I have 2 other time-sensitive posts brewing in the back of my head: Yesterday should have been the “Letter to Noah” post for the month, and this weekend I was at the awesome and amazing Blogalicious Weekend conference in Miami. Those posts will be forthcoming.
I wanted to title this post “Happy National Coming Out Day,” but then I realized that this year, that title just doesn’t fit.
In the wake of four young men — really, one young man and three boys — committing suicide, and two more teens and an adult being kidnapped and tortured, all for either being gay or being perceived as being gay, 2010 isn’t a year where I feel celebratory about coming out.
There are bright spots. Dan Savage and his partner Terry launched the It Gets Better project, designed to give young gay teens hope and encouragement. Tim Gunn, of Project Runway, has a particularly moving video contribution.
And my own life with my family is a very nice life indeed. I am out pretty much everywhere — everywhere that it makes sense in context. I’m out in the neighborhood, I’m out at church, I’m out to the people in my PhD program (both students and faculty), I’m out at the kids’ school.
At the wonderful Blogalicious conference last weekend, there was a contextually appropriate way for me to come out on my panel — we were talking about finding your voice as a blogger, and I really found mine about 6 months after I started blogging, when I became pregnant with Noah and got obsessed with finding other pregnant lesbians and their blogs. I was out to the people I knew at the conference before that moment, but as the “lawyer-panelist” there was a good chance that there would be no contextually appropriate opportunity for me to come out on the panel, which would have been fine.
Really, the only time I’m not out is when I can’t find a contextually appropriate way to come out. (Or when I forget that I haven’t found one yet and think I’m out, but my absentmindedness is a separate issue.)
For example, I doubt I’m out to the people at Walgreen’s. It would be weird, right? “I’ll have 2 packs of diapers, a bottle of generic headache medicine, and by the way, I’m a lesbian!” Looking the way I look, coming out is nearly always something I get to choose.
Which puts me in a very different position from all those dead and tortured boys.
They had no choice.
They look the way they look, and the people around them perceived them as gay, as different, and as so wrong that it was deserving of humiliation and violence.
And in the cases of the boys who killed themselves, they internalized those judgments, and it was fatal.
In spite of how my life has turned out, and that I was not treated that way for being gay, I do know how that feels.
When I was 8 or 9 years old, I contemplated suicide. I wished I was dead, but I couldn’t figure out a way to do it that wouldn’t hurt. I had more physical fear than emotional misery, so I didn’t die.
I was in the 5th grade, younger than my classmates, socially inept, and both fashion and hygiene unconscious. I picked my nose, and I ate the boogers. My classmates called me Liz Lizard and Booger Girl.
I’ve been looking at that last paragraph and debating erasing it for 15 minutes. Here I am 40 years old, and admitting those things still makes me jittery with nerves.
But in the spirit of Coming Out Day and the It Gets Better Project, I can tell you, whether or not you are gay, if you are picked on or bullied in school, it does get better. It gets so much better. I was lucky. For me, it got better in high school, where I was lucky enough to find a whole cadre of smart, weird, interesting, funny friends. Even if you are not lucky enough for it to get better that quickly, I promise you, it still gets better.
If I had succeeded in coming up with a way to end it all back when I was a child, I wouldn’t have these two beautiful, heart-filling sources of joy in my life. Or their This Mommy.
PS In the universe of surface-unlikely but actually-perfect pairings, if you would like to read a totally charming story about how it can get better, I recommend Ernessa Carter’s novel 32 Candles. Her narrator Davidia Jones is poor, abused, and believes she is what her classmates call her, “ugly as a monkey and black as the night.” Her life gets better, with some very clever twists that I don’t want to spoil. (And the author is a Smith alumna.)