I never thought I’d come out of the closet, because I never thought I was in one. At times as a kid I did wonder, and worry I might be gay, but it didn’t reconcile with the fact that I really liked girls. Well into adulthood I came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t gay or straight, I was bisexual. I knew that was a word, I knew bisexuality was a thing, but I’d never known anyone who called themself that. It wasn’t a particularly revelatory discovery…yet. I internalized it, because of shame and because of my own homophobia. I opened up to girlfriends eventually. But it didn’t really impact me at all. Yet.
It didn’t because I lived as a straight man, it was the only way I knew, even though my entire life it felt wrong. But I did it because growing up where I did, you learn early on that not being straight isn’t tolerated. People who aren’t straight are targets. And when you aren’t straight, and you aren’t interested in, or able to defend yourself from target practice, when you don’t know of any role models, or anyone who can say, yes, I feel like that too, you condition yourself to be straight. At least I did. In my case, part of that was very purposefully not exploring things that felt gay or queer, even if they piqued my interest. Music, clothes, movies, books. People. Eventually things stopped interesting me altogether. This process is what I’ve come to refer to as ‘editing’ myself, and my intention here is to tell stories bringing those moments back to me now as a hopefully wiser man.
I made my way eventually to Seattle, and then over about a decade or so, following my second divorce, and my getting sober, both in 2006, I began to use online dating platforms which lead to some really hilarious stories, a few friends I still have, and through a new tactic of actually asking for what I want, I began meeting and dating people who were openly bisexual, queer, polyamorous. I dated a bunch of people, getting hurt, hurting them, as I navigated mostly my own shame and close-mindedness and naivety. This during the Obama years. I watched gay people, friends, experience a level of hope and freedom that was all new and full of promise, from arguably the capital of gay America, and coinciding with my own feelings of possibly discovering something important about myself after decades of wandering and searching. So many failed relationships. Seattle’s vibrant Pride celebrations drew me in, and every year I immersed myself there more and more. I discovered the Sex Positive community, and especially through events at the Center for Sex Positive Culture, I exposed myself to an unknowingly wide variety of concepts and ideas, kinks, relationship styles; and I found a baseline level of positivity and acceptance around the other. Acceptance of the dark and the confusing, and the absolute celebration of bisexuality and all things queer. Walking into the CSPC the first time felt like falling down a hole. It felt both foreign and familiar. Like a dejavu that stayed.
I began to meet more queer people, and feel a bit more like I was part of a larger world where I could be accepted for who I really am. Whatever that was. I thought I was, for the first time, really finding out. The very word queer entered my vocabulary. It was a word I had avoided most of my life. As a kid it was an insult. As a man in the closet it was a word like all those queer words and queer things I distanced myself from. Gay never felt right; bisexual too much like taxonomy, too full of the very concept of binary choice to fit. Queer, as in bent or not straight, it felt right.
Then, the backdrop to my personal journey changed forever as the cowardly fascist who became the 45th president of the US was invigorating homophobes and racists alike with tired old tactics of fear mongering and lying in his eventual attempt to overthrow our country. I will digress only slightly here; after 8 years of a president who showed us how good a president can be, and moreover, how good a black man must be in order to gain such a position, we were then burdened with an example of how bad a white man can be, and still gain that same position. With such a glaring juxtaposition, the concept of privilege, of white privilege, became part of white America’s collective dialogue like never before, and my coming out is directly related to my exploration of my own privilege as someone who can and has passed as a straight white man for most of my life. These things are tied together as one, my coming out and this heartbreakingly sad moment in American history.
I came to see that being able to pass as a straight white guy means I get to not give a shit about politics at all if I want, because none of this affects me if I don’t want it to. As a straight white guy I can marry who I want, I can talk to a police officer however I want, I can waste time in a high end retail shop freely, I can walk down the street holding my partners hand and even stop and make out with them on the street corner without ruffling but a few people’s feathers. As a straight white guy. And that’s the privilege I find in me, I can be a straight white guy if I choose to. I mean, I can if I can live with all of the internal contradictions, the hypocrisy and self-lying that comes with pretending to be someone you aren’t. The not truly knowing who I am, because as it turns out, living a lie well means really believing it. Being it. To the point where I don’t even realize I’m doing it.
