(recently written for a collection of coming out stories/comics/thoughts/histories etc.)
unlike ace of base, i did not see the sign. but there were so many, including but not limited to:
•the lingerie section in the sears catalog. i used to get off to it in gradeschool. but the pretty boys were who i crushed out on and the tomboys were who i wanted to be like. i’m interested in this intersection between who i want and who i want to be. sometimes i still can’t tell the difference.
•(for instance) laura ingalls wilder. i was obsessed. little house on the prairie. did i want to do her or did i want to be her?
•the rumors going around my last year in high school (1994) about my best friend joolie and i. in the rumors, we were lesbians. in the lesbian rumors, gerbils were somehow involved. i’m sure this had nothing to do with our plans to go to prom together. the vision included one of us wearing a tuxedo shirt, coat and bow tie on top with a formal dress bottom and the other of us wearing the opposite. (we weren’t GAY. we were alternative riding in on the old edge of new wave).
•the indigo girls. joolie and i harmonizing to them all the time, including live and onstage our junior year when we sang closer to fine at “cabaret night” (musical talent show). (again, we weren’t gay, we were just choir nerds).
•sarah spieth. this woman was fierce. the only out lesbian in the entire middle/high school. she was two or three grades ahead of me. we lived in the same neighborhood and would end up at the back of the bus together, talking. she got so much shit, but she never took it. instead, she would tell girls in choir class (like joolie) how they had nice legs. the year after i graduated, i got a phone call. it was her, on the other end of the phone, asking if i liked girls. (i don’t think she was asking because she was interested in me, i think she was just asking because she wanted to know). i said no. probably made some short conversation and then said goodbye.
•the boy on the bus in minneapolis calling joolie and i lesbians. we quickkissed each other on the mouth in full view of his windowseat after we stepped off the bus.
•the excessive abundance of rainbows in my life (clothing, stationary, thriftstore knick knacks, coffee mugs, backpacks) at the end of high school and beginning of college. people didn’t get it. i wasn’t gay, i was a RAVER. like rainbow brite!
•my secret mystery caller. college freshman year (1995). she left messages on my dorm phone answering machine. she thought i was cute. she would leave me hints (‘i have a flag hanging in my dorm room’) about herself. we latenight phonetalked and she dropped hand-folded envelope mail for me in my campus mailbox. (bigger than my coming out. this was the moment a door opened. looking from face to face, woman to woman in my classes, wondering which one was her. noticing . i realized i had my eyes on several women, hoping they were her. this was the first time i consciously thought about the very actual, very real possibility of making out with another girl/woman). i told her i wasn’t gay (i had a shaved head with blue bangs, but that was more alterna-punk than gay) but that i still wanted to meet her/talk with her/get to know her. i told her i was open to connecting with all kinds of different people.
•the library note-dropper. college. junior year. 1996. she dropped a note as she walked past me in the library. earlier that day, i gave a presentation in a lower division poetry class. ‘were you staring at me in class?’ she wrote. she insisted i was staring at her in the back corner of the class whole time i gave the presentation. she thought i was cute. i told her i wasn’t gay (i was just a poet. with gay friends who ran the 10% society student organization), but that i was open to being friends. we hung out several times, but i can’t remember her name now. just shoulder length dark hair, some teeth (braces? retainer?) and amazing eyebrows.
•the option girl. the option was a dance club in green bay, wisconsin (city of my college experience). green bay was small and conservative enough that this dance club was for all the freaks. ravers, bisexuals, goth kids, queers, industrial kids, grunge kids, gay boys, skaters, punks, geeks, lesbians, stoners. think bjork meets skinny puppy meets erasure meets lords of acid meets depeche mode meets ministry meets fugazi meets thrill kill kult meets duran duran. the option girl whisper/roared her phone number, her hot lips to my ear, while i danced to the tori amos remix in a short green girlscout jumper and rainbow striped tights. two days later I tried to dial all combinations of the number i thought i remembered. i’m sorry, the number you are trying to call is not in service.
