National Coming Out Day: I’m late as usual

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!

 

Radical Issues: An Interlude

This morning I read Rebecca Solnit’s “letter to my dismal allies on the US left.” So much in it resonated deeply with me. In it, she said:

Maybe it’s part of our country’s puritan heritage, of demonstrating one’s own purity and superiority rather than focusing on fixing problems or being compassionate. Maybe it comes from people who grew up in the mainstream and felt like the kid who pointed out that the emperor had no clothes, that there were naked lies, hypocrisies and corruptions in the system…

When you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail, but that’s not a good reason to continue to pound down anything in the vicinity. Consider what needs to be raised up as well. Consider our powers, our victories, our possibilities; ask yourself just what you’re contributing, what kind of story you’re telling, and what kind you want to be telling.

So often I feel like we spend so much time as feminists and activists pointing out the nudity of our leaders and the systems that they put in place that we cannot enjoy our victories even for a moment.

A prime example for me came in the form of the SCOTUS decision on Friday regarding marriage equality in the US. You have to have known that it happened. The internet has been awash in rainbows ever since.

Anyway, about halfway through my day on Friday I noticed a vocal minority starting to talk about how there is a lot more work to do and how we need to turn our eyes to the future.

They’re not wrong.

But I couldn’t help the frustration that welled up in me. Can’t we just have ONE DAY? I thought. Can’t we just celebrate this culmination of so much blood, sweat and tears and then think about the rest of What Must Be Done tomorrow?

One of my biggest issues with being involved in social justice as a feminist is this constant nitpicking at everything that happens. I know that there are larger issues at stake. I know that we are not done fighting. I know that things are getting better in small increments that appear big when they suddenly have a cover story in the New York Times.

But sometimes I just want to celebrate without delving into the minutia of complications that suck the joy right out of a victory. Sometimes I just want to say “Hey, isn’t it great that SCOTUS ruled in favor of marriage equality?” and have people respond with “Yes” rather than “Yes, but…”

I’m not an idiot. I don’t live with my head in the sand. I recognize the irony of Facebook plastering everyone’s profile pictures with rainbows while still not allowing trans folks to use their actual names on their profiles. I’m aware that the right to get married to my girlfriend does not mean that, in certain states, we can’t still be fired or evicted based on our relationship.

I know that. I know all of that and more. But it’s fucking exhausting to be reminded of it even at the height of something wonderful happening.

As Solnit said:

There is idealism somewhere under this pile of bile, the pernicious idealism that wants the world to be perfect and is disgruntled that it isn’t – and that it never will be. That’s why the perfect is the enemy of the good. Because, really, people, part of how we are going to thrive in this imperfect moment is through élan, esprit de corps, fierce hope and generous hearts.

We all want to live in a perfect world. We want to see things change for the better. But I think that being constantly on edge and constantly picking at people about the problems is not necessarily as healthy for ourselves or our causes as we would like it to be. When we are delivered a solid win like the one we had on Friday, I think it’s OK to let go and celebrate the victory for the moment and set the inevitable problems aside to analyze later.

Censorship, the New Statesman, & Loving Complicated Things

I used to joke when I was younger that all of the things that I love have something like one degree of separation from each other. When I stop to think about it, it turns out that the whole flow chart of my fandoms centers on one dude: Neil Gaiman.

When I try to explain it I wind up sounding like a rambling lunatic, so here’s a quick flow chart I did on computer paper to make sense of it if you’re interested.

You see, Neil Gaiman was best friends with Tori Amos and they include nods to each other in their art. And Neil also wrote an episode of B5 for Straczynski when he swore no one else would. And he's friends with Amano who drew for FF and he did the English translation for Mononoke Hime and... you get the idea. You see, Neil Gaiman was best friends with Tori Amos and they include nods to each other in their art. And Neil also wrote an episode of B5 for Straczynski when JMS swore no one else would. And he's friends with Amano who drew for FF and... you get the idea.
You see, Neil Gaiman was best friends with Tori Amos and they include nods to each other in their art. And Neil also wrote an episode of B5 for Straczynski when he swore no one else would. And he’s friends with Amano who drew for FF and… you get the idea. 

