Monday, October 15, 2007

My Coming Out Story

In honor of National Coming Out Day (which I missed by 4 days, sorry), I have decided to post my coming-out story. I realize that many people have one story that rings true as their "coming-out story." But for many others, coming-out is more of a long process of revelations, anxieties, heartbreak, joy, and relief.

Now, there are several different stages of coming-out, as well as different models of the coming-out process itself, so I will do my coming-out story in stages. For example, the Cass Identity Model, developed in 1979 by Vivienne Cass, was the first to treat gay people as "normal" in a homophobic society. In other words, being gay was no longer seen as a problem within itself.

I will discuss my personal coming out in light of the this model.

*As a side note, this is merely a "model" of coming out. Similar to Kubler-Ross' stages of grief, one may skip over stages, visit them out-of-order, and re-visit them as needed throughout life.
Stage 1: Identity Confusion. This is the stage where the individual begins to wonder if homosexuality is personally relevant. Denial and confusion is experienced.
For example, when I was a pre-teen, I knew a tiny bit about homosexuality. What I knew of it was bad. Lesbians were, as my mom said, "unhappy, bitter dykes" and gay men were "fruity" or "fags."

But I didn't really understand it, in the same way I didn't and couldn't possibly understand heterosexual relationships. Because I was a child. And, as most children naturally are, I was non-judgmental until I hit puberty.

Enter Stage 1 of Jane Know's coming-out process. Around the same time I started my period, grew out my mullet, and entered high school, I also began to realize that I didn't like boys in that way.

Not only that, I was really jealous that my girl-friends now were more interested in boys than in their friendships with other girls (well, with me). In my self-denial throughout high school, I told myself that I was "more focused on school and sports and getting into college, than in getting a boyfriend." Further, when I did have boyfriends, I made sure to make it very clear that I was "saving myself for marriage." I never once allowed the conscious thought of "I want to have sex with a girl" to enter my mind. But that thought stayed stubbornly nestled back there for all 4 years of high school.

Stage 2: Identity Comparison. This is the stage where a person "accepts the possibility of being gay or lesbian and examines the wider implications of that tentative commitment."
Or, as I like to think of it: it's the "I'm bisexual" stage.
One doesn't want to fully commit yet to the "gay-identity," and it really is much easier to say to one's straight friends "I still like boys, too" so they don't completely freak out. This is also the stage where you think your friends will freak out much more than they really will, because you haven't yet realized that it's not gonna shock anyone too much when you do announce your homosexuality.
This is not meant to denounce bisexuality. I just think it's common for many "Stage 2" gays to straddle the fence at first, rather than complete hop over it in one fell swoop.
For instance, when I was 19, my softball-playing friends and I all came out to each other as "bisexual." We said things like, "I'm probably 70/30, or 60/40, but so-and-so is like 90/10" (as in 70% lesbian/30% heterosexual). But, as it turns out, a decade later we are all consistently self-identified lesbians. (not that I think anyone is 100% either/or, but we have all consistently maintained female/female relationships).
Stage 3: Identity Tolerance. This is the stage where the person comes to the understanding that he or she "is not the only one." As Wikipedia explains it, "The person acknowledges that he or she is likely gay or lesbian and seeks out other gay and lesbian people to combat feelings of isolation."

For example, the major turning point of my life/coming-out story is at the age of 19. I was just starting my sophomore year in college and sick and tired of pretending to be interested in boys just to appease my straight friends and teammates. So, I made it a point to go out of my way to talk to the girls who were "known lesbians" at our school.

I had spent my entire freshman year feeling lonely, isolated, and ashamed of my "secret." I kept wishing and waiting for some lesbian to "discover" me and make me her own little protege. It may have been one of the most depressing times of my life. Well, the "being discovered" plan didn't happen, so I eventually sought it out on my own.

Enter J.B., a 25 year-old well-known lesbian at my college, who unbeknownst to me, had just gotten out of a 4 year-relationship with a girl on my team. (*gulp*) If that doesn't spell trouble, I don't know what does. After weeks of trying to get her to notice that "hey-look-at-me-I'm-super-cool-with-you-even-though-everyone-knows-you're-gay", my plan worked. She invited me to go out with her one Friday night. That night was a drunken blur of continuous Miller Lite pitchers, cigarettes, pool, and revelations. She and her friends "officially" came out to me. And, I to her, and them. But, really, it wasn't as romantic as it sounds.

We courted, I guess you could call it, for a couple months, until she realized she was still in love with her ex, and we just drifted apart and never spoke again. She never did get her ex back, I might add.
It was an okay part of the coming-out proces, but I am sad that my first experience dating someone I really liked, turned into a situation where I felt like I was being used to "get over" an ex. And at the end of that experience, I reverted right back to Stage 1, which happens so often with gay people when they have a failed romantic relationship. For, it often seems easier to "go straight" than to deal with real pain and real heartbreak again.
Stage 4: Identity Acceptance. This is the stage where the gay or lesbian person says, "I will be okay." The person attaches a positive connotation to being gay or lesbian without simply tolerating it.
This is where it gets tricky. I thought I hit this stage of my coming-out at the same time I hit Stage 3. But then I reverted alllll the way back to Stage 1 after Stage 3. Let's just say I am definitely past this stage now. But it wasn't always an easy road, especially when my college roommate was a right-wing fundie who was very anti-lesbian.

