Happy Coming Out (and Going In) Day!

11 Oct

Today is national coming out day so I called my girlfriend early this morning. “Hello? Are you okay?” she asked, sleep and worry mixed in her voice. “I’m gay,” I said. “Today is national coming out day and I thought you should know.” “Goodbye.” She hung up. She’s not a morning person. She also “came out” in her teens and I, a grown woman, am way behind. For me, coming out isn’t as scary as it probably was for her in the mid-nineties.

I’m grown. I already had a baby “out of wedlock“, so I’ve experienced the worst of the anger caused by middle class politics of respectability. I have good friends. I had queer community before I even knew what it was. I’m an academic at an institution that is at least queer friendly on paper so I’ve learned how to develop systems of belief that make room for my whole being. I have enough queer politics to believe that anyone who has a problem with the way that I identify is at least misinformed about the nature of “natural.” I believe most things are socially constructed. I believe gender isn’t a binary opposition. Nor is sex. I don’t believe gender and sex are the same things. I believe in sexual fluidity and openness. I believe that texts, even the ones we hold most dear, are signs and therefore open to infinite interpretations. So what does a person with a belief profile like mine do on a day like today?

I was going to use my rainbow umbrella but it didn’t rain.

I was going to hold hands with my girlfriend in public but I’m in a long distance relationship.

I was going to put an “Out and Proud” sticker on my car but I’m still paying for it.

I was going to write a post under my own name but I decided to create an alias especially for the family members who stalk me on this site even though they don’t understand half of what is posted here. Runtelldat.

So I’m thinking. In the Judith Butler since of the concept, coming out may really be “going in”– into a box constructed by those who are hyper-vigilant about protecting their heterosexuality, a category that is as unstable as its binary opposition. In this dialectic, gay is what straight isn’t. Gay is natural hair because straight is permed hair (no seriously. Many of you are reading this in big cities, but when I first brought my nappy head back to my hometown, I received knowing glances and women touched my thighs a lot in public. I thought they were cousins I’d forgotten until my brother told me I was being read as gay.). Gay is a pantsuit with brogans because straight is a skirt with heels. Gay is the avoidance of ridiculous shit like “strictly dickly” and other phrases that straight girls use to protect themselves from themselves. Straight is a system of binaries and gay is bending the line. So I don’t want to come out just to go into some other box that will also confine me.

No. This is gay in a box: “Help me. I’m in a box. Let me out of this box!”

In a non-Butlerian, family sense, coming out is also “going in”– to communities constructed for those who get thrown out. I know that I’m going to get thrown out. I may not get to kiss my nephews and nieces anymore, as siblings have previously told me they don’t want “that gay shit” around their kids. I may also be forced out of other communities, real and imagined. I know there are some “back-home” friendships that will sadly end. There is a person whose hand I held as her father took his last, rattling breaths. When my “coming out” reaches her, I wonder if she’ll think that while I witnessed death up close for the first time, I was actually pushing back feelings of lust for her. I wasn’t. There are places I haven’t even been that will throw me out, places far less liberal than this relatively utopian community in which I live. Especially if I stay in the South. Queer folks stay getting whipped by the Bible Belt.

Painting of queer women in rainbow colors.

This is a utopian queer community. No “isms” in this painting.

My friend also reminded me that in the black vernacular sense, coming out is also “going in.” I started this journey with a theory: sexuality is ultimately fluid (which reminds me, I need to rewrite this), and many of the behaviors that we think are natural are actually learned. I then practiced this theory by kissing a girl who smelled like fabric softener and that was the end of my heterosexuality. It was easy to give up. Why? Because it didn’t really exist in the first place. Because sexuality exists on a continuum. Because we hold onto constructs that we think will save us until our fingertips bleed, and only when we slip do we realize that the abyss (in this case, whatever exists in excess of compulsory heterosexuality) is only two feet away. And its fun down there. And that was a pun. And that, gentle reader, is going in. Which is one of the things that I get to do (in the spirit of the Lorde) when I come out.

Audre Lorde speaking.

This is Sister Audre GOIN IN!

So I return to the notion of coming out and what it means for a grown woman academic who usually feels buttressed by the discourse in which she has chosen to reside. I wonder if coming out is for teenagers in search of community and protection from a system that denies children the right to be and find themselves. Is coming out just for married men who want to scare the world via Oprah? Is coming out for those whose celebrity will help secure rights and privileges for queer common folk like myself?

I think I’d rather just skip that part and go in, like Wayne sans misogyny. What do you think?

19 Responses to “Happy Coming Out (and Going In) Day!”

  1. Sharon Johnson October 11, 2012 at 3:16 PM #

    Happy coming out day. I came out as a grown woman in my late twenties. I am now 51 and have realized over the years just how little most people really care. I am from a very small town in Mississippi so my visits home are good for a couple days of gossip (especially if I am with someone different) but that is the extent of it. I am one of 15 siblings. Although they all probably believe I will go to hell when I die, all but two have decided to love me anyway. Twelve out of fourteen ain’t half bad. I am out in my entire life, work, friends, family, etc. It is necessary because I am raising my daughter who is eight and has no concept of homophobia or heterosexism, so she outs me and her mom all the time. It is just how life is for her. It has been amazing viewing life through her eyes. She has friends whose parents are male and female. She also has friends whose parents are two men and two women. Family does not come in one flavor for her. It is very refreshing and inspiring to see what our society could be like if we let go of some of our learned behaviors and preconceived ideas about what is natural, right, or godly. Being out feels good and right to me. I have always felt that my life is too big to be lived in a closet. Closets are for storing stuff or hiding mess. Not for living loudly and proudly.

