Tag Archives: coming out

still coming out

Today is National Coming Out Day — one day a year that celebrates the endless, sometimes joyous, sometimes boring, sometimes devastating process of coming out as queer, as gay or lesbian or bisexual, as trans* or genderqueer, as someone other than the assumed and accepted straight, gender-normative persons we tell ourselves we are supposed to be.

So, happy Coming Out Day!

The idea, once upon a time, was that this would be a day when we would support one another coming out to someone new — maybe we weren’t out yet to our parents, or to our grandparents, or to others in our extended family. Maybe we hadn’t yet come out to our dearest friends from high school or college. Maybe we weren’t out yet at work. Maybe we hadn’t told housemates or classmates. Maybe we haven’t yet actually come out to ourselves.

Maybe we had very good reasons not to be out — there are always reasons we don’t tell people about our sexual orientations, and at the top of that list is usually fear of violence and fear of rejection. Those fears didn’t come from nowhere. They rise in us naturally and wisely when we hear the stories of others in our community who were put out of their homes, left to fend for themselves as young teenagers, after their parents found out they were gay. We hear the stories of friends beaten for their queerness. We understand that there is risk to this demand to be seen and understood and accepted for who we really are.

In 2013, kids are still being put out of their homes for being gay. Kids are still targeted, harassed, bullied, shamed, beaten for their queerness — whether actual or assumed. Female-bodied queerfolks are still sexually assaulted by those asserting that the rape will straighten them out. We are still being queerbashed. We queerfolks still battle the idea that we are predatory, child molesters, hypersexual, and deviant. We are asked what made us this way. We are asked to keep ourselves quiet: why do you have to be so blatant?

Still, many of us, I think, when we come out to those we love and who love us, find that we are still loved and accepted after we have said the words. Often, our families and friends tell us that they already knew or wondered if we were queer; they were just waiting for us to say it. They wanted us to feel safe enough, or trust them enough. This coming out, then, eventually deepens our relationships with them.

Some of us aren’t met kindly — which is why we need a community around us to hold us up and help us heal until we are ready to go back out into the world again.

My own coming out didn’t follow a usual trajectory, and it’s full of trauma story, and I’m not going to tell it all here. When I was in college and participating in the queer student speaker’s bureau (for which we had another, certainly more interesting name), I told the sorority sisters who brought us in to give our presentation of Real! Live! Queers! that my coming out had been easy — it had been a surprise to me when I found myself flirting with, and then kissing another woman, but it felt so natural to me that I just let myself fall into it. It was No Big Deal. What about your family, the young women asked via 3×5 cards we pulled out of a hat (so that no one had to be seen asking questions of the queers). My family is fine with it, I said — there’s so much else going on for us, it’s the least of our issues.

That was sort of true, and also not even a little bit true. There are the coming out stories we tell, and the ones we don’t tell. When I first came out as queer, I was twenty and still under my stepfather’s control. I tried to keep my queerness a secret for as long as possible — I didn’t want him to have more information about me to use against me, and I didn’t want him to have someone else to take away from me. He found out eventually, of course, and told me that I wasn’t allowed to be in contact with the woman I’d fallen in love with. He (a psychotherapist — and, let’s not forget, rapist) insisted that homosexuals were narcissists with mother- or father-issues, and said I’d better just come home and work out things with my mom. That’s not what happened, of course — I did have to go home, but he had other things in mind for me to do.

Eighteen months later, I began the process of escaping from his control, and began coming out to myself as an incest survivor. Eventually, I was an out and proud queer woman. I transitioned to butchness, as so many queer women do, at least for awhile — sometimes because it feels authentic to their gender identity and sometimes because we want to be seen and recognized as actually queer.

I didn’t feel shame around my identity until I came out to myself as femme just over a decade ago. Back in my twenties, I’d read the old stories about folks coming out to themselves as gay — the men and women who stared bleakly into the mirror, tearing at their cheeks, saying to themselves, How can I be like that? One of those? One of them?

I couldn’t understand it. I came out in 1992, and the community I found myself surrounded by was full of joy and rage and power. We battled for acceptance on campus and then danced hard into the night. Who wouldn’t want to be one of these? I was proud and felt lucky — I get to be queer.

And then, when I was in my early thirties, I came to understand that butch didn’t fit me anymore, that I really was just a regular, gender-normative girl. Then I understood shame and horror. I was not proud to be a femme, not at the beginning. I’d worked so hard to be butch, to be visible, to be a real queer — and I felt I’d failed. It took a couple of years to find my pride in my girl gayness — that’s another post, another coming out story.

