self I was back in 1993 and 1994, transcribing that young person’s words from our old journals. She had plenty of coming out to do.That Jen was just barely finding language for who she was. the last time I was sexually assaulted by my stepfather was in mid 1993, and later that year, at 21 mind you, with the better part of a college degree and a whole lot of education about violence against women and sexual trauma, I was just finally able to actively articulate that my stepfather had been abusive, that who he was was not educator or lover or friend but rapist.
This self-coming-out wasn’t easy. They never are, are they? Reading through my old journals, I sit with the brainwashing I was just beginning to find my way outside of, all of the messages I’d internalized about my responsibility for his behavior, the slow way I was beginning to shed myself of his ‘lessons.’
A first coming out I had to do was that I was a survivor of incest.
I came out to myself as queer while I was still being sexually abused, about a year before I was able to truly say even to myself what had been happening in my home. Being gay and being an incest survivor are intricately interwoven for me, inextricable. Queerness was part of what saved me — a place I could focus my attentions away from incest trauma, a place in me that he was never able to truly touch or mangle.
My attraction to folks of the same sex (sometimes the same gender, sometimes not) has been, consistently, a place of joy and celebration for me. The shame I’ve had around my sexuality has been entirely inflected by trauma aftermath — that is, I don’t feel some generalized shame that People In Society don’t like gays; I feel particularized shame about how my stepfather spoke about homosexuals and how he used those messages as part of his manipulations of me.
This morning I am profoundly grateful to be in this life, to be an out queer woman, and to have a record of where I’ve come from. In those early journal entries, I am not only just barely beginning to put into words the terror of my adolescence, I am also trying to find words for my attraction to women. I find lots of justifications, the same sort of double-time tapdancing I was doing around whether or not my stepfather was a bad man.
Coming out is about having to say what’s true about our lives because folks around us aren’t seeing/reading/understanding it. Coming out can sometimes be about revealing a secret, and sometimes it’s about saying aloud what everyone knows but is unwilling to articulate. We often come out to ourselves first, before we come out to anyone else, and we don’t just do it once. We come out over and over, all our lives.
That young woman I was in 1993 would not recognize who we’ve become, because she could not imagine a future for herself — it was just too dangerous. Today I write and come out for her, for us, for the ones who are still finding their way to their own words for themselves and their lives.
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Can you give ten minutes to one of your own coming out stories today? This might be a story of coming out as queer or gay or lesbian or bi or trans. It might be a story of coming out as kinky. It might be a story about coming out as a survivor or as a different religion/spirituality than was expected of you. It might be a story about acknowledging something for yourself or sharing it with another person for the first time. Has your coming out become a story that you tell by rote? What’s the underside of that story? What are the parts that you don’t include in the usual telling? Start wherever the writing drops you in, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go —
Happy National Coming Out Day to you today. Thank you for the ways you allowed yourself and those around you to know your truths when you were ready to know and share them. Thank you, on this day and again tomorrow, for your gorgeous words.