Coming out queer as an adult, to myself as well as to the world, reveals some knots in experiences had previously seemed like simple and smooth parts of my past. Detangling memories of a probably-queer-but-a-million-miles-from-being-recognized-as-such childhood has been taking up a lot of my free day-dreaming time. As I’ve gotten my current life a little more clear I’ve turned the searchlight and magnifying glass of scrutiny on years receding further and further away. There’s no way to go back in time and relive lost days, to interrogate old friends for hidden truths, to pull back the curtain of sheltered ignorance and anxieties to reveal a different “real” self than the one I thought I knew so well.
Queerness a part of my grown-up reality that I lay down on top of my childhood experiences like a character drawn on a transparency laid over scenery. Sometimes it’s out of place and doesn’t belong but sometimes it’s so natural the secondary medium disappears (the transparency, the imposition of a new paradigm from my future self) and the picture is complete and whole and seamless. Sometimes the fit is so neat and perfect that I can almost remember knowing myself to be queer at a young age. I know this not to be true in a factual sense. I did not identify as bi until I was twenty-eight years old and I hadn’t really come close to that identity any earlier.
Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.
There’s a particular knot I’ve been working to unpick, the constant youthful confusion of girls I wanted to be like and girls I just plain liked. Those lists aren’t exclusive, in fact they create a Venn diagram with a whole lot of Venn going on. It’s not possible to draw any kind of bright distinction between the different kinds of liking going on; the whole mess muddled together impossibly and I simply named and understood it in the way everyone else seemed to – that I had esteem for certain people with admirable traits and wanted to be like and sometimes liked by them. But that could be a perfectly straight interpretation. I sometimes forget that I was not actually a perfectly straight child and that my experiences were simply long misinterpreted. I had always assumed that everyone had a long list of female t.v. and movie characters they found themselves watching while leaning in a little closer to the t.v. and shushing anyone who starting talking over their lines. In fact, other girls mostly did not do these things. I never called them crushes as a child or adolescent, but maybe that would have been more honest. Then, it would have seemed entirely wrong. It’s only now, sometimes only when I rewatch a program that I saw as a child, with fresh eyes, that it dawns on me how I actually felt back then. “Oh,” I’ll say, “Ooohhhh….”
When I was in kindergarten I remember being scolded for three things: not being able to zip my own winter coat, refusing to help scoop out the mushy innards of the class jack o’lantern, and for kissing another girl in the middle of circle time. I can’t remember much about that event except that the little girl was my best friend at that time and how genuinely shocked I was that I was getting yelled at for kissing someone. Kissing was, to my six-year-old self, the pinnacle of niceness and love, why was I getting in trouble for deploying niceness and love?! I couldn’t have been more baffled. I wish this event was less baffling to me now. Why did I kiss her? What did we say about it between ourselves? Or think about it at the time? Did my teacher tell my parents? I don’t know the answers to these things at all, I can only barely conjure up the vaguest memory of this event.
When I put on my lace-up patent leather shoes, my new go-to “dress-up” shoes that replace fifteen unhappy years of heels and I’m keenly aware of how similar they are to the little black & white oxfords I grew up wearing. I didn’t pick out those shoes to begin with, my mother did. My sister wore the same shoes too for a while. But I liked them better and remember picking them out to buy until they stopped coming in my size.
The school board at my high school didn’t want to sell tickets to prom to anyone but opposite-sex couples. Their reasoning was that they didn’t want large groups of “friends” to show up together. Other than being the most bizarre objection imaginable this was also pretty blatantly discriminatory to same-sex couples (or genderqueer couples). A friend and I were going to try and buy a ticket together as a not quite so opposite sex couple. To do so we were told we would have to go in front of the school board and declare ourselves gay and then, ta-da! they’d sell it to us. Again, so bizarre. I guess this seemed a little extreme for us or we got scared. We didn’t do it. I regret that to this day.
Wouldn’t that have been the strangest first act of queerness, to come out in a school board meeting, as the wrong thing (I’m not gay, but bi, though that’s a distinction one might find hard to make to the senior citizens running the board), a decade before I knew it to be true. Chekhov said that a gun on the wall in the first act must go off by the third. I wonder if everyone who contemplates a fake coming out must eventually actually come out?
Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.
How one becomes betrays what one is to become. Somewhere back there in my memories is all the evidence and experience that went into creating queer me and eventually convincing me that I was queer. Although for twenty eight years I lived a straight life and wore straight clothes and brushed straight hair and ate straight food and spoke straight words and studied straight classes the day the queer-light went on I said to myself, “Shit, I’m not straight,” because I wasn’t and I knew it. It wasn’t a question or a maybe or a doubt. For a moment all the me’s, from baby-me and toddler-me and first-grader-me, just learned-to-ride-a-bike-me, middle, high-school, and college me’s were all lined up and for that queasy, dizzying moment were in agreement on this. They left out the, “shit” part, it didn’t seem the shock to my historical selves as it was to my current self. I had not experienced that kind of wholeness with my own history since I had lost my faith. It was very powerful and there was no disagreeing with that many of me.
And that’s the watershed moment where I go from an old me to a new me. From the person I am now to the person I scrutinize through the mists of time. An unlikely occurrence for a regular Tuesday or Friday or whatever kind of day it was, to have one’s life bifurcated between breakfast and lunch. But I guess that’s just how it goes.