Friday, April 18, 2008

Coming Out as Queer

Maybe it’s because it’s spring. Maybe it’s my recent experiences with college students and others in Tallahassee. Maybe it’s because gay pride month is only six weeks away. Or maybe it’s the interesting Lazarus posts over at But whatever “it” is, I find myself contemplating “coming out”.

My process happened over many, many years. In fact, in putting some pieces together for myself, I realize that my first inclination that I was a lesbian came when I was eight years-old and I wrote a love poem to a pretty blonde-haired blue-eyed girl in my class. It wasn’t very sophisticated, one of those “Roses are red, Violets are blue” things (gimme a break: I was eight!). When I gave it to my true love, she read it, tore it up, threw it in my face and ran away crying. I told my mother what happened, and she assured me that the girl probably “didn’t understand.” Or maybe she did understand, and was horrified. What I understood was that what I had done was obviously upsetting and wrong and I should have just kept it to myself.

I also knew to avoid blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls!

By the time I got to puberty, I realized again that something was amiss. I didn’t have strong attraction to boys or men, but I liked looking at women. I developed a crush on one of my teachers, a crush so intense that I would intentionally walk past her classroom on the second floor to look at her…even if my next class was in the basement of the building. I watched one of the girls in my class slow-dancing with a jock at one of our painful Junior High School dances, and I kept wishing that it was me holding her that close.

Uh-oh! Wanting to slow-dance with another chick could only mean one thing!

I went to the library. And, in a town the size of Exeter, one had to be very careful about the books one checked out. After all, the librarian knew everyone. And so I was very particular about my selections. I’d pick out a book like “Family Matter” by Dr. Charles Silverstein which interviewed some of the founding members of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. And then I would select maybe some feminist titles….and then lots of other books that I had no intention of reading, but at least they weren’t “suspicious”. The "non-gay" titles lived on my bedside table. The books I was actually reading lived under the bed.

Reading helped. Along with Our Bodies, Our Selves (thanks to my brother, Tom…who thought he was being ‘cute’ when he pointed that one out to me!), I found that there were other people in the world like me. Sadly, they were all in black and white, not in flesh and blood in front of me. Those who were actual real people around me were not so helpful. There were jokes about gay men and AIDS. There were nasty cracks about “lesbos”. And then there was my reality of prep school.

I was not “out” at my school, but my demeanor, my athleticism, and my style of dress all indicated the truth of who I was as a sexual being. And thus I endured having things thrown at me as I walked on campus, classmates trying to trip and push me as I left classes, and a group of boys who followed me around grumbling, “Dyke!” in a low, menacing tone. I was scared. I wanted to fit in, and I did try to find boys attractive. But inside I knew that what my enemies perceived about me was true: I was a dyke. What didn’t help was when I tried to come out to two different adults, I was either admonished and told that it was too early for me to conclude that I was a lesbian, or I was told that my “problem” was that I made boys “feel neutered” and if I would “put on a dress and make-up, the boys would find me attractive.”

Interestingly, I found the paper I wrote as a sophomore for my Religion class in which we were to make a personal statement on four ethical issues. One of my four was a defense of homosexuality in which I concluded, at 16 years old, that “a homosexual deserves the same chance at life that any heterosexual has,” and that I would feel that way in five years, “ten years, twenty years and plenty more after that.” Hahahahahaha!!! Had I but known what was to come!

It took five years later for me to finally accept my own lesbianism. And the day that I did, I felt a freedom and a peace in my spirit that I had been longing to feel for years. I had dated two men up to that point (not counting the one guy I sort-of dated in prep school), and had found those relationships lacking. It wasn’t that the men were bad guys; but I wasn’t really interested in them. And it all came clear when I walked into that auditorium at Stephens College in Columbia and found myself in a sea of women…many of them lesbian. I felt my soul say, “Ahhhhhh!! Finally!!” And it was a real plus that in the time that I was there covering this women’s music festival, two women hit on me. Not only did I feel at home in my spirit, my ego had been given a major boost, too! I went home that night, sat on my bed and told myself it was time to accept that I was gay.

The next time I went to church, I felt a little ill at ease. Mostly, I worried that I had turned purple with pink triangles, and everybody was going to know that I was a queer in their midst. However, nothing about me really had changed…at least not outwardly….so nobody suspected anything. I did find myself more sensitive to things that I hadn’t probably paid attention to before. Like with the rest of society, there were the jokes about gays that went unchallenged. And there was the lawyer who bragged about keeping an AIDS Hospice House out of a neighborhood. And so, rather than share with anyone that I had finally come out and come home, I just kept it to myself, and connected to “my people” once a week by listening to the radio show, “This Way Out”. I didn’t want to start a relationship with anyone because I feared attachment. I knew I was going to leave Columbia, and I didn’t want to have anyone in my life that might make me change my mind.

I was fortunate when I moved to Tallahassee that I had two co-workers who were both lesbian and made a point of “showing me the ropes” of our very closeted capital city. I discovered the lesbian Mecca: the softball field! And that’s where I found an interesting older woman who often donned mismatched socks and had a soccer player’s approach to playing ground balls in the outfield. I say she only started speaking to me after I hit a homerun. She says I only started speaking after I hit the homerun. Regardless, seventeen years later, we are still with each other…though our conversations have now morphed into spiritual comparisons of Judaism and Christianity…a far cry from the merits of trapping the ball with your foot as opposed to fielding it with your glove!

That’s my story. And I’m sticking to it!


Mothergoose said...

Nice post, Susan. Took me years and years to come out to myself, even without a religious upbringing. I'm currently really tired of the obligatory gay-hating culture that claims Christianity as the justification for their small hearts. So there. And hey, those are good stats - LMT AND journalism awards. I like that.

Anonymous said...

So... now I know the whole story. It doesn't matter as I love you and will always love you just the way you are. You and the gal with the mismatched socks.


SCG said...

Thanks, mothergoose! I'm working on another post in re: coming out Christian in a culture where "Christian" too often gets equated with "gay-hater". The "thieves of Christianity", as I call them, have done great harm to a message that is about *love*. And it's time for the rest of us to speak up and welcome back and invite in those who have felt shoved out of the flock by the strangers.