    • crunkonia October 16, 2012 at 9:53 PM #

      Thank you for sharing your story Sharon. I really appreciate the cute story about your daughter, as I’m also looking down the road and wondering what conceptions of family my children will have. Thank you again.

  2. justanotheropinion October 11, 2012 at 10:44 PM #

    I’m still on the floor laughing with your friends response of hanging up on you! Honey, your real friends knew you were gay long before now. They don’t need you to ‘claim’ it. They love and respect you for who you are – the person they already know. I’m glad you were able to state it out loud – that’s a huge step. But TRUST that the folks that are already in your life, either know or are pretty sure. They are STILL in your life nonetheless. Hang on to that when other ignorant individuals give you the eye, ignore you or play coy.

    Happy coming out day to you!

    • crunkonia October 16, 2012 at 10:13 PM #

      Justanotheropinion, so true. Nobody is really surprised, but I think I gave plenty of clues on my facebook profile on which I have been a SUPER advocate for a couple years now, before I even thought about acknowledging my own slippery grasp on “straightness.” Thanks for reading. It was a happy day for me:)

  3. AJ October 12, 2012 at 6:33 PM #

    Wonderful entry! The one thing I noticed missing was the lack of flexibility on this side of the rainbow. Your entry gives the appearance of things being flexible and non-stagnant when “gay”. I find that “lesbians” that have ridden plenty of d!ck want my d!ckless as$ to claim their label as well. Because I don’t, there is issue. Another box.

    May you walk in peace & love.

    • crunkonia October 16, 2012 at 10:02 PM #

      Thanks AJ. I was trying to convey that I don’t believe in ends of the rainbow, but I do take your point about portraying straightness as inflexible. In the passages in which I did that, especially in the list paragraph, I was really just trying to show the insufficiency of the binary. Still, I do feel that heterosexuality can have rigid parameters, especially because so many privileges come with the identity. I think this rigidity/ inflexibility may be more visible in the many rules about what straightness is supposed to look like for men of color. Thanks for reading!

    • s. mandisa moore October 22, 2012 at 11:36 AM #

      AJ-what I hear you writing is that there is a spectrum of sexuality and the limitations of “gay”. I totally agree. I think we must fight to avoid the labeling and “closing ranks” that happens to us all the time.

      But I feel like you are shading, in what feels like a healthy dose of misogyny, lesbians who have penetrative sex. Are you saying that lesbians don’t have penetrative sex or that we shouldn’t? I also noticed that you put “lesbians” in quotes as if to question their legitimacy. What’s up with that?

  4. amg October 13, 2012 at 11:56 PM #

    Thank you for sharing your story and coming out in your own way, Sometimes it is better to use a pen name when you have crazy relatives. I do too, Much luck and love to you.

    • crunkonia October 16, 2012 at 10:09 PM #

      I definitely feel you. Thank you!

  5. ROJAK October 15, 2012 at 1:24 PM #

    I think most of the times is better to use pen names if you have many crazy relatives.

  6. lwm October 15, 2012 at 3:05 PM #

    It might be better to use a pen name, only the author links this post back to her self at least too times. Once on a posting with her real name and photo. Maybe she really is trying to come out to her crazy relatives.

    • crunkonia AND crunkashell October 16, 2012 at 10:07 PM #

      Nah. I don’t care enough about the relatives I mentioned to “come out” to them. I do care about the reports that get back to the family I do love (the family that also knows), and in trying to work through that, I changed my mind a couple of times about which name I would use. This post is really about my ambivalence about the coming out narrative, as it is responsible for the nonsensical paragraph I just wrote. If this were about coming out as a vegetarian instead of coming out about this other preference, I wouldn’t have wasted time responding.

  7. Nine Cent Girl October 15, 2012 at 6:53 PM #

    Thanks for coming out!! Let the party begin!

  8. Zora Renee (@Breezegrl) October 16, 2012 at 9:00 AM #

    Well, Happy Coming Out to you! I hate to break it to you, but those people that know YOU and LOVE YOU, probably already know and 1) are waiting til you say something, and 2) don’t give a dayum! Heterosexuality like homosexuality is something that someone way back when thought of as another “label” that made them comfortable about their own being and has been used to “keep every other” in line, as though those neat little boxes line up right! SMH! No dear, celebrate you in whatever way that uplifts your spirit and keeps you flying high!

    Love and light!

    • crunkonia October 16, 2012 at 10:08 PM #

      Thank you!

  9. sheridf October 17, 2012 at 11:21 AM #

    Crunkashell…where is my book. I’ve been waiting for my new favorite writer to get to it. Especially since she is all happy and in love. I want my love story, my beach reading, my feminist fairytales and children’s books. I will pay for them. Keeping making the choices that lead to decisions that make you happy and your community will keep on loving you as you are.

    • Invisible Man October 22, 2012 at 5:18 PM #

      growing up I had two cousins that I really looked up to and the three of us were really close. I lost one to crack. The other I lost to the “closet”. a lot of people suspected him to be at least bi, and although jokes might have been made about him being eccentric- young black male from the hood into theatre and dance, he was deeply loved especially by me. As time went on he got into writing places. The last one was blatantly “gay”, he showed it to his father who got freaked out. My cousin then moved to LA and what ever happened gave up the arts, became a wacky Christian ( even worse stopped drinking) and married a fellow wacky Christian. I so much want him to come out of the closet, so we can have a F*cking beer again, like we use to. I miss him dearly.


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