Posts Tagged ‘coming out’
I feel so lucky to know a lot of artists, to consider myself part of the larger community of queers who live brazenly and create art out of our heartbreak, growth, struggles, and lessons. Roving Pack, Sassafras Lowrey’s first full-length novel, is a beautiful, fun, and poignant read, and it makes me excited to be part of these queer artist communities.
Roving Pack follows Click, a homeless teenage genderqueer creature struggling with hir relationships with family of origin in addition to hir crushes and relationships with butches and trans guys who are lovers and Daddies and friends. Set in the punk underbelly of Portland, Oregon, in the 1990s, the book is an honest look at the queer youth center, navigating housing as a homeless youth, squats, testosterone injections, straightedge politics, D/s, and a deep love of dogs.
I read it quickly, devoured it really. I came out as queer in the late 1990s in Seattle, and came to a queer identity in a very similar culture. Though I was a bit older and not homeless, the tone and characters and place really resonated with me.
Order it online at rovingpack.com, and read more excerpts and thoughts about the book over there.
Murder, or regret.
That’s how the majority of pop culture refers to abortion. I have noticed this distinct lack of range depiction, not just because I was a women studies major for whom reproductive justice was a constant teaching and learning, but also because I had an abortion in the year 2000.
I was twenty. Unlike what Ani sang, mine wasn’t a “relatively easy tragedy,” it was just relatively easy.
I worked at Microsoft at the time, and my insurance covered it. I made the appointment from the phone in our lobby, which was the most private space, filled with large indoor house plants someone would come around and water twice a week. Plants so generic in an office building that they become wallpaper after the daily/yearly commute.
I remember I had to buzz into the clinic and identify myself. I remember that they wouldn’t allow anyone in the room for the procedure. That the partner (the guy) in the waiting room may be coercive, and as such the women who came in for such procedures were asked the same questions in and out of their escort’s presence. I remember the room was the same as a room for pelvic exams, with the same landscape poster on the ceiling, but for the machine they wheeled in on a cart. I remember it didn’t hurt much, just a click click whirr and then over. I remember I bled for days, but the bleeding was such a relief.
I had been full for weeks. Never so aware of my uterus. I mean, think about it: can you feel your organs? My college girlfriend could feel her kidneys, because she had a kidney infection that put her in the emergency room, and she probably still can. I can still feel my uterus, still remember that rubber ball-sized solid object lodged in my pelvis that showed up without my asking, without my request.
I was trying to leave him at the time, my ex boyfriend. We’d been together five years. I was trying to leave him because I was queer and that was easier than to leave him because he was abusive. Mostly he was abusive because he suspected I was queer, which I’d told him was true since we met on the internet when I was 14 and my interest in ladies was a turn-on, but five years later was a threat.
I wrote a poem about this abortion, a heavy-handed lyrical thing that I won’t share because it’s bad writing, though not because I disagree with anything I wrote. The one line I remember, without looking it up, is “this is how sure I had to be in order to be the me I was meeting in dreams.” Getting pregnant meant I needed to be that much more sure that I was queer. This is how hard it’ll be, the universe told me, to stop being heterosexual. You can have this partner and this baby, if you want it. Are you sure?
Yes. I was that sure.
The cells they removed from me were more an infection than a child, more an unwanted mutation than a new life. It was not murder and I do not regret it. It was a decision that took me on a path here, and musing about the idea that I could have a twelve year old right now is as useful or relevant to my life as musing where I’d be if I’d married my first girlfriend or gotten into a different college or not quit that job.
I make a thousand decisions daily and they have brought me here, where most days I am wildly happy in my queer, kinky, working artist, open, exploratory life.
Seal Press recently released a much needed addition to queer identity narratives in the anthology Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women edited by Candace Walsh and Laura Andre.
What do you think of when you think about a coming out story? Typically in this culture, the main character of a coming out narrative tends to be a teenager, either pre-teen or late teens, someone who either has always been a bit different or is suddenly hit with the sexual revelation that they might be gay. Despite that coming out as a teenager seems, to me, to be actually a somewhat recent phenomenon, and that people coming out even ten or fifteen years ago were more likely to be college-age rather than high school age, which I would largely attribute to the rise of the Internet and the vast amount of information easily accessible by just typing “gay” into a search engine or, at this point, speaking one word into a search program on a smart phone, there is still a significant lack of literature available about people who come out later in life. Though the coming out process continues to happen younger and younger, the dominant stories are still about people in their tumultuous twenties, which is frequently when we formulate and articulate our adult sexual identities, often for the first time.
But what about someone coming out in their late thirties, forties, fifties? What about someone who has spent most of their life heterosexual, married and raising kids? Often, these stories are not reflected in queer literature and culture. We tend to value and legitimize the folks who express that we “always knew” that something was off about us, queer identities that started giving hints in childhood and were full-on signs by our adolescences.
Which is why this anthology is a much needed addition to the body of work on queer identity; we have so few stories about what it’s like to form these identities later in life. In this book, “later in life” is defined quite broadly, as some of the participants are still quite young and have, in my mind, had fairly typical coming out experiences.
