It’s been roughly five years since Hanna and I started snogging one another.
And, well, other things. It all happened in a bit of a rush; I never was a very patient person once I’d finally determined it was time to do something new. And for us, apparently, the time for sexytimes was late June 2009.
So yay anniversary!
This weekend I was reading The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions are Sabotaging Gay Equality by Susanna Danuta Walters (New York Univ. Press, 2014) and was reminded of the now anachronistic corollary to “coming out,” that of being “brought out” into the queer community by one’s first same-sex partner. Walters writes:
Being ‘brought out’ has within it that dual sense of sexuality and community. One is ‘brought out’ by another queer person and simultaneously brought into the queer community … coming out in these earlier and sometimes explicitly political iterations was understood as both a process personal and social, both confessional and performative, narrating a ‘shared fate’ but also an ‘imagined community .'(70)
This got me thinking about my own experience of coming out / being brought out into self-awareness and visible queer sexuality. My attitudes toward coming out as a helpful narrative (for myself; for others) have fluctuated a lot over the years. On the one hand, I definitely experienced the silencing pressure of presumptive heterosexuality, experienced the feeling of being closeted. People assumed I was straight and I mostly didn’t correct them.
For twenty-eight years.
On the other hand, I remember having casual conversations with my mother, or reflecting in my diary, as early as age eleven or twelve, that I might possibly could maybe be a Lesbian.
I didn’t know Bisexuality was an option, really, back then.
That was part of the problem.
I mean, I knew technically that there was this category of sexual identity “Bisexuality” and that it meant people who were sexually attracted to both men and women, but no one I encountered treated it very seriously. It was an elusive, moving target. Something frivolous, a subject of scorn. Men were liars if they claimed bisexuality and women (mostly college girls) were probably just using it as attention-seeking behavior.
We all know the stereotypes. I internalized many of them. I kept my mouth shut when lesbian women — women I desperately wanted to like and mentor me — dismissed bisexuality as tantamount to betraying the sisterhood. I judged my own desires along the gay/straight binary and determined that I didn’t have enough Gay Thoughts to be properly Gay. And therefore was, by default, Straight.
So: closeted. Definitely.
Except that I had a floating question mark above myself internally as to my sexual desires, and was open about that speculation, so can I say I was ever in the closet, properly speaking?
I remained Straight for twenty-eight … well, scratch that, more like twenty-six years. Because meeting Hanna in September 2007 began the long slow process of bringing me out.
It took eighteen months.
Though I started telling people I “wasn’t entirely straight” almost immediately. Well, within the first six months. I emailed my mother — reminding her of those conversations we’d had back in when I was twelve — and wrote letters to friends, angsting about my crush. I started with the gay buddy whose hand I’d held through the winding path he’d taken out of the Mormon faith and into the imagined (and actual) community of queers.
Now I was joining him there, and I know for a fact he wasn’t all that surprised.
Most people weren’t. At least not to my face.
I was kind of insulted, actually, at the time. Especially by a few second-hand reports I received from my mother back home of family acquaintances who’d claimed they’d practically known before I did what my sexual preferences were. Who did they think they were?!
But I think their larger point was true: straight or otherwise I’d been choosing the queer path for years. I just hadn’t found the right person to share it with until that moment.
Which is part of Walters point — that for some of us same-sex desires are just one part of what it means to be queer. That for us, “coming out” isn’t just about leaving the closet — but also about being “brought out” into a larger community of people who are non-straight, non-normative in their sexuality and gender, their family formation or way of life.
I was a feminist before I was queer, and queerness suited my feminism just fine.
We’ve always held hands in public.
Yet I made it a promise to Hanna, even before she knew I’d made it (because she didn’t know I wanted her), that I would never ask her to cover, never ask her to elide — no matter how passively — the nature of our relationship.
I kiss her goodbye outside work every morning, and hello again when I pick her up every evening.
I like to grab her ass while we’re standing in the grocery aisle, or waiting for the subway.
These are acts both quotidian and queer. Quotidian in the sense that, as I tried to tell my mother back in the 90s, girls have definitely been possible for me for a long, long time. Quotidian in that this life of ours fits like a well-worn pair of Birkenstocks (yup, I own two pairs). That falling into bed with a woman with Hanna and building a life with her felt like my kind of normal. Like the kind of life I’d been angling for since I’d first read Anne of Green Gables or maybe ElfQuest (probably both).
Oh; this is what I wanted. It came as both a surprise and a homecoming, tangled up together like our limbs as we fell asleep at night.
On some level I must have always known.
Of course, always knowing isn’t always synonymous with being known.
On some level, in the first flush of besotted love, I wanted the politics of the personal to be beside the point, but of course politics are never beside the point. Politics are intimately entangled with the possibilities of our lives, the pleasures, the dangers, what can (or must) remain private and what must (or can) become public. In recent weeks we’ve marked the first anniversary of the downfall of DOMA and then — whiplash style — heard two Supreme Court cases that etched bold messages across our legal landscape as to the rights and respect as human subjects we people with uteri have in this country.
As my rights as a lesbian bisexual expand, however modestly, my rights as a woman contract, inexorably.
My embodied self, and the choices I have made with it, are never been far from being the center of others’ self-righteous debate.
So even though I framed myself as always the truth of the matter was that in needing to articulate the “always” I made clear that I had, in fact, been raised in a world that was still, itself, the closet. Entangled in a conservative political climate that framed the issues as “gay vs. straight,” silenced by explicit biphobia and implicit bi erasure. I needed the safety of both a community (which I found first, online, through women in the constellations that make up the feminist blogosphere) and a person, Hanna, to “bring me out” into self-knowledge and public visibility.
I needed them to find a home.
Which is why I’ve circled around to respect the paradigm of coming / bringing out into the open that which has been hidden (from ourselves, from others) and celebrating its existence (our existence) in the world as something tangible and joyful — something achieved rather than something we’ve always had.
Because we might always have “known” but we haven’t always known.
And its only those around us who make it possible for us to share. Only those around us who make a vibrant, joyful community of sexually-various, gender-flexible people with whom it’s possible to imagine a life better than the one you’re currently living. Those around us who make it possible to choose queerness with pleasure.
So I say it more often these days: I’m gay. I’m bi. I’m a lesbian. I’m a dyke. I’m queer.
Because people, implicitly, explicitly, told me I couldn’t be. Shouldn’t be. Wouldn’t be.
I tell them, now, with every act of visible queerness: I am, I should, and I will.
I choose my wife over all of them, every day.