My own path...was not straightforward

Jan 24 2013 Published by under queer, Uncategorized, venting

My IRL life has been pretty...unsettled recently. I hope to blog about this a little more in the future. But one thing that has fallen out is that I've been thinking more about the immediate reaction to Jodie Foster's Golden Globes "coming out" speech. As I process these IRL events, I can't avoid thinking more about my own coming out process. And there is a lot of stuff that keeps running around in my I'm gonna try to get them out on by writing them here. BE WARNED: this is going to be a little personal and navel-gazing. If that sort of things bothers you, now is the time to click away. But, if you would like to see what else I have to say about being queer as a tt-asst. prof, look here.

IME, when you are openly queer, someone will inevitably ask "when you knew". I've struggled with this question. On some level I always knew...but at the same time I really didn't know. It took me a Really Long time to admit to myself that I was gay. Being lesbian wan't an option that I was aware of growing up. Maybe because I grew up in a big-red-flyover environment. Not to mention that I didn't even know any queer folks (that I was aware of). Whatever the reason, the whole idea was off my radar. I felt a lot of pressure to act straight - to BE straight. And honestly,  I BELIEVED I was straight. But...then folks I knew started having sex , and I didn't know how to react. I felt weird and isolated. Like I was failing somehow. So I tried to be straight the only way I knew how. I slept with guys - as many as I could. Not because I really wanted to, but because I felt like it was expected of me. That if I did that, then I would be "normal" and everyone would accept me. I went off to college and kept up with the whole dating (and sleeping with) dudes thing. I wanted to fit in. But still, something wasn't right. I didn't feel good about myself. At some point, I started to meet real, live queers - classmates, teammates, co-workers.  They were my friends. They were great people, and I loved them. I asked a bunch of questions that are, honestly, embarrassing when I think back on them*. "How did you know...?", " does it work?" etc. My friends were awesome: patient, kind, and so open.

I wasn't ready to answer those questions for myself. It was too hard. It was half-way through grad school that I was able to admit that I was queer. To realize that sleeping with guys to "pass" made me feel cheap and fake. That it was self-destructive. When I finally admitted to myself that I was gay it felt like a huge burden lifted. I felt...more comfortable with myself. It wasn't "easy" - I could have kept on pretending to fit in. That would have been easier on many levels. Hell, I was terrified coming out to my family and friends. Every time I had the "coming out" conversation I had to prepare myself for the possibility that the person I was talking to might decide to cut all ties with me. It was (is) always possible. And that is really fucking terrifying. It still is.

Sometimes, I look back and wish that I had done things differently. That I had been strong enough to stand up for myself earlier. I think that us LGBTQ* folks are good at telling our coming out stories. These are awesome, empowering stories. And I love to hear them. But it is harder (at least for me) to talk about how destructive it was for me during that period when I tried so hard to fit in. When I actively denied my own truth. I am still working to understand the effects of that period of my life. I wish I could be as patient and understanding with my younger self as my fantastic queer friends were with me. I'm working on it, because this is my history. It's what makes me who I am today. I would never judge anyone else for behaving the same way in the same situation. I would cheer that they survived. I would give them a hug and tell them that IT GETS BETTER. It totally sucks that I have internalized so many negative judgements about what I did when I was younger. I know that I did the best I could back then. And the younger me deserves a lot of love and respect for making it through really hard circumstances.

Sure, I was goofy and somewhat misdirected as a youngster. THAT'S WHAT YOUNG FOLKS DO. And honestly, my life is pretty fucking amazing right now. I have a fantastic daughter. Being a mom is teaching me so much about patience and acceptance - and the process of growing up. I have a job that I love, where I don't have to hide who I am. I don't let anyone assume that I have a husband, or that Mini-G has a "Daddy".