While I was reading through these essays, I felt that it was important to keep in mind that they are personal reflections about the authors’ own experiences, and while there is great value in telling those stories, and this book is beginning to fill a neglected gap, they are not necessarily radical or particularly theoretical, and in fact perpetuate many stereotypes about lesbianism and gender in particular. In fact, the consistent commentary on gendered lesbian stereotypes in so many of the essays made me wonder if those stereotypes were a reflection upon the editors’ beliefs. Perhaps the reader was meant to assume that these were former stereotypes that the narrators held, and that their understandings have deepened and become more complex, but none of the essays directly addressed the vast inaccurate outsider observations toward the lesbian communities and none of the essays directly took on any sort of understanding of how complex gender identity and expression is in the queer and lesbian worlds.
I know that a complex understanding of gender is a lot to expect, and that I am particularly critical of representations of gender that are heteronormative and perpetuating stereotypes, but I was disappointed in the consistent portrayal throughout this book. I do think it is an important to add to the dominant paradigm of coming out and coming to queer identities, and certainly it gives a solid base on which others can now build. But I am cautious in recommending it, since I think it perpetuates more stereotypes than it challenges.
I’m completely femme and work in a very straight environment. A few of my co-workers know that I’m gay, but I haven’t come out to all of them, and I’ve been at this work place for a year. I don’t usually hide my sexuality, but it’s been extremely hard for me to relax at this workplace. I hate that, and my partner is somewhat hurt that I haven’t been open about it and talked about her. I want to be able to do so, and I want to be strong in myself and come out with it. Any ideas on how to do it? The longer I wait the more awkward it is.—Tuesday, from tuesdayateleven.blogspot.com
It’s been months since you wrote this, so this might be an outdated question at this point—have you changed things? Did you start slipping your partner into conversation more frequently? Did you out-right come out? Did you let it leak to the office gossip?
Telling your co-workers things about your personal life can be tricky, especially since you’ve already been there for a year and you still haven’t said anything, because now, when the reveal happens, it will seem out of place. So how do you start bridging this gap between yourself and your co-workers, such that you can reveal more personal things? Maybe it’s time to have a happy hour after work, or host a weekend event, if you’re comfortable doing those things. Maybe it’s time to invite someone out to lunch and open up a little about your lives.
You don’t have to start with, “By the way, I’m gay,” you might want to start with the more impersonal. In The Art of Civilized Conversation, Margaret Shepherd says that conversations start with facts, then to opinions, then on to feelings. There are a lot of facts you can gather about each other that I bet you don’t have, if you’ve avoided any discussion of your partner so far. Where do you live? Where did you go to school? Where did you grow up? What’s your family like? Why did you move to where you are now? What do you do in your spare time, what are your hobbies?
I think it’s also in that book that she says the way people deepen with each other is to start revealing little things about themselves in the conversation, and then guaging the reaction of the other to see if it’s safe to continue revealing.
My mom always used to say, “Find common ground, then elevate the discussion.” See if finding some common ground about other topics makes you feel more comfortable talking about more personal things. Ask questions of them, too—as you find out more about them, you might feel more safe revealing things about yourself.
I kind of hate to say this, so I’ll tack it on at the end here, but it also could be that you are dealing with a little bit of internalized sexism, and some complicated feelings about your own femme in/visibility. I don’t know you, so this could be happening a teeny tiny bit or a ton or not at all, but I figured it’s worth throwing out there because I spent the last few paragraphs on one direction, but it might not have anything to do with that. You might be a very open, revealing person in the workplace, but have this particular snag when it comes to your own sexual orientation visibility. That’s a complicated thing to work with, as a femme who can, if she chooses, “pass” for a straight girl in the larger hetero world. There are many ways that femmes construct identity which are not strictly through visual markers, however, and articulating that identity—namely through speech and communication—is a big one. It might be a hurdle to examine and investigate in yourself a little more.
What say you all? Do you have more advice for this person in coming out at work? Are you out at work?
All the episodes of the 1994 short-lived one-season series My So-Called Life are on Hulu.com, and I spent the last few weeks watching through them in my down time. I’m the same age as Angela Chase (and nine days older than Claire Danes) and now that I’ve watched it again I remember the show vividly. I wasn’t sure I’d remember it, but it turns out there are some episodes I can practically recite by heart. Like Pressure and all those scenes in the boiler room? “The whole world is separated into kissing … and not kissing … kissing … and not kissing.” “My lips feel used, but, like, in a good way.”
I miss these characters now that I watched through the 19 episodes. I have lots to say about the parental relationship, Graham’s masculinity, the character arcs and some of the slightly more experimental attempts at episodes, the infamous lean by Jordan Catalano (“you’re so beautiful, it hurts to look at you”), Jordan’s masculinity … oh there’s so much.
But what I want to write on here, real quick, is Ricky, and his finale.
If you haven’t seen it, revealing that Ricky is gay is not giving anything away. You’ll know from the first episode. The other characters know, too, but they never say it directly. Sometimes they say Ricky likes boys, sometimes Ricky confesses a crush, but he never comes right out and says it. There’s some talk of Ricky being put up at Pride House after he is kicked out of his house (presumably because of his sexuality) by his aunt and uncle, who raised him. But he never comes out and says it.
