By Sarah Simon
My coming out happened over the course of three years, and most of that time was me coming out to myself. Looking back, my coming out should have happened sooner than it did. Well actually, I guess I should have been questioning my sexuality sooner than I did. I was (and sometimes still am) somebody who passed as straight. Growing up, I didn’t have any of those stereotypical, telltale signs of being gay like looking gawky in a dress (I looked cute as hell in dresses and still do). I wasn’t into “boy things” and I never had crushes on close girl friends or women teachers. I loved high heels and glitter and everything we, as a society, understand to mean “straight girl.”
What should have been the first flag for me was that, as I got older, I felt no emotional, romantic, or sexual connection to the boys in my life. But, rather than questioning why that was, I just assumed everyone sort of tolerated boys. I worked really hard to assert my heterosexuality: I flirted a lot and I became physical with boys earlier than others did. It wasn’t until I was 17 and away at a summer theatre program that I had my first romantic/emotional/physical experience with a queer woman that things started to make sense. At the end of the summer, my parents and I were driving back home and my Dad asked me if I’d met any boys that summer. I said, “Well, not really?” and the conversation ended there. Later, when we’d stopped for some dinner and my Mom was in the bathroom, I looked at my Dad and said “You know when you asked me if I met any boys? Well, I didn’t. But I met a girl.”
Now—pause on this story. My family is very open and liberal and we were all raised to not give a second thought about people’s sexualities, so I didn’t think this would be a huge issue. But you never know, right? It’s one thing when it’s your coworker or your husband’s sister’s kid, but parents might react differently when it’s their kid.
After I told my Dad, he just kept sipping his Diet Coke, pondered what I’d told him, and said, “Oh. Okay.” My Mom came back from the bathroom and had a somewhat similar reaction when I told her. It was maybe the most boring “coming out moment” ever. I think it took both of them some time to process only because they both always assumed I was straight and I’d given them past boyfriends and lots of traditional femininity to support those assumptions. Even after a few clarifying, follow-up conversations, it was all fine. A few months later, I told my brothers and eventually my grandma and everyone was completely okay with it. I got lucky.
Things were different at school. I was about to enter into my senior year of high school at a Catholic all-girls school and felt really isolated. I told three of my close friends who were the quasi-rebel girls at my school, so I felt it was safe. I kept it a secret from everyone else because I didn’t want to deal with the judgment and ridicule. I went home every night and watched the same movie on the LGBT section of Netflix (Room in Rome, if anyone’s interested), and fostered a massive crush on one of the women in it. I think I just needed some time with myself to let these new feelings sit before I really started to grapple with them. I’d never been fluid or gay or queer, as my identity evolution would later show.
Initially, I came out as sexually fluid, mainly because that’s how I understood my sexuality at the time. But my explanations to family members were cushioned in homophobic phrases like “but don’t worry, I’m not a lesbian or anything, I just date who I want.” My sexuality was really new to me, and over time, it began to evolve. Once I started college, I began to study queerness in an academic way. I was surrounded by people who were so sure of themselves and their identities, in an environment that celebrated diversity in sexuality and gender.
Throughout my college career, I dated, I learned, I read, I talked, I immersed myself in queer culture, and I found security in a queer identity. It took a few years and a constant learning and relearning of who I am and what my identity is at varying points in my life, and then conveying those new identities to my family after my first coming out. Even now, I frequently find myself having to come out in different ways. No, I’m not walking down the streets of New York, looking at strangers and shouting “I’M QUEER, LET’S PARTY.” But my clothing, my hair, my partners, my friends, the spaces I occupy, and the way I move through the world all join together to create a visible queerness. In a sense, I’m always coming out.
My coming out was like peeling a bandaid off in the slowest way possible. But looking back, that time really helped me be present in each step of my process. The initial “coming out” might not be the final one. Everyone moves at different paces. As lucky as I was to have a network of people who supported me unconditionally, the relationship I had with myself and my physical appearance wasn’t always easy. Over the course of my coming out journey, I went from being someone who exclusively presented as “conventionally feminine” and “traditionally straight” to someone who plays with gender confidently and comfortably. In taking the time to really figure out what my sexual identity is, the way I perform my gender has changed, too. My queerness interacts heavily with my physical appearance; sometimes that means wearing a floral dress and sometimes it means going for a snapback and a cutoff. Coming out was a slow breakaway from who I was to who I wanted to be, and having my outer appearance reflect my internal identity. It might happen overnight, or it might happen over a span of a few years. At the end of the day, though, giving yourself (and others) patience, love, and support is alway the best way to ensure a smooth coming out process—no matter how long it takes.
Sarah Simon has been writing for My Kid Is Gay for two years. She is an ENFJ/ Sagittarius who usually can be found with body glitter on her face and English Bulldogs on her mind. Sarah is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied Queer Theory and Psychology. She is currently a candidate for her MA in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence. In between pots of very strong coffee, Sarah makes rad mix tapes for her friends, cooks fun vegetarian food, and cackles at the thought of destroying the patriarchy. Follow her on Instagram @glitterpawzz and on Twitter @misssaraheliz