•all the kinds of sex i never had with the confused/frustrated cisgendered boys i dated. one of them actually called me frigid. i don’t think he realized the weight of that word and i was still trying to wrap my brain around the radical concept of sex positivity. (which was a difficult thing to understand after being raised catholic in a house where no one ever said the word sex)
•my shaved head. (on and off, 1994 and beyond). i think this was one of the things that drew my secret admirers towards me, like a moth to a flame. no female-bodied folks ‘just had shaved heads’ then. at least, not where i was living. you had to have a good reason for it. that reason, basically involved two choices: you were punk rock or you were a lesbian. (and sometimes a third: you were just plain crazy). these options did not have to be mutually exclusive.
it opened up my eyes i saw the sign.
i wouldn’t call it a coming out as much as i would call it a claiming. yes, i was a raver, i was an alterna-punk, i was new wave, a choir nerd, a poet. but for the most part, most of my identity relied on who i wasn’t. i was not a hippie, i was not a cheerleader, i was not a jock (though i still have secret aspirations…), i was not popular, a geek, nor punk rock (though i did manage to land a couple ollies on a borrowed skateboard at the kmart parking lot my junior year). i wasn’t even one of the smart kids i hung around with. they were enrolled in advanced-placement classes. i was not.
several years into kissing queers/genderqueers on a regular basis, i attended an internalized homophobia workshop in portland, OR (what-what!!! some of you were there! some of you led this workshop!) hilariously, i didn’t understand that my participation in a workshop on internalized homophobia implicated me as some kind of queer. (it became apparent, though, after several go-arounds and mini-discussions, the nuances of that word. internalized.) so long to resisting a queer identity. half of queer portland knew after that. thanks for outing me, language.
i had resisted claiming this identity for years. it was easier to kiss who i wanted to kiss without naming it. it was easier to evade my fears of being judged/accepted by the queer community. (in gradeschool, I played doctor with my neighbor. my neighbor was a boy. I didn’t share secret hotness with any of my grade school girl-friends. this narrative was certainly not queer enough to qualify me as even an honorary queer, was it?).
No one’s gonna drag you up to get into the light where you belong…
But where do you belong?
i told her around the kitchen table at lunch during a visit home (new berlin, wisconsin) after she asked how is your house/your housemates?
i responded with the house is really good. we all get along really well. and actually, _____ and i have been dating for a while now. somewhere in there i dropped the word queer.
she had met ______ before. but she never heard the word queer come out of my mouth like that.
coming out to my parents at age 28 was a bit anti-climactic. my mom was upset with me for two days on several accounts (that i told my sister first, that my life was going to be hard, and how did i know for sure, anyway, i mean, how many girls at that point had i actually kissed besides the transwoman i was dating at the moment?). this anger/agitation/upset/shock/fear/frustration kept her in the car after we drove downtown to visit the black holocaust museum (RIP, closed in 2008). while she sat in the front seat in the parking lot, i slipped inside the one story building. i listened to a tour. i watched a film from the front row. i swear i stood for hours in front of each display, gut twisting at the cross section illustrations of slave ships.
my mom’s silence lasted several days. but it was nothing compared to the shit we went through in high school. i had to laugh. it seemed like i was 10 years late. like it would have made more sense to add that extra layer of angst while i was cutting my thighs, hands, arms and ankles with double-sided razor blades, hiding the marks with white socks and long sleeves. while my dad was yelling i just don’t know what to do with you anymore, you’ve crossed the line after i dyed my hair fluorescent orange and insisted on going to school in ‘men’s’ pajama pants. while my parents got a hold of a zine joolie and i published which included a survey asking what would you do for a blow job? followed by a list of answers from our classmates. this in a house where the word sex was never mentioned, was enough to bring it down. in flames. (new berlin was burning).