I finally came out, in dribs and drabs, in my mid-twenties. I’d moved an entire continent away from my sleepy, WASPy hometown. I had new friends, was dating, and finally felt I had nothing to lose.
You don’t just come out once though – you do it over and over again in excruciating repetition. Occasionally I said outright, “Oh, I’m gay,” but mostly I mentioned that I “had a date with a girl from Ireland,” or something else that let me slip the right pronouns in casually. This strained understatement hid just how much I did care what people though. Each time I felt like a finely-tuned barometer to their responses. Most were indifferent, some surprised. My male flatmate said, “if I was a girl I'd probably be a lesbian too.”
I’d known that I liked other women for a decade. I met a girl when I was fifteen and we were close in the way that best friends are close, until one day she kissed me and asked if it was all right and everything tumbled forward, as though we both knew, and had always known. We didn’t have words or language for this. Our silence gave us space to savour what the world around us corrupted. That silence was fear, but there was self-preservation and love there too. And defiance: an unwillingness to perform the act of confession for things that should never have to be confessed.
The problem is that secrets, however justified, begin to feel shameful. And shame is corrosive. It consumes you, right down to places where you were the most solid. It extends outward to your fingertips until everything you touch is fiction. You float through life a step removed, because you are fake – a fantasy in which you yourself no longer believe. The closet – whatever closet – is a lonely place. It holds you captive in the gap between your true self and outward persona. As you close yourself off to avoid vulnerability, you pay in loneliness; no one sees you as you really are. And it’s hard to drag yourself through the motions of a life that isn’t yours. It’s like sleepwalking.
That heaviness followed me until I couldn’t move anymore, and loneliness pushed me out the door. Now I am grateful that I had that push, because when you have to be different you learn it is better anyway. You can be fearless. Sometimes, the same loneliness still reverberates through my life. I’m struggling to pull a voice from silence, to write and create and be willing to be exposed (like this!). I was initially horrified to have won the listserv because I didn’t know what to say. But the invitation is a push, to take the leap across the gap; to seize a story, any story. So I’m taking it, because I know there is more happiness to be had outside the closet than in it.
“To write as if your life depended on it; to write across the chalkboard, putting up there in public the words you have dredged; sieved up in dreams, from behind screen memories, out of silence – words you have dreaded and needed in order to know you exist.” (Adrienne Rich)
Write me too if you’d like. Tell me what you are creating. And thanks to the aforementioned flatmate, who not only made me laugh, but introduced me to The Listserv.