This is going to be a long post, so bear with me.
The thing that they don’t tell you when you first come out of the closet is that you will always be coming out. I’ve come out so many times in my life, in multitudes of situations. The reality of being non-heterosexual in the current state of our society is that most people still assume that everyone else is heterosexual. My comings-out have occurred in video games, on social media, at the grocery store, with medical staff (No, there is absolutely no chance that I am pregnant. Yes, I’m sure.), in classrooms, at work, driving down the road (it’s hard not to be out to everyone if you cover your car in rainbows like I did at age 21), and in this blog post…and everywhere in between. There’s always going to be someone I meet who doesn’t know that I am a lesbian. Coming out is a perpetual process, and that’s something that each of us who comes out has to come to terms with in his or her own way. That being said, here I present the story of my initial, capital-letters, Coming Out.
In retrospect, I probably should have known I was a lesbian a long, long time before I did. I always had platonic little crushes on girls, but they were just that: platonic. In many ways, I was a late bloomer. I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 20 (which is apropos, given my What’s In a Name? post, don’t you think?).
Late bloomer though I was, I did have two boyfriends as a young girl. I met the first boy in first grade (cue the AWWWWWWs from the Readership). We were doing math worksheets, and he leaned over from the desk next to mine. In an exaggerated, 6-year-old stage whisper, he asked, “Hey! Do you love me?” How could my reply have been anything but, “Um, yeah, I guess so”? So was born my first “romantic” relationship. It lasted the whole rest of the school year, and then I didn’t hear from him all summer because he didn’t live close enough for our parents to let us go walking to visit one another. On the first day of school in second grade, he told me he didn’t want to be my boyfriend anymore. I pretty much got over it in short order and was out playing He-Man and the Masters of the Universe or marbles or something at lunch that same day, with all the other boys (I was the only girl who played He-Man, and they always made me be Teela).
My second boyfriend asked me out in 8th grade. He invited me to a movie, and wouldn’t you know it just happened to be the Most Romantic Movie Evar: Ghost. He came to pick me up, with his mom driving and little brother along for the ride, and we went to the dollar movie theatre; BF and I saw our movie while Mom and Little Bro saw something different. Neither of us made any kind of move on the other in that dark theatre. Throughout the rest of the school year we hugged a lot, held hands and hung out. We were both in the Leadership group at school, we played lots of ping pong and talked about books we liked. At the end of the school year, we broke up and I was more sad to have lost a friend than I was over the romantic relationship.
Cue high school. As I’ve blogged about before, I was the target of a lot of bullying over my entire public school career, due to the fact that I didn’t “look like a girl”; I didn’t conform to expected gender roles or gender performance norms, and so I was ostracized. I had crushes on boys, but they were all sorts of innocent and platonic. In the years since, I’ve come to realize that I had crushes on boys who were nice to me. Go figure, I like people who are nice. But, I never dated boys or went to dances in high school, and to this day I’m pretty much completely fine with that. Who wanted to wear some uncomfortable dress and shoes and go stand around doing nothing fun? Not me. It was bad enough that I had to wear a dress for show choir. Let’s go to the batting cage!
Enter adulthood. I got my first good job at Costco at age 18, and started earning money. Over time, I began noticing one of the managers at work. She was intelligent, funny, an athlete and coached girls basketball at a local high school…and she happened to be an out lesbian. I wanted desperately for her to like me, and I didn’t understand why until, all of a sudden, my hormones showed up. As I mentioned above, I’d had crushes on girls before; I wanted them to like me, be my friend, be as impressed by me as I was by them. As soon as I recognized the fact that I could tell it was her coming down the next aisle over just by the way her keys jingled on her belt from the way that she walked, I figured out there was something more going on with my level of interest than just “gee I sure want to impress this person”. For the first time in my life, my hormones were a part of the equation, and I wanted more than just the platonic companionship I’d had always wanted from my crushes before. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time. It led to me driving home in the dark at night, listening to Melissa Etheridge and proclaiming to myself that “just because I listen to Melissa, it doesn’t make me a lesbian.” Which is a true statement on the surface, but wasn’t exactly true for me. However, it still took me a couple of years to really come all the way out.
At the same time as I was beginning to explore life as an adult, there was this New Thing happening: the World Wide Web. My interface to it was none other than AOL (and yes, I realize I’m dating myself). I had found myself a little niche community on a writer’s forum within AOL, which had its own chat room called the Instant Cafe (many props to you if you recognize this!). It was open to all ages, and moderated, and a hell of a lot safer for the denizens who frequented it than the majority of the other rooms on AOL.
It was in the Instant Cafe that I met the girl who would become my first girlfriend, and who opened my eyes fully to my own sexuality. Between her, and that aforementioned manager at work, I began to discover a piece of me that I was completely oblivious to before that moment. I look at my senior picture now, and wonder why I had no idea that I was a lesbian, but it took connecting with that first girl in a virtual space for that piece of my truth to fall into place. I told my best friend that I was in love with a girl, but that I thought I liked boys still too. Later on, when she was checking out some hot guys and I wasn’t, I realized that bisexuality wasn’t my truth.
The short version of that first relationship is: we “dated” for 8 months, and finally met for a 13 day visit. We didn’t recognize each other when she got off the plane, and 8 days into the trip she decided we should Just Be Best Friends. I was, of course devastated, but did my best to do what she needed. A month after she went home, she pulled me into an IM and proceeded to berate me for talking badly about her in the Cafe (all I had said was that we broke up and that I was hurting a lot). The gist of that conversation was that I was “needy, codependent, and insecure”, and that she never wanted to speak to me again. I ended up in therapy where I did, indeed, discover that I had codependent tendencies, which I did my best to address from that point forward. She ripped my heart out, in other words, but I survived.
It was about 6 months later that I came out to my parents officially. We had been playing the “everybody knows but nobody’s saying anything” game for months by that point. My car had been vandalized by some idiot kid a month before, and after he was finally arrested, he came back and vandalized my car again (we never got him for that one). But that second vandalism occurred literally the night after I put my very first pride rainbow sticker on my car. A few days later, as I was ranting about it to my parents (basically saying “Who does that to someone’s car?!”), my dad calmly said to me, “Well, maybe you should be a little more careful about what you put on your car.” So, instead of me coming out to them, they basically told me that they knew, simply by acknowledging that they understood what the rainbow signified.
After that moment, I didn’t see any point in pretending I wasn’t a lesbian, so I started saying things like “I’m going to the Young Lesbian Support Group at The Center” and just leaving it out there for my parents and siblings to handle. To their credit, they handled it as well as anyone can be expected to; they all had their own individual struggles with it, but never once has any of them failed to love and support me. I recognized how lucky I was with my family when I started Peer Facilitating groups at the Center and heard horror stories of mothers telling daughters how they wished for them to end up in accidents in the hospital so they could pay to send them somewhere to be “fixed”. Never once, even when they had their deepest struggles with my not being straight, did my family say anything that made me believe I was less-than, that I was somehow not human, or that I was anything but loved and worthy of good things. With them in my corner, from that point on I considered myself out of the closet and proud.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, coming out is a process that never really ends, but coming out to my family is what I’d call the end of the first chapter: that capitalized Coming Out Story. If you’ve got questions for me, post them here, or send me a tweet. And if you’re that person who is worrying about coming out, or trying to figure out how to do it…it really does get better. The only way I know to do it is to just be true to yourself, and the rest will come. <3