The Writers That Helped Me Come Out
Last winter I left a job I loved amidst a burgeoning need to find my voice and my community. Re-discovering my bisexuality a couple of years earlier had sent me on a journey of exploring my identity. It had also brought home the uncomfortable truth that I was terrified of my feelings; of expressing myself in a way that felt authentic and speaking out on issues I identified with. When the opportunity to work at an LGBTQ+ organisation came up, I took it as a cue. I could imagine myself being different; confident. I needed a tangible reason to put my fear down, get comfy, and get going. Applying for the job was a small vote of confidence in myself. Interviewing for it made me imagine myself in a new role. Actually getting it, though – I had to take a long inhale with all the possibility and change in front of me.
Heterosexism and monosexism are like drugs you don’t know you’re taking. I had started to get them out of my system, learning to accept myself and question what I’d been taught in the same breath.
“That feeling of being on catch-up, of proving our worth, I’ve realised is shared in a multitude of ways, and in much bigger ways, within our LGBTQ+ movement.”
But committing to work in LGBTQ+ equality made me go further. Having to say words out loud, really express them, makes you own something much more solidly than keeping it in your head – or heart, even.
I needed help. As a bona fide geek and (far too) staunch believer in self-help, I turned to the books and authors that most inspired me. I turned elsewhere, too, but I want to share some of what helped unstick my fear.
I was struck when reading Purple Prose by a comment made by Fred Langridge and Meg-John Barker. They say the way we understand our gender or sexuality can change over time and be facilitated even by simple acts like learning new words. I agree. Words pin down feelings and ideas. They help anchor what is in your head and heart, or perhaps tease it out in the first place. Learning and speaking about LGBTQ+ experiences, beyond my own, helped me find the language I did not have before. I was able to practice, to describe our experiences to rooms of people. Speaking from my community, I was also actively placing myself within it. Moving into a different role was letting me move into myself.
But still, I used to wonder about the day I’d feel like I’d truly arrived in my queer identity, no longer fumbling around trying to look expert. I have to tell you I’ve given up. And I thank Roxane Gay for showing that you can do good stuff while still feeling amateur.
In Bad Feminist, she reflects:
‘I try to learn better, do better. I have no idea how I got to be the one …who gets to be in charge of things … Most of the time, I feel like the kid who gets to sit at the adult table for the first time at Thanksgiving. I’m not sure which fork to use. My feet can’t reach the floor.’
It appears not to matter what job I’m doing. I feel like an imposter in some way or another. Where I am now, I’m always kicking myself under the desk, feeling my face burn because I don’t know something, or if I don’t get the joke. The lesbian singer I’m definitely sure I’ve never heard of, or the sub-culture slang that skites past and slaps my cheek. The names of gay bars I scribble down, so I can know for next time. Or go to them.
That feeling of being on catch-up, of proving our worth, I’ve realised is shared in a multitude of ways, and in much bigger ways, within our LGBTQ+ movement. Many of us still have to prove our identities and why they matter. Everywhere. Not just in an office. But it’s the desire to claim ourselves and believe that our experiences are valid and that we deserve a voice, even when we feel scared or out of place in some important way, which really moves us forward.
I’m sure I don’t stand alone in saying I’m in love with Audre Lorde. Among many things, she taught me to work with my fear and not against it. In her essay The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, she talks about the fears we hold inside us and that stop us from speaking or acting. For me, I think the biggest fear of all has been that there is a more qualified or experienced version of myself I need to get to. That the process of becoming will end someday and then I’ll be valid enough to speak – for myself, and maybe for others too. But becoming is the place we’re all speaking from, the only possible place. The place we need to embrace and feel valid in.