Until the very last episode, in this exchange with Delia, a straight girl. Earlier in the episode, it goes through the grapevine that Delia has a crush on Ricky, eventually getting back to him. He says (I’m paraphrasing), what if this is my chance? What if this is my chance to be normal? What if this is my chance to have a normal life? And he decides to ask her out.
The embedded video is below. I couldn’t get a clip of just the one part, sorry. I do urge you to watch the series from the beginning – if you watch this whole clip it’ll give some things away! This is the last episode, after all.
This clip starts at 34:58.
Ricky: Delia? Um, maybe we should um, go somewhere sometime.
Ricky: You know like, to a movie, or something.
Delia: I’d like that.
Ricky: Because um, I really think we’d be … good together.
Delia: Okay … but, you’re gay, right?
Ricky: Well, you know, I …
Delia: Oh I’m sorry!
Ricky: No, it’s okay.
Delia: That came out so rude.
Ricky: I try not to um … I don’t like uh … yeah, I’m gay. I just don’t usually say it like that.
Delia: How do you usually say it?
Ricky: I don’t usually say it. I’ve actually never said it, out loud.
Delia: Wow. I feel kind of honored.
I’m pretty sure I actually teared up and said awwwwww! to my computer screen, because, come on, that is such an awesome way to have dealt with this moment. Ricky struggles so much with fitting in, with feeling like he belongs, with finding somewhere that he’s accepted, and his struggles just kept breaking my heart over and over. And I just love how this was done. So much acceptance, so much care.
On October 6th, 1998, Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming, beaten, and left for dead – because he was gay. He was taken to a nearby trauma hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, and died on October 12th.
I lived in Fort Collins at the time. I was not out, I was living with my high school boyfriend of five years. Nobody I knew was talking about it, aside from the brief acknowledgment in order to look away. There were protesters at the hospital. The Denver newspaper announced that he had died before he actually died.
I remember crying. I remember being so confused as to how this could’ve happened. I remember being terrified to come out in that environment, so I stayed in the closet for two more years.
Years later, after I was living in Seattle and came out and was building an amazing queer community, I saw Matthew’s mom Judy Shepard speak at my college. I’m paraphrasing here, but I remember a few things she said so deeply: “I’m just a mom,” she said. “I’m not an activist, I’m not a historian, I’m just a mom of a really great kid who died because he was gay. People ask me all the time, what can I do, and I always tell them: Come out. Come out everywhere, all the time. People discriminate because they don’t think they know any gay people. They don’t know that the guy they go bowling with is gay, that their office neighbor is gay, that their dry cleaner is gay. They think gay happens “over there” in big coastal cities. Until everyone starts realizing that gay people are just like them, discrimination will keep happening.”
I tell that to people a lot, especially baby dykes (or baby fags or baby queers) who are struggling with coming out. It’s our number one place of activism: to be who we are. To let the soft animal of our bodies love what it loves. It is not easy for any of us, but for some more than others, as there are still very real consequences to coming out and being out, not just with our families and parents (especially) but in our daily lives.
I was searching for some Judy Shepard direct quotes and came across this article from 2001, which relays more of the thoughts I’m trying to articulate:
Matthew came out to her at the age of 18, three years before he died. He decided in his own time and space when to tell his parents about his feelings on his sexuality and how that was important to him. After explaining how she and her husband dealt with Matthew’s coming out, Judy believes that “Your goal in life is to be the best and happiest you can be. Be who you are. Share who you are with the rest of the world.” Come out. Come out to yourself. Come out to your family. Come out to your friends. Be who you are and don’t hide in the closet of fear. Take pride in who you are through and through. [...] In closing, Judy illustrated her thoughts that if the corporate world of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals would come out and be true to themselves, their lives, and the world we live in would be a better place. Maybe Matthew would still be here today. ‘It’s fear and ignorance that killed Matthew. If fear is shed, the violence will go with it.’ Acceptance of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals would not allow fear and ignorance to exist as hate.
- Erie Gay News report on Judy Shepard at Mercyhurst April 3 2001.
Years after I left Colorado, when I was in Seattle and studying writing, especially formal poetic forms, I wrote an acrostic poem about Shepard. The acrostic is a form you’ve probably played with as a kid, at least – you take a word and make each letter in the word the first letter of the line of the poem. In this case, the assignment was to write an acrostic about a place, capturing both the essence of the geographical space and an event that occurred there. The title is a reference to the date he was attacked.
- MATTHEW 10:6 (Acrostic)
Framed in thick oak trees, equidistant, streets
Open to fields marching toward undisturbed horizons
Regulation-height lawns burn with summer’s oppression
Tearing boys from youth, from breath. Behind
Cinnamon foothills, anger and ignorance sprinkle
Obstructions in the north winds. An easy tragedy
Laughs. Tail lights disappear, tangled in this inevitable
Last night – train whistles whisper, keeping company
Infused with ghosts. Plucked from a fence,
No one blinks – hospital doors swing shut.
Shepard boy releases. The world watches the moon set.