Anyway, for years I joked about my one degree of separation with all of these wonderful humans and then, a few years ago, the whole thing got even more complicated when Neil Gaiman married Amanda Palmer. Because the conjunction of the two of them drags in a whole other slew of artists from Palmer’s fabulous (and wide!) circle of people. So now my flow chart is basically undrawable? But that’s a good thing.

Amanda has had a rocky go of the media generally. From the overwhelmingly criticized success of her Kickstarter back in 2012 to her marriage to Gaiman and her badly received Poem for Dzhokhar, she has caught hell basically every time she turns around in the world.

I, personally, have always found her to be a beautifully genuine person. As well as complex and problematic one. But who among us isn’t problematic, right? I don’t really think that the things we love should be things that we do not also feel free to criticize. It has always been my motto that you cannot truly say you love something unless you feel like you can poke it until it cries (I would be a great roast host!). And I stick to that belief. The world is a problematic place. And nothing in it is ever going to be 100% fine and acceptable.

I am totally open to criticism of things that I enjoy. I have heard it said of Gaiman in that he tends to write from the perspective of white everymen. I have heard that Amanda is a narcissist. There is some truth to both of those things – and more, I’m sure – about these two people who I admire. But there is some serious beauty that has come out of this pairing, not the least of which being their artistic collaborations. Their Evening With Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer tour was brilliantly conceived and the recording of it is just… a delightful way to spend several hours. It’s not something that Neil would have done without Amanda. And it remains one of my favorite ideas of ways to spend time with an artist or a pair of artists.

This past week, Neil and Amanda guest edited an edition of The New Statesman. The idea that they decided to tackle was “The Unsayable.” They asked artists and writers and critics for their thoughts on what they are not allowed to talk about and received really interesting responses.

The topics that arose ranged greatly in scope. Stephen Fry talked about legalizing drugs and the continued strife in Israel and Palestine. Erika Moen spoke out about the ways in which progressives dogpile on one another when we make mistakes. Laurel K. Hamilton talked about her polyamorous relationships. Some of them I had difficulty agreeing with, while others seemed so vital. And that’s the thing about the Unsayable Thing, it is Unsayable because you cannot predict the reaction of the public. It is Unsayable because you do not know whether you will be censured for it. There are times when saying the Unsayable Thing means that you will be shouted down by those around you. And then there are times when saying the Unsayable will lead to an ocean of “yes” that lifts you up above the morass of chatter around you and validates everything that you have been feeling.

One example of an Unsayable Thing that resonated deeply with me was by Rose George, a British writer and author of “The Big Necessity” and “Deep Sea and Foreign Going.”

…For something so red and vivid as menstrual blood, it is very, very quiet.

Behind the silence where menstruation lives are some other figures: the 23 per cent of girls in India who leave school at puberty because they have no toilet or privacy; the countless rags, newspapers, straw, dried leaves, ash or old socks that girls use because they can’t afford sanitary pads; the girls who prostitute themselves for sanitary protection (it’s called “sex for pads”); the many schoolgirls who start bleeding and think they are dying because they have been told no differently.

Menstrual Hygiene Day is 28 May: laugh at that, by all means. At least laughter is noise. The quiet has gone on too long.

For me, and for many women living in countries where our menses are at least somewhat acceptable if still broadly shamed, speaking out about the realities of what happens to our bodies in the process of menstruation is a topic we can easily embrace. But it is one that is hugely taboo to talk about openly with anything resembling joy or directness. I, personally, have had a complicated relationship with my period. But that is a topic for another time.

I think that the conversation about what is taboo to discuss is a deeply important one. What we consider off limits and what we are afraid to speak of are vital parts of who many of us are as artists and writers and people moving through shared spaces. I think the fear of retribution and censorship is a very real fear. And I think that having these conversations in a safe space like the one that Gaiman and Palmer created in the New Statesman is a great way to generate those conversations and to work through our fears of speaking difficult things aloud.

Like the topic of Unsayable Things, Neil and Amanda remain complicated, problematic people. But I love them anyway. Or love them because of their complications and their problems. Which is really why I love anyone. Or anything. Because nothing is perfect. And I truly believe that what they add to the world is big and important and, for the most part, good.