Friday, October 19, 2007

My Belated Coming Out Story

So, I know National Coming Out Day was a while ago. I know I know. I missed it. I do have a bit I'd like to say about it though. Consider this my Coming Out Day Story on gay time. You know.... late.

Unlike many people, I suppose, I did not have a lot of trouble with the whole "being gay" bit. I started getting inklings of being gay sometime around junior high, when other girls were becoming more interested in boys. I just wanted to keep hanging out with my girl friends, playing sports, and playing outside with my boy friends.

(Oh wait, there was that whole innocent crush thing on my babysitter when I was 5. Is that weird?)

Anyway.... I managed to make it through high school without ever having a real boyfriend (or girlfriend). I didn't really want either one- as I wasn't too interested in boys, and wasn't quite ready to admit to being a full-out lezzy. I concerned myself instead with the multitude of sports I played (I know), getting good grades, and wanting to make out with Claire Danes getting into college.

Flash forward to college. As I met real live lesbians, I remembered "that thing" that I had pushed to the back of my mind. Now that I was starting to know lesbians, I was trying to create some sort of safe space to explore this issue further. And by that I mean, like Jane Know, I tried to befriend known lesbians, hoped they would notice me as being one of their own, and then take me into their cool lesbian cocoon and help me emerge a proud lesbian butterfly.

(I carried that too far, didn't I?)

Well, that passive little plan didn't work out as planned. The known lesbians didn't really notice me, or didn't pick up on my gayness. Instead, I learned how to be gay on my own. Or, rather, with a few other close friends who were all coming out in our own ways.

I never had a big internal struggle about being gay. Rather, I accepted it as something that had always been a part of me, and always would be. I was neither particularly ashamed or proud of who I was.

In life, my first real romantic relationships were with women. And, while I was okay with being gay, the people with whom I was involved during my college years were not. Fear, I learned, led to dysfunction. And when things did not work out, I immediately villanized these people for being "too scared," for being mean to me as a "cover," and for letting their fear of being exposed make their life and my life miserable. Fear, of course, is always a wonderful additional to any relationship.

But seriously, looking back with much hindsight, I can see that fear, stemming from societal sexual prejudice, bore much blame for my romantic angst. Where most heterosexual young couples are free to declare their love, to openly go on dates, and to acknowledge the relationship to everyone else- I was not able to be open. I wasn't able to talk about my relationships. I was expected to hide a part of myself from all of my friends and family.

And because the people I was with were ashamed, I was ashamed.

But the weird thing was, many people knew about these secretive relationships anyway. I, of course, told a few people. These people told a few people. Other people just put two and two together. And so on.

And many people simply did not care.

Sure, there were bigots and assholes. But I didn't care about their opinions. Those people weren't my friends or anyone I cared about.

So what I know now, and what I'd tell any young person struggling to come out, is this:

1) Oftentimes, everybody important in your life already knows, at some level, that you are gay.

Coming out is a mere formality to confirm suspicions.

2) If people in your life know you and like you (or love you) already, your gayness will often not change these feelings.

True, there are horror stories of parents disowning their children, and of friends never speaking again. There will probably be a period of time where the person you come out to will have to "digest" your gayness..... but many times your friends and family will not abandon you.

3) Contrary to popular myth, lesbians don't recruit. I tried and tried to get recruited, but it just didn't happen.

In sum, everyone's experience is different. So I want to refrain from making too many generalizations.

Looking back, I have regrets. Most of my regrets are around fear- my fear or someone else's fear that I let control my happiness. Looking back, I know that I can never be with someone again who would insist on hiding our relationship. I learned that a long time ago.

I realize that many people see "open gays" as being in-your-face. But whenever I was made to deny the existence of a relationship to the world, it made that relationship less real.

It made me less real.

Shame on anyone who makes you feel like that.

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