Coming out never stops, not if we’re lucky. We are always discovering new layers and possibility in ourselves — identity is always a story in flux. What coming out has presented itself for you this year? What’s your coming out story? Are there folks with whom you’re not out? Why? What part of your coming out story haven’t you told yet? Write into the idea of “coming out” this morning — give yourself twenty minutes, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for coming out — to yourself, first and foremost. Thank you for your generous presence when others come out to you. Thank you for your stories today; thank you for your words.

Read more posts about Coming Out:

turning the inside out: re-viewing our coming out stories

Do you remember what it was like when you first came out? What about what it was like when you had to come out all over again?

(How many different times do we come out in our lives? I’ve come out as queer, as bi, as an incest survivor, as genderqueer, as femme, as gay, as a porn writer… what are the areas identity that we can keep in the closet, or that our communities want us to keep hidden? Aren’t those the parts of ourselves that require outing?)

My dearest Kathleen tells me to remind you that, though you might not know this, I’m gay. It’s June, which means it’s gay pride month (thanks, Stonewall), and I’m living in the greater (supposed) Big Gay Mecca area. I’ve had no plans to participate in much of the plethora of queer events happening this month (like, say, NQAF, Frameline), except maybe for the Dyke March and hopefully the Queer Women of Color Film Festival (which is tremendous and which you should attend for sure!).

I watched Desert Hearts yesterday, for the first time in many, many years, and today I’m remembering what it was like when I was first coming out to myself and into the world. Today I live a life that’s queer at its core and yet not always visibly so. I don’t know if I feel jaded, exactly, but, having been out so long, I feel less drawn to participate in a public performance and proclamation of queerness (or survivorship) on a regular basis.

So why am I so glad that it’s Pride month? I feel a little swell in my belly, that thickening that says excited, says yes, says I get to be with my people. It’s the same feeling I got when I’d drive down to Boston every year for their Pride March, held usually right after graduation festivities in my college town. I’d look at all the other cars going south on I-93 and assume that every single one of them was headed for Boylston Street and the gathering of queers. We couldn’t ever get there fast enough — I wanted to get my body there, in the middle of the queerfolks, on a day when everyone you saw was assumed queer, at least for a few hours. It was a day when we got to be the norm, the regular, the majority. It felt like we took over the whole city, with our rainbows and glitter and feathers and leather and candy and mardi gras beads and streamers and flyers and palm cards and sweat and sex and need. Pride Day turned me inside out, let me wear all my joy on the outside, gave me a public space for what lived around the ache I usually bore.

The story I tell is that gay wasn’t a site of trauma for me; I didn’t struggle over it, didn’t fall into the well of loneliness, didn’t get washed through with shame or guilt. I liked girls; that was nothing compared to the trauma that was my homelife. When people asked what my family thought, I laughed: my queerness is the least of our issues, I’d say. My story was that queer was good and fine, a place of blessing and joy that rose up like a surprise blossom in the middle of the devastation that was my traumatized sexuality.

In Desert Hearts, there’s a scene toward the end of the film, when the two main characters go out to a bar for a meal after the first time they’ve had sex. One woman has been out for awhile, at least to herself, and sort of tacitly to her community; the other woman is only just discovering that she could love a woman, is terrified and exhilarated – she can’t sit still, she fusses whenever her lover looks at her or touches her hand, she alternates between smiling lovingly and appearing to want to crawl under the table.

Watching this, I remembered going out for a (very) late breakfast the afternoon after the first time I slept with a woman — which was also the afternoon after the first time I kissed a woman, after the evening when I first realized that what I’d been doing with this new friend of mine all night wasn’t just teasing, it was flirting. We ordered cafe mocha grandees and waffles loaded with strawberries and whipped cream, and I was certain that we had neon signs over us flashing Lesbian! Lesbian! Lesbian! Every time I lifted my coffee cup to my mouth I could smell on my hands what we’d spent the morning doing. I wouldn’t let her touch me (except when I reached for her hands surreptitiously), and I didn’t want her to flirt — what if people saw us?

And what would they have seen? Two young women, obviously delighting in each other. Maybe they would see new lovers. Maybe they would see good friends. Maybe they wouldn’t see us at all. Our waitress, a tall, rangy, old-school dyke, surely knew who she was serving. We left her a big tip, and I wouldn’t meet her eyes.

Here’s what was true: I was still being abused by my stepfather at the time, even though I was twenty years old and away at college. I wanted to go back to my new friend’s room, climb back into her body, and I wanted to avoid my own room, where my phone lived, and the phone was his mouth, his face, an appendage that could at any moment call out and demand my full attention. I was terrified of him finding out what I’d done, because he would take it away or use it for his own ends. Or both. But I couldn’t tell this woman that — no one knew what my stepfather was doing to my family. This thing that had happened between us became another secret for me to wear.