The lesson, that I can opt out if I chose, really impacts me. I watch I am Not your Negro, and Thirteenth one after the other and I get all angry and I leave facebook because I’m so indignantly judgemental about me and everyone else. Every election cycle I get pretty depressed, but this time it’s altogether different. I’m super raw and irritable. I’m self-aware enough to see I’m reacting just the way a privileged person does when they realize they can’t get what they want. But that knowledge isn’t enough to keep myself serene. I feel like a stereotype of a guilt-ridden liberal white dude. Becoming aware of the real, true deepness of privilege is impactful. And frightening. If I choose to look at it, which I don’t have to do if I’m a straight white guy. If however, I’m not, then how can I ignore it? That privilege is the very pressure keeping me so smothered in my own self-loathing. I think of an interview I heard once on Fresh Air. Someone describes suffering as a gas. It will fill whatever space it is allowed to occupy. Privilege is like that too. We don’t live in a vacuum.
I’m a poet, and a musician, and I think I need to use my talents in protest of what’s happening in America, it’s both an opportunity for me, and a need. I work on poems and songs constantly. The news everyday puts forth another lie, or another classless tweet, or another way the country is losing something precious like park land or international respect. There is so much to write about, and I just can’t find my voice. I make a couple things I like, but I just feel irrelevant more than anything. A middle-aged white guy dealing with high school issues. Living on the other side of the country from my family because I’ve just been out there searching and searching for something I thought would eventually tell me who I am in the privacy of my own neurosis.
And then I realize at approaching 50 years old that I know who I am, that I always have. I have just never admitted it. Because of all the shame and fear. The same shame and fear being used by this conservative stale bag of wind calling himself President of my country dividing us up into basically two camps. And the leverage he uses, the leverage all conservatives use, is fear of the unknown. Foreigners? Dealers and rapists. Black Lives Matter? Terrorists. Gays? Sinners, perverts. Turning groups of people into words and labels to divide them. Every time someone like me says out loud who we are, we let others know they are not alone, and we let those around us know we exist. A bisexual person exists and you are dealing with them. This moves the fulcrum under that lever, shifting it, weakening his advantage. Learning is powerful. Learning about what you don’t understand is courageous. Like learning about privilege. Attacking what you don’t understand is cowardly. Coward, that label, I throw it at the 45th President like it’s water and he the wicked witch; and of course I know that what I see in those I hate is a telling trait indeed about myself. And at 50 years old or thereabouts I saw clearly what he reflected in me, and my entire life flashed before my eyes.
Then, here’s a thing: during my impressionable years, I mostly disregarded any possible role models on how to live and to be as a queer person. In my lifelong effort to be straight, I’ve purposefully not associated with most queer things. And this is when David Bowie and then Prince both die. Preceding them, Leonard Cohen, Carrie Fisher, George Michael. Right as the 2016 election results are hitting us all like a shotgun blast, a seemingly endless string of deaths of all those role models I’m searching for. Not all queer, but all celebrated for their fearlessness, their individuality, and many of them queer. Including, and especially David Bowie and Prince. The magnitude of the loss of both of these heroes, right now, was practically indescribable. The community of queer folks I had begun to get to know were mourning their fallen heroes, and telling stories about the impact they had on their lives, in helping them discover themselves, helping them parce out complicated feelings. Having kept all of these queer icons, artists, and public figures for the most part at arm’s length my young life, I didn’t feel the same sense of loss, though I did feel loss. I began to really feel like an imposter. I felt the loss of an opportunity. I felt the familiar feeling of not fitting in.
Just a few months earlier I’d wandered Capitol Hill here in Seattle, the night the Supreme Court ruled that Marriage Equality was law, June 26, 2015. I walked on literal rainbow crosswalks to a crazy busy taco stand where I sat with queer strangers laughing and telling stories on what one of them called the gayest day ever, surrounded by unicorns, hearts, and hopeful slogans in so many of the shop and apartment windows all around. The world was extra vivid, and vibrating as if a rocketship was about to launch us out of our world and take us with warp speed to lands faraway, unknown and spectacular.
But then the 2016 election, and those deaths. The rocketship had exploded. It wasn’t spectacular at all. It was like watching the Space Shuttle Challenger take off into the sky and then all the momentum just disappeared, and then there was a confusing cloud where all of our hope and energy was. The air left the room. Gone. They were both gone just like that. David Bowie and Prince. And we were left with the rise of fascism instead of grieving beloved heroes and spectacular journeys ended too soon.
But back to the actual coming out. Things have gone differently than expected. I can’t say I know what I expected exactly, but I don’t feel like I’ve stepped out of a closet. If anything I feel like I’ve finally, after many years, stepped back into one. A closet full of all kinds of images and stories and memories long stashed away. Primary among the memories, I find are the many ways I edited myself to stay hidden, and constantly and consistently, I find shame. So much shame. My plan is to compile my stories of these moments of self-editing as I remember them. It’s both therapy for me, and maybe something will resonate for you. If so, I’d love to hear about it.