coming out


Don’t pretend

you didn’t look

you gave me that kind of lingering look we’re not supposed to

trade; we’re supposed to behave

read books by Danielle Steel, prefer touch

to sight, imagine to feel

inaction instead of want, supposed to wait

for Mr Right to come

sweep us right off our feet, but I warn you

my desires are quicker than him and not so neatly defined

they are unrefined liquor that burns your lips

from the shot glass rim down to the pit of your stomach

so admit it

while you still have the excuse of

a tongue loosed by liquid fire

I caught the corner of your eye with the tip of a smile

glimpsed the spark, a live wire within

and even though we both know the flavor

of sin, of not supposed to

of what good girls don’t do

with every drop you’re looking braver, tired of stop

and no in a voice that quavers

tired of shame instead of savor, you’ve had

enough

of good guys acting like bad guys and bad guys

always tricking the good girls and what

is so bad about looking

and feeling

about believing in something that burns, yes,

but brings

so much light and

so much warmth

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I’m not much of a believer, but check the PostSecret blog religiously.  Honest, it’s the one ritual I do each Sunday: click on the favorites menu, scroll down, and read each of the week’s new entries.  Sometimes they make me laugh, bring a sad feeling or just puzzle me.  A scant few make the hair stand up on the back of my neck, it’s as if I wrote them and sent them in. This week there are two about coming out and one about superstitious wishing.  Another one reads, “I’m 20 and I can feel that my body wants me to have a baby, and the scary thing is I kind of want one too.”  As a twenty-year-old who occasionally hears her ovaries screaming “BAAABY!! Look, there’s a cute baby! Time to make an embryo!”, I understand that slightly alarming confusion, and why it’s posted on the website: what makes a sentence or story into a secret is that it’s scary.

Coming out–to myself, my closest friends, my parents, in that order–was without a doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I almost had a miniature panic attack in the middle of French class one winter day, when it dawned on me that being attracted to women wasn’t just a fluke or a phase, that all those labels, stereotypes, and slurs that society tends to apply to non-straight people could now be used against…me.  That realization scared the shit out of me. Maybe I should explain: I wasn’t afraid of gayness, per se, but of becoming a rainbow-tinted target at already-tense family gatherings, and how I would actually hold up under the pressure of being that “other” I’d read so many high-vocabulary critical theory articles about.

See, as much as I strive to be an independent, strong, smart Woman with a capital ‘W’, my greatest fear is that deep down, I’m actually a coward.  I don’t look particularly tough, I can’t bench-press my own weight, and I’ve never punched anyone, though a number of my friends probably wouldn’t believe it.  I’ve learned some ways to camouflage my inner weak-kneed wimp, by learning how to fix things and yelling back at harassers on the street.  But I still don’t always fit the adjectives I admire most: strong, capable, outspoken, fearless, respected.  Maybe it’s from being a blonde or having big breasts or growing up a girl in this culture of Barbie dolls vs. Tonka trucks, but I hate feeling more like those other words: small, powerless, frightened, dismissed.

In coming out, I feared losing what power I had over my life and voice.  Would my parents believe me, or consider it a passing phase? Would I have to defend my own emotions to fundamentalist religious friends? I was afraid of becoming invisible and yet a bull’s-eye at the same time, yet staying silent scared me even more, knowing how easy it had been to delude myself all those years, how much I had missed.  So I gathered my courage and spoke my secret, anxious as a little kid who just ate that entire stash of chocolate her mom hid away in the cabinet that was supposed to be too high for her to reach.  I finally did it.

It wasn’t as terrible as I’d worried, or as it could’ve been.  Certainly not panic-attack-inducing.  And it felt really freaking good not to keep that particular secret from my parents and friends anymore.  But I suspect my poor mama is still afraid that she’ll never have grandchildren to spoil and feed and sew Halloween costumes for.  I want to tell her not to worry about that, but it’s hard to explain that even though I never could picture myself married to some man, bearing his children, I’ve always imagined raising kids.  I’d love to watch my child learn to walk and dance, tell bedtime stories and make up explanations for what clouds taste like and why worms eat dirt.  I want to teach my daughter how to fix a bike and never be afraid of herself.  This is a secret I really hope to share with my mother someday, once I find the words.

Secrets aren’t just silly childhood whisperings, they’re the reason we invent rituals and superstitions, why we pass on secret family recipes, play drunken “Never Have I Ever” games and value friends’ loyalty.  It’s in the sharing of a secret, rather than its making, that lends weight and color to something that was once hidden in darkness.  Before I came out, I was scared.  Now I’m still plenty scared, but I’m not alone because others know.  That’s why PostSecret is so popular and the self-revelatory graffiti in the library bathroom is so prolific, why our tongues loosen when we drink.  Though I’m twenty, I didn’t start to feel “grown-up” until I started facing my fears and telling them.

When I have children, I know they’ll keep certain small secrets from me just as I did–still do–from my parents, like that time I smoked or wasn’t actually staying at Emily’s house or stole Dad’s CD.  When I have children, I will be scared for them, that they will bruise more than just their knees and grow up to wear hidden scars inside them.  But I hope my kids will never hesitate to tell me when they’re frightened, when they’re in need of help, when they’re in love.  I sincerely hope that any panic attacks in French class will be the result of pop quizzes and not crises about their sexuality.

If we weren’t all so afraid of ourselves–what we’ve done, or not, and regretted–would we trust each other more? Would you tell me your secrets if I promised to keep them safe? If I tell you mine, will you believe me?

good thing was, she was driving and therefore couldn’t react with the knee-jerking, eye-popping “what??!” I was half-expecting. didn’t even swerve on the road–I credit years of exercising those tough maternal nerves–but instead, let the silence grow within that closed interior until I wasn’t sure she’d even heard me, what with the chronic tinnitus and all. at least she didn’t start crying, or yelling, or something equally heartbreaking. so I thought I had done a good job breaking the news that her youngest daughter was, in fact, not straight.

(bad timing has always been my bane. born three days late, I snuck into kindergarten several months early, and felt perpetually older than my age. I missed out on my favorite concert once because I had just left town, and almost missed Thanksgiving once because of delayed planes. this time I was sure to wait until after Mother’s Day before I went and dropped the gay-bomb, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. she probably thought it was bad manners, and she raised me better than that.)

fears and worries raised their ugly head when she didn’t say anything at first. then, at long last, she spoke only to ask whether it was that men repulsed me. what? honestly, I would’ve thought she’d ask whether I was sure, how I came to realize it, who I was dating, but she skipped those questions and went straight (ha!) to the “why”. all my easy explanations had to take a backseat with her luggage, and I struggled to tell her that I didn’t dislike guys, it wasn’t that she’d wronged me somewhere since my birth, but words failed to serve as my messengers. how to explain that I found more beauty in any woman’s strength, than even in Brad Pitt’s stubble?

I am a good daughter. don’t feel bad, mom. times might be hard and I know this isn’t easy for you to digest, choke down with wine at big family dinners when you wonder whether I’m going to break open my cover. but I don’t want things to be ugly between us, and aren’t you the one who taught me how to be strong instead of just stubborn?