Tag Archives: queerness

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.

I wear myself differently now

drawing of a fist, tattoed wrist, thumb over fingers, and the thumb has a long red nailThis morning is a sleep-in, catch-up-a-little-bit morning — tomorrow morning at this time I’ll be on a plane to the east coast.

Last night was wonderful dinner with a good friend for me and the Mr. — thanks, Cayenne, for the delicious meal and wonderful company!

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Here’s a Thursday prompt for you — it’s an excerpt from Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands: The New Mestiza / La Frontera (Aunt Lute Books, 1999 (orig  published in 1987), p. 19). Let yourself read through the excerpt, and then take 10 minutes or 20 and write what comes up for you — a response, a story, a gratitude, an argument:

“There was a muchacha who lived near my house. La gente del pueblo talked about her being una de las otras, “of the Others.” They said that for six months she was a woman who had a vagina that bled once a month, and that for the other six months she was a man, had a penis and she peed standing up. they called her half and half, mita’ y mita‘, neither one nor the other but a strange doubling, a deviation of nature that horrified, a work of nature inverted. But there is a magic aspect in abnormality and so-called deformity. Maimed, mad, and sexually different people were believed to posess supernatural powers by primal cultures’ magico-religious thinking. For them, abnormality was the price a person had to pay for her or his inborn extraordinary gift.

There is something compelling about being both male and female, about having an entry into both worlds. Contrary to some psychiatric tenets, half and halfs are not suffering from a confusion of sexual identity, or even from a confusion of gender. What we are suffering from is an absolute despot duality that says we are able to be only one or the other. It claims that human nature is limited and cannot evolve into something better. But I, like other queer people, am two in one body, both male and female. I am the embodiment of the heiros gamos: the coming together of opposite qualities within.

Here is my response to this prompt, written during a Monday night Write Whole workshop, right after this year’s Femme Conference:

Four years ago, in 2006, even more in 2005, I was the peacock who stood up at the microphone yesterday, the one who said, “I’ve been living as a butch for 10 years, I’m only just now letting myself explore femininity again; every time you smile at me and welcome me as a girl (as a girl), I feel blessed.” She called herself a peacock. She wore a lush full-skirted green dress and a big flower in her short hair. I never would have read her as anything other than femme.  But 5 years ago, my life echoed her story, waking up just to look in the mirror to see if my hair had grown out yet, desperate     desperate    to refind the curves I had hidden from myself during my own 10 years of butchness. My body is no different from what it was then — I weight the same, have the same shape — but I wear myself differently now. Not just the clothes: myself. I wondered, yesterday, listening to her at the Femme Conference, wondered when it happened — when, finally, I nudged on over, comfortably, to the girl side of everyday again, when I could see not fraud in the mirror, but just me. I meant to find her, the peacock, and say, Me, too. Me, too. You’ll get there — wherever you want to get. We are each of us so much more than half and half — We each, Whitman, he said it, we contain multitudes. How is it that this time I felt comfortable in my femme skin? Five years of hard work, lots of writing and tears.

And there were absolutely patient and amazing friends who walked me through and into layer after layer of girlness, the parts I wanted again and, too, the parts I didn’t want and could finally turn away from. There were the Lost Grrls, those friends from way back who’d always been ‘problematizing’ girl just in the way we lived our lives, and my first femme love, Molly, who shows me all the ways. And then all the Dirty Ink-ers, who I was nearly ashamed to tell about my ‘transition’ because our group originally (way back in the beginning) was supposed to be just for butches — and then here I was becoming one more femme in the group, leaving RR as the one butch left. They met me beautifully, with good humor and suggestions, helping me learn makeup and how, again, to walk in high heels, how to occupy space in my writing and reading as a femme. They held doors within me and themselves open, ’til I could walk through, and I’m grateful. And Kathleen, who screamed in joy with me on the phone, who explained some femme rules that I didn’t want, which reminded me that I’d have as much to wrangle with in our communities’ definitions of femme as I had with our communities’ definitions of butch Oh no: there will be no rules for my femme. Kathleen is my femme mama, she was the one I ran to and rebelled against, the one, too, I call home.

(Note: Of course, in a short write, we don’t get the chance to finish, and so I don’t include all my femme role models in this piece, who include Sarah D, Alex, Vag, Meliza, Daphne, Cindy, my mom and sister, KFW, Tara H, Carol Queen, and so many more!)

Thanks, you, for your words today — for your hard work, for the space you make, too, for your resting and rejuvenation, for your play.