Bren: Hey Maddie, have you picked out your purple outfit for Spirit Day yet?
Maddie: ACK WAIT what? Can I wear lavender? Will that count?
Bren: I think so! I mean, it’s purple…right? I’m too butch to understand nuanced colors like “lavender.”
Maddie: Well, great. I’m all set, then.
Bren: Well, just to recap, Spirit Day is to show support for LGBT youth, many of whom are struggling with something that we recently had another theme day about: National Coming Out Day.
Maddie: Right. That’s a tricky one.
Bren: Tell me about it. It seems like just yesterday that I was peering through my glass closet door.
Maddie: Just yesterday? But you’ve come so far in making an Out, Loud, Proud gay life for yourself!
Bren: Well, it’s been about 9 years now, so I guess it wasn’t exactly yesterday. But then again, coming out isn’t really an event – it’s a continuous process, isn’t it? Every time somebody new enters our lives, the process starts all over again.
Maddie: Truest words ever spoken.
Bren: Sometimes I wonder how the coming out process works for butches vs. femmes. It’s been said that femmes come out everyday of their lives, because they don’t always set off the Gay Alarms that us butches usually do. Would you agree with that?
Maddie: Well, yes and no. I’d agree that we come out every day of our lives that we want to come out.
We also have the option of ‘being out” in the sense that we’re not deceiving anyone or hiding anything, yet without coming out – just not disclosing aspects of our sexuality and romantic relationships unless the subject is put very clearly on the table. Coming out, for us, is usually a deliberate decision and we often are in the position of choosing the where/when/to whom. That brings certain privileges and also certain disadvantages.
Bren: I get the privilege part – passing can certainly be useful in certain sitches – but what are the disadvantages?
Maddie: Well, to give one example: imagine you work in a straight-dominated but not outright homophobic workplace.
Bren: I do, actually, work in such a place!
Maddie: A very visibly queer person may be clocked as such by coworkers without ever having to say anything. Since we’re assuming these coworkers aren’t hostile towards the queers but may have that straight person problem of not knowing a lot of queer folks, they might just accept this queerness without further discussion, without a word ever having been spoken on the subject.
Brenda: I think that’s the case in my workplace.
Maddie: But if you are not so visibly queer, making a point of your (possibly quite surprising) sexuality around someone who isn’t used to queer people can seem like all of a sudden you’re talking about your sex life in an inappropriate context. Queerness is about so much more than having sex, but when you surprise people with it, they don’t always make that connection.
Bren: TOO TRUE. And all the right-wingers always make the queer=constant depraved sex, in public, with animals and children association.
Maddie: Either I have to make an announcement about my personal life, or deal with the fact that people who see me every day most likely have misread me in this rather fundamental way.
Bren: Does it bother you if everyone around you – here, I guess, meaning coworkers – doesn’t know you’re queer?
Maddie: The balance that I’ve struck at this point in my “out” life is that once people get to know me at a certain personal level, I feel they should know I’m queer pretty quickly. But if I have a relationship with someone, even if it is a long, ongoing one, wherein we never discuss anything personal ever, it feels out of place to mention it. Still, I feel strongly about not hiding my queerness, even if I don’t proactively disclose to everyone who has ever met me.
Bren: Right there with ya, bud. Though in my case, my queerness is pretty terrible at hiding.
Maddie: You know, that makes me think of something that happened not too long ago.
Bren: Do tell!
Maddie: My girlfriend met me at my workplace for lunch. I get a short lunch and we don’t really have a break room, so she parked in the area and I met her outside for a sidewalk bench picnic. I should mention that I only work with a few rather stiffly decorous people with whom I never, ever discuss personal things. So, they fall into that category of Probably Have No Idea. Anyway, after we ate, she walked me back to my building and gave me a sendoff kiss. Or she waited respectfully for me to kiss her. I can’t remember.
Bren: Sounds like a true gentleman/butch!
Maddie: Either way, we kissed right in plain view of the security guard – no one I work directly with, but someone in that “work world” sphere in which I am used to having my queerness be invisible. And, the shameful truth? It was kind of terrifying for me.
Bren: What did you think would come of it?
Maddie: Nothing. I knew nothing would come of it. I just felt exposed. And it gave me some food for thought about that inadvertent visibility that I sometimes envy.
Bren: And what did that food taste like, I ask awkwardly?
Maddie: It tasted like privileged naiveté!
Bren: I can’t imagine that tasted good.
Maddie: It was a complex flavor, full of subtlety and needing to listen more to the experiences of others. Which I’d like to do now, if you don’t mind.
Bren: Not at all! Well, I guess in some ways, being visibly queer and out takes a lot of the “work” off my hands. All I have to do is step outside and, most of the time, there’s my coming out. I don’t really worry about the “should I or shouldn’t I tell?” question, because I assume everybody already guessed and, if not, they’re too clueless to be worth my time. As gay-snobby as that sounds. But, let me tell you, there are certainly times when I wish my queerness wasn’t so glaring neon-sign obvious. When I’m walking by a group of strangers at night in an unfamiliar part of town, I wish I weren’t so visibly queer. Or when I have to pick up the (TMI alert) birth control I use to, well, control my awful unwanted monthly visitor, I wish the pharmacist didn’t look so confused. Or when I walk into a public restroom, I wish I didn’t worry about whether somebody was going to scream at me this time.
