let it into the light

National Coming Out Day logo: Keith Haring image of a figure emerging, jubilant, from a closet doorGood morning good morning — is it Tuesday where you are? Here, it’s a Tuesday, quiet so far, dark. I’m having green tea with tulsi and mint, and there’s a candle lit in a tall jar — the flame is popping in the wax as air bubbles emerge, I think, and it feels like the flame is talking to me.

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Sent out the writing ourselves whole October newsletter yesterday — there are a whole lot of new writing opportunities coming up in the new year! We’re launching Bayview Writers, a general-topic writing workshop for Marin — women’s group on Tuesday mornings in Tiburon, and an open group on Wednesday evenings in San Rafael. Also coming in January: Dive Deep, an advanced workshop for folks who are ready to dive deep into a writing project. Please let me know if you’d like to learn more about any of the writing opportunities coming up!

Plus, don’t forget that October’s Writing the Flood meets this coming Saturday! We’ll be in Berkeley this time around — I’d love to write with you there.

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Yes, it’s National Coming Out Day in the US (linking to the wikipedia site rather than the official HRC page — when did this get to be an HRC-sponsored event?)– how are you marking this day? Is it a matter of coming out as gay/queer/SGL, or allowing some other part of yourself to emerge into the light?

The quote that I am the most fond of is this one, attributed to Albert Camus: Liberty is the right not to lie. We are most free, I believe, when we are free to tell our truths — our full truths, our complicated truths.

Coming out, as many of us know, is a never-ending process. Because we live in a hetero-centrist culture, those of us who are queer or otherwise non-heterosexual will be constantly provided opportunities to correct assumptions made about us by straight friends and family. However, we will also consistently run into folks in our own community who make assumptions about us based on their own understandings or experience of our identity labels: this presents us with further coming-out opportunities. We get to practice, endlessly, telling the truths about our lives, if we wish to. It’s kind of a gift.

(Of course, it can get kind of annoying, too. Just once, I’d like for someone I meet (in a non-gay context) to assume that I’m queer: even when I was a butch/boy, folks tended to assume that I had a husband attached to that wedding ring or reference to ‘partner.’ Really? I’d ask myself, looking in the mirror. Really? Not that boyfriend was outside the realm of my affectional possibility — but I just wanted folks to make a different assumption about me sometimes.)

Maybe you feel like you’re done already, if you’ve come out. You live your life as an out gay person, everyone in your family knows, everyone at work knows, everyone at the bocce court and at the softball field knows. Right on. Now, what’s the next layer of truth-telling that you can do? Do folks make assumptions about you based on your gender presentation, based on the short-hand label you offer to them as a representation of yourself: do they think they know you because they hold lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, trans, same-gender loving in their hands and in front of their eyes when they look at you? How can you be more honest with them? What do those words mean for you, really? Are there folks in your own community who continue to assume that because you’re a butch lesbian, you’re only into femmes, or folks who think that because you’re a gay man, you must not care about intimacy? Do you let yourself be led in any way by the bullshit stereotypes that have attached themselves to our labels (by necessity, I know, but still, they tether us in and away from one another)?

Here’s my own (ongoing) coming out: I’m a queer cisgendered woman who used to identify as butch and bisexual, who surfs around the Kinsey scale over the course of any given month from about a 3 to a 5.5; I’m theoretically poly but have always been monogamous in practice (if you don’t include my primary relationship with the written word); I’m an incest survivor, a tomboy (definitely) femme (maybe) switch, an erotica writer. There are some truths I’m not sharing here, because I’m ashamed to (but that’s a truth, too, isn’t it?).

I believe in coming out (I came out in the 90s, after all), and then I believe in telling the truth about what the words we use to come out really mean — how they unfurl into our real, lived lives. If everyone already knows you’re a big old homosexual or queer, why not take some time today to write about or talk about some aspect of your life that most folks don’t know, or to challenge assumptions that folks make about you because they know that you’re a big ol’ homo?

This is the prompt for today, then: Write the next layer of your *or your character’s) coming out: ok, so you’re gay. What does that mean? How does it feel in your body, on your skin, in community, in the world? What does queer, bi, SGL look like in your life? How are you different from the mainstream assumptions that get made about your identity? What are the complications, the contradictions?

If you identify as straight, tell us about that, too: how are you different from the mainstream assumptions that get made about straight folks? Where are your complications and contradictions? Let’s get messy with these identities, with these coming out stories.

What else might you (or your character) be wanting to come out about? Maybe there’s a part of yourself that has nothing to do with your sexuality at all, but that wants, finally, to be shared. Write about that part, if you want — the parts that cut or that survive, the parts that have to do with an eating disorder, with multiple small ones inside, with a secret love of flame. Maybe there are other parts — you’ve started going to church, you’ve taken up knitting, you’re exploring the family tree you thought you’d written off forever. Whatever part of yourself that’s been kept secret, kept in a closet, kept in the dark, whatever part that’s ready for some light, let it down on the page today. Let some of the light, stuff, into the dark, too. Give yourself 10 minutes — and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for your generosity, the brave and complicated truths that you hold in your skin and tendon and bones. Thank you for the places you’ve protected by keeping them secret as long as needed; and thank you for the ways you let them into the sun and rich loam at the right time. Thank you for your words.

One response to “let it into the light

  1. “However, we will also consistently run into folks in our own community who make assumptions about us based on their own understandings or experience of our identity labels: this presents us with further coming-out opportunities. We get to practice, endlessly, telling the truths about our lives, if we wish to. It’s kind of a gift.”

    Another way to look at it then my usual snarling way. 🙂 <3 Thanks Jen- great writing leading to deep thinking about the ever changing ways that I identify. I still like freak. 🙂 But I don't use it yet…