In middle school, I fell in love with my straight best friend. As so many lesbians are wont to do, it seems. Identifying it as love or sexual attraction was something I didn’t do until later, but the way that I hung on her every word, the way that I pined after her for years, how I mourned when she passed from my life, all of that was the beginning of me coming into myself. A process that would take far longer than I expected.
Like so many people, coming out for me was more gradual than the stereotypical and somewhat fictive egress from the social closet. I spent years questioning my sexuality. Years in and out of shitty relationships. Settling for less than I deserved. Struggling with the “bi” label and trying to figure out why my relationships with women always felt like fantasies, too easy to possibly be true. While my relationships with men were always a struggle. A struggle that I associated with realness and authenticity in a way that was incredibly damaging. So, you know, thanks for that, romantic comedies.
Oddly, coming out to myself was the hardest part. I remember sitting in bed with Frankie, early on in our relationship. I had this sick feeling in my stomach as I turned to her and said:
“I’ve been having this really ugly thought.”
“What thought is that?” she asked, not giving away at all the fact that she already knew the thing I was going to tell her.
“What if I’m just… gay?”
The impact of that question was like a physical blow. Frankie let me eat a lot of ice cream to console myself. And she did not let on that she already knew for a whole hour after my initial statement. Because she’s sweet like that. The implications it had for every relationship I had entered into before her were staggering. I felt like I should apologize to every man I had dated from age fifteen to twenty-nine for being totally gay and not really present at all during those relationships. For playing house with them.
The coming out process isn’t as simple as acknowledging it to yourself, of course. The coming out process is ongoing and public as well as privately played out. It’s not as if we all get slapped with a rainbow sign when we admit who we are to ourselves. It’s not that simple. I still come out once or twice a week because, as a queer femme person, people never expect me to have a female partner. The ongoing and repetitive outing of myself can be frustrating. But it can also be surprising and comforting, to see how positively people react. How excited they are for us to be together. Support and love can be found in the strangest places.
Coming out to my friends has always been as simple as showing up in a place with a girl. Or talking about girlfriends. Coming out to strangers is similarly easy. Coming out to family was harder. Way harder.
I think it can be hardest for family because they set ideas and expectations up about you from a very early age. They imagine a life for you, build an image of you in their heads that it can be hard to deviate from. Although, to my brother’s credit, he knew about my dawning queerness from the moment I fell in love with Liz in middle school. And he never once gave me grief about it.
I told my mom pretty early on that I was queer. When I experimented with polyamory, she knew about that too. But I don’t think my sexuality became real for her until I moved in with Frankie and brought her around at holidays. And even then, it didn’t really hit until we got the right to marry in Pennsylvania and she and my dad had to grapple with the reality of that legal shift.
The initial fallout was hard. We’ve gotten past it, though. And even that has happened in small steps. Little gestures and statements that move us past the hurt and betrayal of that first explosive fight that ended in me cutting off contact with them for several months.
So that’s it! That’s my coming out story. Such as it is. It’s strange and involved and a little convoluted. It was hard to write about because the narrative is so much bigger than one of stepping out from the shadows. I’m still working through all the baggage I’m carrying around from having not known myself for so many years. I suspect that process will go on for quite some time. But I’m happier now than I have ever been, all things considered. Reconciling with who I really am has been such a worthwhile process. And it will continue to be. That much I am sure of. Because hidden in the depths that I’m revealing is a sensation of caring for myself that is new and gentle and worth all of the strife and upset that it took to get me to this place.
Happy National Coming Out Day, everyone!