It’s not actually something I talk very personally about and in talking with Katie a while ago about her fears around her queer experience not being valid because of reasons, I felt like it’s something I really needed to share.
There is a ton of lesbian, gay, queer, trans narrative out there and a lot of it used to begin with the phrase “I always knew I was different.” And there’s nothing wrong with that, there are tons of people out there who always did know something, and their experiences are just as valid as anyone else’s.
But it isn’t my narrative. And something that I’ve learned as I’ve read more and more people’s accounts of their coming out stories, their self realization stories, is that we need more stories. There is no one single queer narrative, even if people grow up in very similar circumstances, everyone views the word a little differently. And that is a wonderful thing. I think we need to welcome the diversity of experiences as part of our queer narratives.
I remember reading this book when I was in graduate school, it was called On My Honor: Lesbians reflect on their Scouting Experience. In that book I FINALLY found a narrative that resonated with me. I said, for the first time, “Oh my God, ME TOO!”. And it was a shocking and profound moment. That light bulb moment where you finally truly know that you are not alone in your experiences.
I blogged about that book back in 2006, when it was a light bulb moment for me.
Firstly, I didn’t really even realize that ‘liking girls’ was a THING you could do. I mean I’d heard about gay and lesbian people, but only in that passing “Geraldo show, I kissed my best guy friend” kind of way. I was raised in a very loving and supportive household, my family always valued diversity and we definitely talked about other cultures and pluralism, but sexual orientation just wasn’t really something that was even on the radar as something you could be.
Looking back, I think the first time I was really ever exposed to anything queer at all was when I was living in Hawaii, and they were talking about same sex marriage, this would have been back in… somewhere in the late 90s I guess. And it was just something that adults talked about somewhere off on the fringes of my attention. I can’t even really recall an actual conversation, just a general feeling of ‘weird’. I remember Ellen coming out on a magazine cover, something about arguing about trim on a blazer.
The first gay person that I knew about (because statistics tell me that I almost certainly knew other gay people, I just didn’t know it, and maybe if they were anything like me, they didn’t either) was this guy I knew in high school. There was this odd conversation about how we were all having “Girl Talk” even though my friend, who was a guy, was there. I was a little confused and then a different friend pulled me aside and, in a hushed whisper, told me that he was gay. I can remember thinking of him kind of like some kind of rare unicorn that I’d heard about but never actually seen. Please be kind to me, I was fifteen I think.
Another person, who was a friend of a friend, told me that she was bisexual. And she told me by having me play a gang of hangman. It was a strange and bizarre moment. Because of the hangman thing, not because of the bi thing. I can only guess that she wasn’t sure how to talk about it and so she made it this game.
I came out to my friends through a blog post mostly. I’m pretty sure I got nothing but positive support, although a couple of people were sort of dismissive and said that they had known for ages and were just waiting for me to tell them. Which was, and still is, kind of hurtful. Not in a terrible way, but in that slight microaggression kind of way. I know that they didn’t mean it to be, and would probably feel bad if they realized how it might feel to me. Also, you don’t KNOW that someone is queer before they do. You might wonder if they are, or not be surprised if they later tell you. But you don’t know it before they do. I also had a response where someone insisted that I needed to immediately tell some other people who I was really NOT ready to.
Tip: If a friend comes out to you and you’ve suspected forever, please don’t be all like “DUH, I knew.” A better response might be “Cool, I’m honored that you trust me enough that you’re telling me.” Just saying.
So that was a little difficult, in a very non dangerous way. I often feel a little bit guilty about some of the emotions I have around my coming out when so many of my queer friends and allies have had MUCH worse experiences. I was never in physical danger, I didn’t risk losing my job, my family, or my friends.
I’ve been very blessed to have a lot of safety around being gay. No one throws things at me or screams at my wife and me when we walk down the street. No one defaces our house or threatens us. We actually had this one bizarre experience where we were buying groceries and the bagger, an older gentleman, asked if we were sisters (we get that A LOT, because two ladies together obviously must be sisters, there’s no possible other configuration). To which I smiled patiently and said no, we’re married. He paused, and you could almost see the wheels in his brain scrambling to catch up and process what I’d just said. This is fairly normal, most times I just smile and we leave whoever’s mind we’ve just blown and go on our way. But this time we were still paying for our groceries and he seemed to recover his faculties pretty quickly. He walked around the grocery counter and SHOOK MY HAND and offered me congratulations. And he shook Katie’s too. It was a truly bizarre, but oddly sweet moment. We thanked him, and took our groceries outside. To our credit, we waited until we were safely outside before we BURST into laughter and congratulated each other on being married. You know, more than 8 years ago!
We are very blessed. Even though there is a LONG way to go for queer folks, I’ve seen a lot of things I never ever would have expected to happen. Idiotic microagressions aside, like never seeing ourselves represented in media (try finding lesbians in non-lesbian targeted media sometime), and being assumed to be sisters, we’re doing well.