And that is why I make an effort every day to be as out as I can.  I want anyone else that may be going through their own struggle to know that they are not alone. To see that others have made it through. That it can be fantastic, even. And that is why I encourage anyone that CAN come out does, following the Rachel Maddow model and the slightly more..colorful.. version by Dan Savage. Being visible in the community not only helps younger folks that may be struggling, but can help gain support of straight allies. But no one can tell another person when they are ready to come out, or how they should do it. I don't care if you are Anderson Cooper, Jodie Foster, or a stick figure on the interweb. Everyone has their own journey to get to the place they feel safe and comfortable enough to make their statement. The journey is important, too.  And every single person that does come out is fucking courageous as hell.


*I'm embarrassed now, but at the time these questions were very important to me. And really, they are not embarrassing questions. I would (and do) answer these kinds of questions pretty regularly.


33 responses so far

  • JaySeeDub says:

    The journey totally is necessary to help shape and define who we are. Whether it's gay or straight or bi or trans or cis.

    This was brilliant. And amazing. And I love that you felt comfortable to share this with us.

    Thank you.

  • TheGrinch says:

    Oh wow, beautiful post! Thank you Gerty for sharing this.

  • Being visible is important, but also risky. Thats why so many are not out. Your story is wonderful and I'm glad you've told it here. Even old farts need the strength of community.

    • Moose says:

      "Being visible is important, but also risky."
      I wholeheartedly agree.

      Queer female grad student here. I wrote my coming out story as part of the Pride edition of the DiS blog carnival this summer. I didn't write much about deciding when and where to come out, but it's something I think about and struggle with a lot. I am out in my department but I submit information about queer science events as an anonymous announcement in the department newsletter so as not to be known to the entire department solely by email. I suppose I'm planning to be out during my search for a faculty position, because queer science advocacy is a major part of my service work and because I don't want to be employed somewhere that has a problem with my identity, but I'm also nervous about doing that.

      • Lady Day says:

        Just an observation: I think that it can be tricky to know when to come out. One of my siblings is gay, and I used to listen with sadness in my heart when my parents would caution my sibling not to be too open about her sexual orientation at work, as she's an MD and it may impact her career in a negative way. I can understand why they wanted her to be so guarded about her sexual orientation - there are some people in this country who would either discriminate against her as employers and other people who would lose respect for her as their physician, if they were her patients - if they simply knew her sexual orientation. Medicine is still very conservative, sadly. In fact, I don't even feel comfortable telling people much about my own ethnic background when they ask, as I fear discrimination based on that, alone.

        However, in the basic science research arena, even in biomedicine, I'm not so sure that it's a negative to be "out," anymore. A few years back, I overheard one faculty member defending recruitment of a specific grad student to her department because a.) he was qualified and b.) he would add diversity to their department because of his sexual orientation.

  • AmasianV says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

  • dr24hours says:

    It takes courage and committment to write this way. Thank you for sharing. I have always admired you.

  • Dr Becca says:

    Amazing story, beautifully told. I <3 you, GertyZ!!!

  • Joshua says:

    This was a wonderfully written post. Thank you for sharing it. It couldn't have been easy to open up like that, but the more we hear stories like this, the easier we can make it for people to realize that they are who they are and that they should be loved no matter.

    Thank you

  • scicurious says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this, wonderfully put. Hugs.

  • Thank you for sharing this. It's a beautiful post.

  • NatC says:

    Beautiful. And so important. Thank you.

  • gerty-z says:

    Thanks everyone. I get warm fuzzies that you all stopped by and said nice things. 🙂

  • Sxydocma1 says:

    Beautiful post.

    My daughter is in kindergarten and has often talked about a friend at school who has two moms or two dads - like it is the most normal thing in the world - a family is a family to her. It gives me hope that one day the path to coming out and staying out will be easier.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    So Brave! Right now, you are repeatedly choosing to be brave. So very proud of you!! I've said it before: I love you, man

  • Zuska says:

    You are wonderful, my friend.

