I wrote this on National Coming Out Day – October 11, 2019 – but totally forgot to post it until now – every day is a coming out day if you want it to be.
I’ve known I was some sort of queer since I was six years old. My bisexual single teen mom had made sure I grew up with a firm understanding that families could be a million diffferent shapes, sizes, colors, and genders. I wasn’t immune to the heteronormativity of the world but had grown up hippie dippie enough that when my best friend spun around, her long curly hair catching the sunlight and something dropped in my stomach, I knew enough to recognize that feeling as, “oh… I want to kiss her right now.”
But figuring that out about myself at the tender age of six doesn’t mean I’ve lived as an out and proud lesbian my whole life. I came out first in seventh grade, my friends and I having just discovered the musical RENT, we used it as a launch pad as each of us figured out what brand of Queer we were. (To this day, I don’t think any of the five of us identifies as ‘straight’.) I transfered schools at the end of seventh grade and by that time had settled on the label ‘bisexual’, one I would have to explain and defend for almost a decade. My new friends at my new school were chill, though none of them had any kind of the experiences as I had had and at the time they all identified as ‘straight’.
High school and college were much the same, I found myself dating lots of different people with lots of different gender and sexual identities. I found the word ‘pansexual’ and decided it fit me slight better than ‘bisexual’. Great, another word to show and tell. As we grew up and the world in many ways with us – my friends started coming out of the woodwork around me. First, a friend from High School came out to me one night on a mutual friends couch and we cried and cuddled until three AM. Later, a sorority sister (yes, I was in a sorority) drunkenly came out to me in the bathroom at a frat party and we cried and I told her that she wasn’t broken. At one point, a man I was dating came out to me and we had a joyous moment of queers discovering each other in a visually straight relationship.
I got so used to being the only queer one in the room, the only one who knew anything about LGBT+ issues, the only one who felt personally offended that my right to the marriage of anyone I pleased was up to a vote – as if it was a discussion worthy of debate!? – that I grew really really tired of it. Towards the end of college I closetted myself, I no longer wanted to be the go-to person for all things queer – in fact, I’d never really figured out what that had meant to me. I’d dated men and women and non binary people and I knew what love felt like but I’d never been a ‘baby gay’. I’d never had an opportunity to learn, I’d always been the one teaching. So I retreated. I started dating a straight man, we got engaged, and I pushed myself away from the queer label for almost two years.
Of course it wasn’t right, and it wasn’t right for so so many reasons, but the biggest one was, I needed to be my authentic queer self. I needed to have that part of me acknowledged and seen and embraced and loved, not viewed as something to be competing against. There must have been something in the air that spring/summer of 2015, because in that time quite a few pivotal things happened. (1) I broke off my engagment and totally removed myself from that relationship, (2) the Supreme Court ruled that marriage was between two consenting adults regardless of gender, (3) I started identifying as a lesbian.
This last one, the identity one, came as a complete surprise to me. I’ve alwasy dressed fairly femme and before I cut my hair, no one knew I was queer until I told them. I was at bar with a friend of mine, celebrating my new found single person-hood, and some drunk ass-hole spat at us, “Dykes!” Needless to say we left the bar for a friendlier one, but something about the word struck me, as if it a chord inside my psyche had finally been tuned and it was playing to most beautiful music. Dyke. It became a rallying term inside my head, something to call myself in the mirror when I needed an ego boost. Slowly my clothes started changing to match (we’re in cuffing season yall!). I started reading queer stuff again. I found Autostraddle (how did it take me that long to find Autostraddle?!). I started following lesbian suiting companies on Instagram and found a queer barber shop that I would stalk online looking at all the long to short haired transformations and wondering what I would look like with a pixie, or a crew cut, or even a fade?! (I’ve since had all of those haircuts and while the crew cut was the easiest to take care of, I’ll stick with the undercut for the moment.) I had my baby-gay phase, finally. I felt so late to the game it was ridiculous, especially for someone who figured it out at six.
Obviously, I didn’t figure it out at six. I don’t have it figured out today. But I think that’s the beauty of being part of this community. You’re allowed to not know, you’re allowed to play around and experiment and settle on one label for a decade or a year or a week, and a new one for the next. Labels are just words that can sometimes help bring clarity. They’re not necessary or demonstrative or rigid, they flow and move and grow as we do. Right now I identify as a queer lesbian – or dyke for short. Tomorrow I might identify totally differently, and that’s okay.
Happy National Coming Out Day! Here’s an opportunity to put words to your identity, but don’t feel like you have to, or that the words have to be perfect. You’re here, that’s what matters, and that’s perfect in and of itself.
Image credit goes to NYCDykeMarch