Journey of a Queer Life
“Did anything particularly challenging happen this past year?” my new psychiatrist inquired. She had inviting eyes and an extremely comfortable suede couch, so I searched for a way to satisfy her question.
“Well, I came out.”
Her eyes widened. “Wow, that’s a big change”.
“Yup”, I muttered and then softened with an awkward giggle.
Despite how much I’ve said this phrase over the past year, I hate it. I hate it because it simplifies something that feels much more complicated to me, but I’m at a loss for how else I can manage to encapsulate such a cosmic shift in self.
When I say the words “I came out”, I imagine that people picture a previously closeted lesbian who was too afraid to say she liked breasts. The truth is, nothing could feel more foreign to me. For me, coming out didn’t exist in such a “before” and “after” binary. For one, I have been identifying as queer for nearly four years now. When I say the phrase “I came out this year”, I’m referring more to a change in visibility and living a life I began to long for - a life that was outwardly queer as opposed to the occasional destructive, messy make-out with a girl in the bathroom.
Perhaps one of the most difficult people to explain this longing to was my long-term male partner at the time. I say this because this wasn’t just some “random boyfriend” of mine whom I was using as a beard, but a true partner. We met when I was 19 and dated on-and-off for five years. He’s one of those people who make up my roots; we taught each other what it meant to love and be loved. And so, when I started getting hints that a heterosexual relationship was no longer a part of my “truth”, I felt consumed with a sense of loss.
To tell someone I deeply loved that our relationship was making a part of me feel invisible was one of the more painful things I’ve gone through in this life. So much of me wanted to hold on. For the longest time, I thought I could somehow reconcile being in this relationship (or any cis-hetero relationship that is) with my desire to be outwardly queer/bi/gay/who knows what. I tried to solve it with openness in our relationship, occasional tantalizing crushes on women, or attending various queer events. But each time I had these fleeting opportunities to live this part of myself out, I felt more anxious when I returned to earth, sensing that these feelings weren’t something to be “solved” but clues that what I wanted was changing.
Little things that I had previously been able to brush aside suddenly became very painful for me: walking down the street holding his hand and knowing that people were quietly mis-identifying me left and right, watching two women kiss on the sidewalk and wishing it was me, the ways my relationship and queer community couldn’t seem/didn’t want to merge, thus leaving me feeling like I was living a double life. The worst part of it was to see how much he was trying to make it all work, but at the end of the day I still longed to live my identity more visibly than I had before.
When I finally found the clarity and the courage, I told my partner that I needed to end our relationship in order to live the life I wanted. I felt overwhelmed with guilt because I couldn’t explain why things had changed so drastically. I longed for a way to explain to him why something that felt so right for so long suddenly didn’t anymore, and that it wasn’t because my love for him vanished.
And so, I returned to the only phrase that the English language gives me that begins to describe what I was going through: “I needed to come out”. And yet, what I’ve found with this phrase, is that it has forced me to ascribe to a narrative that isn’t necessarily me. It relegates my experience to – once again- this “before and after story” that simplifies the often very rigorous excavation I was going through. I find myself insisting that “I had always known” or dissecting memories and wondering “was that the first time I had a crush on a girl?” because – the truth is – I have no idea why this happened now and in the way it did. I don’t know why, for so long, I felt ok dating cis-men, but now the idea feels suffocating. I don’t know why I couldn’t overcome these feelings despite how much I loved my partner. I don’t know why this is all happening now, instead of when I was 16. I don’t remember all the “signs”. I don’t know why I care if people think I’m being inauthentic. I don’t know why I have to make gay jokes all the time in order to alert the people around me that I’m not a straight girl. I don’t know if I’ll ever be attracted to a cis-man again. I don’t know why some days I feel like a boy, and others a woman who wants to wear flowing skirts. I don’t know what identity is me, was me, or –ultimately- will be me.
Even as a I write this, I’m searching for a way to consolidate my experience into one beautiful, poignant phrase that will ring profound throughout America’s internet landscape. But perhaps what I’m feeling is something that many queer people find themselves wrestling with: a requirement to simplify our difference and why we’ve changed - especially if our experiences don’t match up with the mainstreamed “Love, Simon” storyline. Since living visibly out, I’ve needed to make sense of myself to my psychiatrist, my parents, my past partner(s), and my friends, even while I still struggle to understand my own evolution. People often treat “coming out” as an endpoint instead of one experience in the long, messy, vibrant, multi-dimensional journey of a queer life.
And so, when my psychiatrist asks me if anything particularly challenging happened this past year, I tell her “I came out” knowing that this doesn’t even begin to cover it for me. But until I have the words and/or the world doesn’t beg me for explanation, all I can know is that, at least, now I’m living truer than I was before; and that’s something I know can’t be explained, but only freely felt.