This weekend I was fortunate enough to be on a panel at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. There were 5 of us there, writers of Crooked Letter I: Coming Out in the South, to talk about the book and our experiences.
If you haven’t read it, and I’m guessing you haven’t, it’s not hard to tell what the anthology is about: coming out. The more I say that phrase, the more tired I become.
An audience member asked a question that still has me thinking. Chu asked, “Isn’t coming out something that you have to do more than once? Like, any time you meet someone?”
The answer: YES. Every.Single.Day.
When I first realized I was gay (or different, in some way, from others), I wore all the rainbows I could find. I had necklaces and bracelets. Shirts, too. Some funny, some offensive. I made it my goal to make others see me. To see that there are people like me (whatever that meant or means now). I loved watching peoples’ faces as they saw my Lez/Pez shirt and would either smile or snort their disapproval. My other favorite shirt I can’t seem to find any iteration of on the internet; it was basically the women’s bathroom symbol with boobs. Two of those. 69-ing. It read “porn star.” And my first offensive shirt I made in high school. I tore the bottom off a white t-shirt, so it was a crop top and wrote on it, in sharpie, “FAG.” Mom ended up throwing that one away soon after I wore it to a coffee shop in Jeff City. She denied every touching it.
But my point is, I used to do that. I used to love doing that. I needed to do that. I wanted to be seen. I wanted to make that statement. I’m gay. I exist in the same world as you. Deal with it. My clothes and bracelets did all my coming out for me, I guess.
But now. I don’t want to come out any more. If you’ve never experienced this, let me try to explain all the ways we have to come out.
In the classroom: “Professor Holzenfluken, do you have any kids?” I have a son. “Are you married?” No. “Does his dad live close?”
And here is where I have to chose to come out or not. If I leave out the pronoun and say, “Yes.” I’m lying. To myself. Denying Cyrus’ true family. Not doing my part as a gay person to make sure people know we’re everywhere (more on this later). So I make the choice to say, “he has another mom.”
Then the barrage of personal questions about how we made a baby. And you know, no one ever asks a straight couple how they have a baby. And here is where I feel that obligation to educate. I could say, “none of your business,” but if I do, then I’m a bitchy dyke or they don’t learn a damn thing. So I take the time to explain because I’m probably the first person they’ve met who’s had that experience. It’s exhausting.
At the doctor: “Okay, just put your feet in these stirrups and scoot your butt down…more…more…more…more. Okay. So, I see you’re not on birth control; what methods are you using for family planning.?” Sigh. I have sex with women. I told you last time. Doesn’t anyone write that down?
At another doctor: “So, you’re cramping and feeling nauseous, huh? We’d better do a pregnancy test.” I’ve never had sex with a man/I haven’t had sex with a man in 5 years. Beat. “Well, better safe than sorry.”
At restaurants: “Separate checks, then?” Sigh. Together, please.
Walking with a partner anywhere: Can we kiss here? What happens if we do? Maybe we can just hold hands? We probably shouldn’t. You know. Just in case. Hands touch momentarily. Loving look exchanged. Person walking by frowns.
In your own home: Repair guy shows up. “I have to leave, but my…(wife? girlfriend? friend? roommate?) will be home in just a few minutes.” Raised eyebrow.
At the bank: We’d like to buy a house. “I see.” -Fumbles with papers-
Most of you might say, “Well, fuck them.” But you’ve never had to do this. Weekly.
At this age, my sexuality is the lowest on my list of my identity. I hope, too, that if you describe me to someone, you wouldn’t include this part of me in your description. Just like I wouldn’t say, “Jane Doe? Yeah, she has black hair, is tall, she fucks guys. Loves it.”
There was a moment this weekend, when I was speaking on the panel, when I said, “Everyone in this room has a different sexuality. We all like different things. But not all of you are asked to explain yourselves. And it’s really no one’s business”
My sexuality is not my lifestyle just like yours is not your lifestyle. It means nothing to me until I have to explain it or justify it.
It’s the same for you. How often do you sit around wondering about your intense love of being on top? Or being tied up? Or tying someone up? How often are you asked to reveal that part of yourself?
Another thing I was asked to think about this weekend is my job as a queer educator. Questions from the audience members were somewhat political, asking what was next for the LGBTQ movement. Did we think that things will get better soon? What advice do we have for parents and friends of those coming out?
Honestly, I have no idea. I write and teach English and dig holes in the ground. I’m not a spokesperson for The Gays. I’ve done my part; I did that for years. Now. I just want to relax and raise my son. I want peace and quiet. I want to watch Netflix and go to bed at 9:45.
I feel some shame in that. If I quit making people aware, who will? If I don’t force myself to hold my girlfriend’s hand in Callaway County, how will people become used to it? Because I’m still afraid to do that… in most counties. Because, despite my tough rugby persona, I don’t like to be looked at or snorted at or made fun of or called a dyke by a Jeep full of fratboys. Because words are still very powerful.
And the silence of our loved ones is louder.