  • JLY says:

    Can I chime in with something so ridiculous? I'm thirty-four years old, I have a STEM PhD, I have many gay and lesbian friends; I used to do musical theatre; I have seen Ani DiFranco and the Indigo Girls live, like, so many times, and read everything by Twisty and Alison Bechdel and Dan Savage; and I married a feminist guy. And two days ago we were at couples' counselling, working on various sex-related issues ...
    And I couldn't say the word "bisexual". My cheeks went tomato red, I was giggling and covering my face with my hands.
    I love me some cock and I have also pretty much always fancied women. It kind of goes in phases which I'm more attracted to. But I guess I sort of figured out how boys worked young, and that was easy, and the other side was just ... a wistful longing. Like walking through the designer dresses at Harrods - so out of reach, I never even tried them on.
    Why? It's like, I woke up - by "woke up" I mean "nuzzled some lady cleavage" - and was like, wait why the hell not? How did I not realize this about myself ten years ago?
    Man, and I have shaken my head so many times at ageing closet cases. Fucking hell. What a putz!
    So. At the ripe old age if 34 (having lived many years in Somerville, MA!), married and now at sex therapy, I could not bring myself to utter the very simple b-word ...
    To the *sex therapist*!
    Kind of because ... I thought I'm not "cool" enough? Or ... something?
    I feel like the biggest dork in the world.
    It's like, I have been living in this glass closet, and didn't even realize it.
    So ... Yeah.
    Thank you a million times for sharing.

    • gerty-z says:

      Doesn't sound ridiculous at all, JLY. I'm glad the post resonated with you. Getting to a place you can love and accept yourself is a journey, and can take some work. Everyone has their own schedule - and some folks never get there. So don't be so hard on yourself. Congrats on starting your process, and good luck to you!

  • gerty-z says:

    Thank you Dr. Lizzy and Zuska. <3 you both!

  • whizbang says:

    Sounds quite familiar. As someone near and dear to me said, all coming out stories sound a bit similar because they are. He said he always knew he was different, but could not admit it. He truly liked women and dated them until he was 30. He never could commit, though, because he knew he would eventually make them miserable.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Aside from possibly the time my kid's hand got stuck in an elevator door that continued to attempt to open as I attempted vainly to get it out by force or using the buttons for an internal organ chilling 45 seconds, coming out to my mother was the singular most terrifying thing I've lived through.

  • namnezia says:

    I don't really have anything else to add to the comments, but you know, warm fuzzies, or whatevs.

  • bam294 says:

    You know I love you Stick but I way to bring it FTW. I've missed your blogging but apparently you were just working on crafting a masterful one. I'm sad that there's pressure for anyone to 'fit in'. We all fit in. You're just a ridiculously funny smart gay stick figure and there is a super important place in the universe for you.

    As Barack Obama once said to me*: Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it's not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won't. it's whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.

    I hope to see a post from you sooner rather than later on how your learning to be kind to your younger stick person and letting the negative self talk go. It may involve alcohol and I'm willing to do that work with you. I'm a giver.

    *Others might have been watching this broadcast at the same time.

  • cackleofrad says:

    Yes, the most wonderful stick figure out there, by far!

  • Dr 27 says:

    Awesome. That's all. Plain and simple awesome. Thank you for sharing.

  • Lady Day says:

    Thank you for sharing, Gerty-Z.

  • Spiny Norman says:

    "I'm working on it, because this is my history. It's what makes me who I am today."

    Ain't that the truth, for anyone who's lived and is awake.

    That is a great, brave, searching essay.

  • PalMD says:

    I'm glad you were willing to tell this story, in this way. It gives me another place I can point people to and say, "I can't know your struggle, but lots of good people do. Read this."

    I especially like the bit about, as Spiny said, "this is my history".

    My spouse and I often talk about whether we regret various bit of our lives, and realize that that's useless all goes into making us who we are. Would I like to have avoided events in my life? Yes, of course, but I wouldn't give up what I have now for it. Some might, but I wonder if having a kid puts one firmly in the "id never go back" camp.

  • Yoder says:

    Gad. I can't believe I'm just now seeing this. That experience is so. Very. Familiar. And ... that's all I seem to be able to say coherently, at least for the moment. Thank you.

    • gerty-z says:

      Thanks for reading it. I struggled with posting this because I felt weirdly ashamed that I had struggled in this way. Even though I know that this is a common struggle, and that I did the best I could. Still, it was surprisingly (for me) hard to write.

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