Today is national coming out day so I called my girlfriend early this morning. “Hello? Are you okay?” she asked, sleep and worry mixed in her voice. “I’m gay,” I said. “Today is national coming out day and I thought you should know.” “Goodbye.” She hung up. She’s not a morning person. She also “came out” in her teens and I, a grown woman, am way behind. For me, coming out isn’t as scary as it probably was for her in the mid-nineties.
I’m grown. I already had a baby “out of wedlock“, so I’ve experienced the worst of the anger caused by middle class politics of respectability. I have good friends. I had queer community before I even knew what it was. I’m an academic at an institution that is at least queer friendly on paper so I’ve learned how to develop systems of belief that make room for my whole being. I have enough queer politics to believe that anyone who has a problem with the way that I identify is at least misinformed about the nature of “natural.” I believe most things are socially constructed. I believe gender isn’t a binary opposition. Nor is sex. I don’t believe gender and sex are the same things. I believe in sexual fluidity and openness. I believe that texts, even the ones we hold most dear, are signs and therefore open to infinite interpretations. So what does a person with a belief profile like mine do on a day like today?
I was going to use my rainbow umbrella but it didn’t rain.
I was going to hold hands with my girlfriend in public but I’m in a long distance relationship.
I was going to put an “Out and Proud” sticker on my car but I’m still paying for it.
I was going to write a post under my own name but I decided to create an alias especially for the family members who stalk me on this site even though they don’t understand half of what is posted here. Runtelldat.
So I’m thinking. In the Judith Butler since of the concept, coming out may really be “going in”– into a box constructed by those who are hyper-vigilant about protecting their heterosexuality, a category that is as unstable as its binary opposition. In this dialectic, gay is what straight isn’t. Gay is natural hair because straight is permed hair (no seriously. Many of you are reading this in big cities, but when I first brought my nappy head back to my hometown, I received knowing glances and women touched my thighs a lot in public. I thought they were cousins I’d forgotten until my brother told me I was being read as gay.). Gay is a pantsuit with brogans because straight is a skirt with heels. Gay is the avoidance of ridiculous shit like “strictly dickly” and other phrases that straight girls use to protect themselves from themselves. Straight is a system of binaries and gay is bending the line. So I don’t want to come out just to go into some other box that will also confine me.
In a non-Butlerian, family sense, coming out is also “going in”– to communities constructed for those who get thrown out. I know that I’m going to get thrown out. I may not get to kiss my nephews and nieces anymore, as siblings have previously told me they don’t want “that gay shit” around their kids. I may also be forced out of other communities, real and imagined. I know there are some “back-home” friendships that will sadly end. There is a person whose hand I held as her father took his last, rattling breaths. When my “coming out” reaches her, I wonder if she’ll think that while I witnessed death up close for the first time, I was actually pushing back feelings of lust for her. I wasn’t. There are places I haven’t even been that will throw me out, places far less liberal than this relatively utopian community in which I live. Especially if I stay in the South. Queer folks stay getting whipped by the Bible Belt.
My friend also reminded me that in the black vernacular sense, coming out is also “going in.” I started this journey with a theory: sexuality is ultimately fluid (which reminds me, I need to rewrite this), and many of the behaviors that we think are natural are actually learned. I then practiced this theory by kissing a girl who smelled like fabric softener and that was the end of my heterosexuality. It was easy to give up. Why? Because it didn’t really exist in the first place. Because sexuality exists on a continuum. Because we hold onto constructs that we think will save us until our fingertips bleed, and only when we slip do we realize that the abyss (in this case, whatever exists in excess of compulsory heterosexuality) is only two feet away. And its fun down there. And that was a pun. And that, gentle reader, is going in. Which is one of the things that I get to do (in the spirit of the Lorde) when I come out.
So I return to the notion of coming out and what it means for a grown woman academic who usually feels buttressed by the discourse in which she has chosen to reside. I wonder if coming out is for teenagers in search of community and protection from a system that denies children the right to be and find themselves. Is coming out just for married men who want to scare the world via Oprah? Is coming out for those whose celebrity will help secure rights and privileges for queer common folk like myself?
I think I’d rather just skip that part and go in, like Wayne sans misogyny. What do you think?