To this first woman I loved, at least those early days, I must have been just another straight girl freaking out because she’d had sex with a woman. Of course I wanted to keep us secret. They all did. And she did her best (despite my sneaking into her room at night and making all that noise).

In my life, homophobia had the face of my stepfather, a psychotherapist who was raping his daughters and yet had the audacity and authority to demonize homosexual with the standard 1970s DSM story: underdeveloped; domineering mother, absent father; narcissistic; suicidal; selfish, and obsessed with sex and the death drive.

His was the story I had to swim through if I wanted to live — and his was the embodiment of psychoanalytic homophobia. And so I learned to breath that belief even as I was trying to justify sanctify regulate reconcile it with the complicated, beautiful, kind, generous, catty, smart queer-spectrum folks I was beginning to get to know. It was one thing to have internalized the idea that I was narcissistic and selfish, and another to not see that in this community I had found (at least, no more so than in any other group of people).

So, it’s not exactly true to say that my coming out was unfraught. It was actually terrifying, woven as it was into the life I was living as this man’s stepdaughter.We tell and retell our coming out stories; they take on a shape and a structure for us, they organize (as does any narrative) what is a disorganized and explosive/implosive experience. I am grateful to get to revisit my own well-told stories, to reach into and underneath them, to write them again, to find the slippery and scared parts, the parts that haven’t been told yet.

Coming out is ongoing, everpresent. What did coming out look like for you? What does it look like now?

Thank you for the way you continue to look inside the petals of your stories, to find what new life there is to discover there. Thank you for your words.

light through the layers of his lies

woman in a gas mask, naked, lying flat and looking out at the viewerNote: this morning’s write contains some explicit writing around sexual violence. Just a heads-up: please be easy with you. xox, Jen

I’m in that very-tired place that comes just before bleeding, at least for me. So my thoughts are slow this morning and I’d like another several hours of sleep.

This month’s Writing the Flood is coming up this Saturday, 10/16: want to come out and write?

Some exciting plans are in the works — Alex Cafarelli and I are again going to be offering our Body Empathy workshop next month on Nov 13! Registration is open now — more info soon here and on the calendar page.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For our first prompt last night, I offered these three fragments:

– There’s no way to describe how…

– I’m coming out as…

– The world begins at a kitchen table (Joy Harjo)

(Grab one of these and use it for your own write this morning: we took 20 minutes; please take as much time as you’d like– follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go).

Here’s my response to this exercise:

There’s no way to describe how slow it used to go, the panic, the rising, the waiting. I’m not sure where I want to go with this.

There’s no way to describe how the waiting used to feel, how cold the silence was in our house when my mother was still at work showing picture books and anatomically-correct dolls to her child clients in the sterile plush of her therapist office and her husband was at home with her daughters, wanting and jockeying to make an anatomically-correct doll of himself for us to play with.

I wanted this to be a poem but it’s just the same old story and I’m coming out as not quite ready to let go trying to tell you how it was. This is an awful memory: he was the one who taught me both the hatefulness and acceptability of queerness, the way he’d mock and cackle over gay men he knew, decry their mother issues, their obvious narcissism, and then later, mucfh later, in bed with me(and how much I need a phrase that incorporates the tender brutality of a forced and enforced consent into something as plain and bald as ‘rape’), he would detail his own bisexuality, he wanted to form an allegiance with me, but I couldn’t agree too easily, because of the doublethink and the nausea that caused.

What bed was that in, and what house? Somehow now I’m imagining a bed that never could have been, and so it must have been the couch — I hate worrying into these details, and it’s only in the details that I survive.

I had already met gay people who weren’t raopists, so there was no chance that i would conflate his rabid bullshit with gayness, period. He wanted me to mut my finger in his butt and I’ll tell you that I did it, just one more shitty thing I did to survive. I had learned from safer sex lectures how to be careful, and I leanrd the awful power of penetrating. I never wanted anything of him on me. He made this connection, wathing something in his butt made him gay, and then talked about the consensual sex he says he had with his uncle when he was a little boy.

This was when his stories started unraveling. This was when I began to see light through the layers of his lies. This was when I did as I was told, but kept some handle on the part of me I put away, the part that sat heavy with the stones of his stories, the part that came back after he was finished and I was alive again.

Thank you for your gentleness with yourself today, with all the yous you’ve been, with all you’ve done and do to survive. Your being is important, and I’m grateful for you.

we’re here, we’re queer, we’re surviving

graffiti of a female face, frowning, serious, strong, with the caption 'recuerda! hoy es el dia!'

