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…