The Days Are Much Too Bright: Thoughts on Coming Out.

I’ve been thinking a lot about coming out.  (Not about actually doing it, mind you… just intellectually considering the subject of coming out.)  Having successfully outed myself as a lesbian (over and over and over again), the “questioning” and “coming out” stages are not things I anticipated experiencing ever again.  Now, as a “potential asexual,” I find myself returned to them, and while I don’t believe I’m enduring the same hell I suffered trying, years ago, to sort out my orientation, I’m hardly enjoying myself.  I’m hardly enjoying the fact that, in this particular journal, I probably come across as not-all-that-together, as an understandable result of the fact that this is one facet of my life in which I am pretty consistently a mess.  What irritates me, – or at least, part of what irritates me – is that I’m actually relatively well-adjusted at this point.  I’m just using this particular space to sort out an area of my life that I have nowhere near accepted or integrated into my identity, a part of my life that I have pretty consistently – for good and not-so-good reasons – needed to keep in the closet.

I keep thinking about myself at 18, as I was struggling to sort through my confusion about my orientation, and myself at 19, as I was taking the plunge to tell my family.  I clearly remember the night (not surprising, it wasn’t that long ago) when I first told my mom I was questioning.  I was curled up on the living room couch in the apartment she and I used to share, and she was asking me – every so often – variations on the theme of what she could do for me and what was wrong.  Part of me really wanted to answer her, but of course, part of me really wanted to do anything but answer her, and so I was living inside of myself, trying desperately to push the words out of a mouth that no longer felt like my own.  I remember at one point it occurred to me to write it down and pass her a note, ala grade school, but I was afraid that if I couldn’t actually say the words, I must not be ready for her to hear them, and as a result, I waited until I could literally tell her.  When I did, in the vaguest “I’ve been talking with people” – (my therapist, mainly, because, having entered therapy for a thousand other reasons, I had lucked into the perfect confidante for my much healthier confusions around sexuality and orientation) – “about the possibility that I might be… gay” kind of way, she was predictably receptive, comforting me with words I almost could have scripted beforehand, had I been able to subtract my (largely irrational) fear from the equation. 

With my lesbian-coming-out story (even in this earliest stage, when I was only coming out as a “potential lesbian,” so to speak), I never had to worry about how my family would respond.  Of course, I am a prime worrier – it’s one of my best skills – and so I worried anyway, but I knew, deep down, that my fears had no rational basis.  I was not the first-generation classmate of mine, who (I later learned) was told by her Chinese mother that she must choose between her girlfriend and her family.  (A situation since resolved somewhat, thankfully.)  I was not the kid who was going to be kicked out on the street by her parents or sent into some terrifying “rehabilitation” program straight out of But I’m a Cheerleader.  I was, in actuality, the kid whose mom would watch But I’m a Cheerleader with her, all the time pretending that she didn’t know damn well why we were watching so many movies (and why I was reading so many books) about lesbians.  By a grace I can hardly imagine, I lucked into an exceedingly liberal, exceedingly open family where I knew my orientation would not be an issue.  At least, I knew that when the orientation was simply “lesbian.”

But now, as I start to articulate the complication that lesbianism, is – strictly speaking – a sexual orientation, and I have never (to my own knowledge) been a sexual person, I find myself wondering if that support will still hold when/ if I come out a second time.  I know my family.  I know they will love me to infinity and beyond (to quote my beloved Pixar), because that is one pretty kickass piece of luck I can lay claim to, regardless of the rest of my life.  I do not, however, know that they will understand.  I do not know that they will accept what I tell them as the truth.  I do not, to be perfectly honest, know that I want to tell them at all… which is why I haven’t.  Closets, for all they have going against them – (a lot, mind you) – are at the very least, places of privacy, and that’s a privacy I’m not yet willing – or ready – to sacrifice.

I’m thinking a lot about my mom.  (Another time, we can discuss my brother, and the various reasons he thinks I’m a “bad lesbian” and the various reasons I suspect that my asexuality, while helping to understand why I don’t fit his idea of lesbianism, might contribute to my “failure” in his estimation.  But for now: My Mom.)  I’m thinking about my mom mainly because I am once again living with her, if only until school resumes in the fall, and I’m once again playing the games of telling her only so much, twisting certain pieces of information so that I don’t have to hide everything, and pretending that – even if I talk about asexuality more and more, she won’t eventually put 2 and 2 together.  At times, I wonder why I am doing this.  After all, my mom has loved me through much messier and much more painful realities than this one.  My mom has always accepted who I am and she’s always stood behind what makes me happy.  On top of that, she loves to learn.  The vast amount of education she (like most people) would require, were I to tell her that I am asexual, would probably fascinate her.  It’s a win from every angle… isn’t it?

I mentioned, I think, that I’m a prime worrier, that this is one of my best skills, (and I am not – entirely – without other talents, in case that had occured to you).  So, of course, I have come up with reasons for worrying.  My main fear, in terms of my mom, is that she is so liberal and such a feminist, it makes me worry that her positivity around sex – (healthy, consensual sex, obviously) – will keep her from realizing that this is not a pathology.  (Perhaps obviously, this is further complicated by my own inability to recongize, consistently, that my asexuality is not pathological.)  I’m afraid that she’ll feel she failed me somehow, that she’ll blame herself for my disinterest in (having) sex or my unwillingness to partake in it.  I don’t feel like my asexuality is something she (or anyone else) is responsible for, (although I am a firm social constructionist, in this and other regards), and I don’t think that it’s anything wrong with me.  And why feel guilty if there’s nothing that is wrong?  It’s just how I am, and I want her to be good with it, the way that I want to be good with it, but I worry she’ll think it’s a failing.  I didn’t have that concern with the homosexuality because I know she doesn’t look at it as anything but healthy, but asexuality is so under-understood, and therefore so misunderstood; I worry that she (and other people) will assume it’s yet another problem.

Yes, I have problems.  But this – beyond my anxiety about it, beyond my struggle to accept it – this in its pure, inherent form – just isn’t one of them.  I hope my family will know that.

But for now at least, I don’t want to take the risk.  I know that in time, I’ll sort this out and my family will sort out a response that suits us.  We’re good at that, and they have practice, honestly.  It’s more that – in one very important regard – coming out as an asexual is very, very different than coming out as a lesbian.  Put plainly, when I came out as a lesbian, no one had to ask me what that meant.  There was no clarifying, there was no intense delving into my relational history (or what I wanted out of my future relationships).  Maybe, with people whose families are less comfortable with the concept, these kinds of questions get asked, but there certainly isn’t the basic need for a vocabulary lesson that comes with opening up about one’s asexuality.  And I think that, to some extent, it’s the lack of education on the part of the people I’d be coming out to  that keeps me from coming out.  I don’t want to have to explain myself to other people before I understand myself.  I don’t want to have to be Exhibit A.  (Oh god, the unintended pun.  Apologies.)  I don’t want all of the idiotic questions, and the non-idiotic questions, when I still have questions of my own.  So even if I know myself well enough to trust that I will evetually open my mouth, that the extent to which I’m being honest about who I am here is a sign of that, as is the openness I am cultivating with certain friends about the possibility that I’m an asexual lesbian… for now, I want the chance to ask (and answer) my own questions, without having to field them from my family.

I wonder if this is what it was like to tell people you were gay before gay was a term.  If it is, well… those poor, poor gay people back in the day.  And – (I suppose) – those lucky, lucky asexuals of future generations.  Here’s to being part of the education that may ease things for the kids to come…

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