I think I hit this stage for good by my senior year of college.
Stage 5: Identity Pride. The main thinking here is "I've got to let people know who I am." The lesbian or gay man (or bisexual, or transgendered person) will often begin to surround herself in "gay culture" because it is often easier. The person will stop trying to "pass" as heterosexual and begin to see the world as us/them. The task in this stage is to deal with the incongruent views of heterosexuals (that don't fit the gay person's).
Again, when I was at this turning point of the age of 19, I "fell" into a group of friends who were also in this stage of the coming-out process. We proudly wore our rainbow bracelets, talked openly about our "gayness" in public, and came out to all of our straight friends, and "fuck 'em if they don't like me anymore because we have each other now." I don't agree anymore that the world us us/them in the sense of heterosexuals vs. homosexuals. I believe it is us/them in the sense of tolerant vs. intolerant.
But at that point in my life, it just felt damn good to finally feel like I belonged somewhere. And I am so sorry for the confused teens lingering in Stage 1, who will never feel this way because of their parents, or their communities, or their religion.
Stage 6: Identity Synthesis. From Wikipedia, "The last stage in Cass'es model is identity synthesis: the person integrates his or her sexual identity with all other aspects of self, and sexual orientation becomes only one aspect of self rather than the entire identity."
In other words, being gay is no longer the center of the gay person's universe. It may, at times, seem that way to intolerant people. Yet, a gay man or lesbian knows that this is an error of that intolerant person's way of thinking, not their own. Thus, they no longer feel ashamed of their orientation. They no longer apologize for it. And they realize that they are just as free to chatter incessantly about their boyfriend or girlfriend as the straight girl next door chatters about her constant yeast infections from drunk sex with her boyfriend.
See, the tolerant person realizes that when a gay person talks about his or her relationship, it is the same as a straight person talking about their relationship. The gay person isn't "flaunting their gayness" for everyone to see. They are merely exercising the right to discuss their loved ones (and be annoying about it sometimes) the way straight people do.
The gay person at this stage in the process realizes that they have a right to talk openly about their relationship(s) or lack thereof, and not immediately be placed in a little box titled "rainbow homo alert" because of it. Because relationships are one part of their lives.
But I digress. This stage is one that I hope every gay person realizes. And one that I hope society eventually allows. Sexual orientation is but one little piece of the pie of each person's life, as cheesy as that sounds. It usually can not be controlled or changed, nor is it inherently harmful to individuals or society at-large.
I started to realize this (I think it is a work in progress) at the age of 20. My heterosexual best friend one day a couple months' post-coming out to her, had the balls to say, "All you talk about is gay stuff now."
Because I, like she had done the previous 5 years I had known her, had started to openly talk about my relationships. I just wanted someone to confide in the way she had confided in me for so long. I cried for hours because she said that to me. Because she didn't actually consider us equals, after all. She was the heterosexual one, and thus her relationships were automatically validated, and mine meant nothing. Because she wanted me to hold back who I was to make her feel more comfortable. When it was a part of me that isn't even that big of a deal. Because I thought I had lost a friend over something as stupid as my sexual orientation.
It was then that I realized everyone should come out because it normalizes Big Bad Homosexuality.
Maybe one day soon the bigoted hate-speech will stop. Hate crimes based on sexual orientation will stop. Employment and housing discrimination will stop. Gay people will stop being seen as "destroyers of the American Family" for wanting to start their own families. Athletic little girls will no longer be called "dyke" or "lesbo" by their classmates. Or boys who wear pink will no longer be beaten up and called "fag" or "queer."

The tide is already changing for the better. While there is still work to be done, I think we, as a society, have come a long way in the past 10 years.
I know I have.


Fannie said...

good blog :-)

John said...

Very nice work, Jane.

John said...

I just had a conversation with my wife about coming out day.

Her attitude is "why should gays come out, why can't they just stay where they are so I don't have to see them?"

Jane Know said...

Really? :-( I wish I knew what people were really so scared of with gays. I know sometimes it's annoying or time-consuming to learn about other people's differences, so maybe it's just laziness? It's much easier to just have a blanket (mis)conception of what a "certain type" of person is rather than really finding that information out.

John said...

In my wife's case, she simply thinks that homosexuality is unnatural,and she has had no religious training.

She does not even care to discuss it, and she hurt me real bad when she refused to go to New York with me to visit our daughter, because I had planned on having dinner with my gay cousin and his partner.

She did eventually relent.

Teddy2 said...

awesome blog!

Jane Know said...

thanks, teddy2! :-)