Bren: And there are people out there – also known as “assholes” – who would consider my very bold act of walking down the street looking the way I do to be “flaunting my lifestyle.” Pretty sure they want people like me to disappear.
Maddie: Ah, the old “Being yourself is making a grand show of your perversity!” argument. Well, have you learned any particular tricks for navigating this always-out-ness?
Bren: Look people in the eye and smile. Sort of like staring down an angry grizzly bear. You have to show you’re not afraid – even if you’re secretly soiling your boxer briefs.
Maddie: That sounds pretty effective: call the bluffers’ bluffs, and be ready and alert to see right away if they aren’t actually bluffing.
Bren: Indeed. Stay alert, stay aware, and stay queer ‘n proud. Keep in mind that this didn’t happen overnight. This takes years of practice, being out and a giant gaymo, to perfect. So any babydykes out there shouldn’t feel guilty if they feel the need to duck their heads back in the closet in certain situations.
Maddie: Absolutely. And also remember that your presentation is something you can experiment with – for me, it is a negotiation. There are certain presentations that feel false and uncomfortable, but even after chucking those out there’s a pretty big universe of THIS PRESENTATION FEELS LIKE ME! out there. So in recent years, I’ve definitely figured out a thing or two about how to walk down the street with a certain This-Is-For-The-Gaydies strut that turns an Alternative Lifestyle Haircut head or two, but without feeling like I’m playing at something I’m not just for the sake of visibility.
Bren: This is excellent, because I hear about so many young femmes who feel like, if they don’t butch things up, nobody will take them serious as Actual Queer Folk. Which hurts my femme-lovin’ heart to think about.
Maddie: I will concede that since my earliest days as a drama-camp-goin’ kiddo, I’ve been rather fond of outrageous, attention-grabbing outfits and performances, so my solution of shave half your head and wear frayed denim whenever you can get away with it might not work for everyone who inhabits the femmey side of the queerverse. But I do believe the point holds, that experimentation on your own personal horizons can be your friend – find your range, and make the most of it.
Bren: Also true for butches! I’ve experimented with many clothing styles, haircuts, and general presentations over the years. I’ve really only quite recently found a place where I feel comfortable enough to say, “Yeah, this one’s a keeper.” It’s difficult to navigate masculine expression when you were raised with and constantly fed only feminine options growing up.
Maddie: A fine point!
Bren: Along those lines, something that always warms my heart – and hurts it, just a little – is when I see a super-awkward newly-hatched baby butch, trying and struggling to figure shit out. And I’m so grateful that we have the internet as a resource, because the olden days of old butches taking babydykes under their flannel-covered wings in smoky lesbian bars, they’re way over, sadly.
Maddie: Well, just think of all the people who have access to the internet who wouldn’t have found their beflanneled butch mentor in the Olden Dayes.
Bren: Very true. Still, all the technology in the world can’t make up for real, human contact.
Maddie: But it’s not always a replacement for contact that would have happened otherwise. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it fills what would have been a complete void. Sometimes it enables real human contact.
Bren: Yes, yes indeed. That’s why I would strongly urge anybody who’s new to the coming out process to use these interwebs to find local queer groups.
Maddie: Absolutely! Community, community.
Bren: These can be support groups, student groups, social hours, sports teams, whatever. Just get out there and meet and greet real live queer folk. When you’re in high school, especially in small town (or, as Sarah Palin would call it, “real”) America, it’s easy to feel like the only gay in the world. That sense of isolation can be overpowering.
Maddie: True! Or even like if nobody can see the queer, maybe it’s not actually real. It’s not just that I’m so hushed about my queerness in more heteronormative contexts, it’s that being around other queers is so affirming and enriching for my little queer soul. I’m more out because I’m MORE.
Bren: I love that. Love. It. Is there anything you wish you could go back in time and tell babygay you about coming out?
Maddie: Oh, my. It’s harder than you think. It’s not as big a deal as you think. You will discover that the most rewarding, critical part of “being out” is realizing the full potential of your queerness in your everyday life, not about making announcements to everyone in your life, one after the other. That said, starting with an open declaration of self-identification is hardly the worst place to start your journey towards Fully Realized Queer Potential. So. You know. Go on, take that plunge, and then get to exploring the unspeakably cool world you will subsequently find yourself in. ….But don’t be fooled into thinking that your place in that world is anything you could have seen from the outside. There’s so much more to it than you realize.
Bren: Beautifully said, my friend.
Maddie: AND YOU?
Bren: Once you’ve figured out the truth of your life, start living it ASAP. Go out and get the clothes, the hair, the peer group you always wanted. Be the master and commander of your own ship, but also be aware that many other will try to highjack your ship throughout the course of your life. Don’t let them. Remain in control. Be you, boldly and unabashedly. Don’t change a damn thing to satisfy your family, neighbors, colleagues, friends, roommates, congregation, dog, whatever. Once you start living an authentic life, you’ll see how much more vibrant the world is. And always remember this: Anybody who can’t accept, handle, embrace, appreciate, love you for the amazing queer person you are is a waste of time, energy, and tears. Don’t give them that. There are so many people out there who want you, all of you, exactly how you are – go find them.
Maddie: HEAR HEAR, QUEER. Beautifully put.
Bren: Why, thank you. Happy Spirit Day to you, Maddie, and to all our readers! Wear that purple with pride! Werq!
Maddie: GET IT, GAYBIES!