"Remember! Today is the day" (click on the image to see more of LD-'s flickr set)

It’s October — LGBT Awareness month (which includes National Coming Out Day on 10/11) and Domestic Violence Awareness Month. How do these national-anything months affect our lives once we’re out of school, away from the programming groups that have a captive audience? It’s the month for NCOD, Take Back the Night marches, times when we announce who we are, what we’ve experienced, what we want to see change.

National Coming Out Month and Domestic Violence Awareness Month go together, of course, when it comes to queer kids getting beaten, getting harassed, getting assaulted, getting kicked out — We’re here, we’re queer, and we deserve bodily integrity, we deserve health and safe homes, we deserve not to be bullied, not to be harassed, not to bully or harass others.

There’s a campaign that I found to get queer folks to re-associate with their high schools, to be a visible and out alumnus. I wasn’t out, even to myself, in high school.  Instead, I was being regularly sexually assaulted by my mother’s husband, and the only friends I was allowed were the boys who I might date, the boys who my stepfather thought would eventually have sex with me — my entire life revolved around my sexuality, in this hideous and adult-driven way. I had no idea that anything other than heterosexuality and sexual violence could be in store for me. There was no place to explore my own desires or fantasies, to think about how my body worked or why, to consider what brought me joy. Sex wasn’t about joy — it was about endurance and escape. Sometimes there was a moment of connection, and I’m grateful for those — moments that were outside my stepfather’s control, that were about just me and his other person, or even about a momentary wholeness in my body. These were fleeting and sometimes even more painful for my remembering them later, knowing I could never count on them, never get them back.

The It Gets Better campaign wouldn’t have worked for me; that’s not to shut it down or say that it isn’t useful (and click on that link above to see what might have gotten through, though, that message from Aunt Kate) — most of the public awareness campaigns didn’t work for me. We might have a lecture at school about tell someone if someone’s touching you wrong and all of us in the audience would be squirming and embarrassed and cutting our eyes at the kids (the girls) who it was rumored were having to have sex with someone in their family. My stepfather might have given that lecture to our school — he didn’t, but he could have, because that’s the work he did: and he always wanted to be of service. So no one would be cutting their eyes at me, though I’d be looking for it and I was terrified of someone finding out — not because of the shame or embarrassment, but because of his punishment, the way I’d have to repudiate anyone else’s knowledge, the way I’d have to learn how to hide better, more transparently, more in clean sight.

I had no possible sense of a future that didn’t include my stepfather’s control, so there was no place in my life where “it gets better” would have fit. I don’t know what would have worked (except, maybe, for one of his colleagues to have stepped forward, to have paid attention to what they were seeing (my stepfather’s extreme control of his family) and taken action).

Would it have helped if there’d been a campaign specifically aimed at those experiencing sexual violence — for a grown woman to say to a camera somewhere in the world, seeming like she’s looking right at me, somehow more safe for that intimacy of one person speaking to one other person: I never thought I could get away. But I did — finally, I was able to get away from the man/person who was hurting me, and this is how I did it and this is where I got help… Would that have helped me consider my own possible escape? Maybe I would have tucked it away somewhere inside future reference.

I want a hopeful end here, a clear sense of what could work, now, for someone else in my situation. I guess, though, that that’s why I write at all, and why I write under my own name. My survival, my rescue, came incrementally, and it mostly came through reading other people’s stories — it came through a slow awareness that I was not alone, that I wasn’t the only one who’d experienced this kind of isolation and control, that other people went through this and then, later, had a life that they were happy with, that they found pleasure and joy in. It was through reading the coming out stories, the survivor stories, through Dorothy Allison and Maya Angelou, the collections of Take Back the Night readings. Over and over, those voices reached out and caught me, and so I keep on trying to reach out and catch someone else. I needed to know that, yes, something as plain as ‘incest’ and ‘domestic violence’ could be applied to my stepfather’s behavior, that I could find myself and my experiences in that language.

My queerness is entirely interwoven with my incest survivor-ness, and my National Coming Out Day is always inflected with DV Awareness month, so my slogans look like this: We’re here, we’re queer, we’re surviving and We’re loud and raunchy and messy, because finally we can be and Big joyful incest survivor queergrrl.

What does National Coming Out Day look like for you? Do you still have coming out moments? Want to write about one of those as a prompt for today? (Write about whichever one just came to mind when you read that question — share it here if you want)

Or just think about it, and know that I’m grateful for that work you did, are doing, will continue to be a part of today…