on one year of living authentically: a reflection on coming out
One year ago today, I told Nick I was gay.
This news, while not entirely a surprise to him, gutted him immediately.
My experience with being gutted had a late onset, but I've now spent the last six months gutted with no end in sight.
If I could sum up the experience of existing during the past year in one sentence, I would say this--I had no idea how much this would cost me.
I didn't understand grief until I lost my big love—and by that, I mean I lost my life partner and my very, very best friend. One day he was Team Gwenn, and then the next, he decidedly wasn't. I mean, sure, I have been through loss before. But not the kind of loss that takes your breath away for months on end— the kind where there is a pain so deep, and real, and visceral, and physical that it feels like it will never be okay again. And honestly, I don't know if it will. It doesn't feel like it in most moments. I am still unpleasantly surprised every morning when I wake up and remember that my marriage is ending. The life I built with my partner and the family we grew together is unrepairably fractured. I try to hold hope that a certain amount of love will come back around. But sometimes, it's too painful even to hope.
So with all that in mind, do I regret coming out? Hell no. It is not an exaggeration to say that I don't know if I would still be alive today if I hadn't come out. Living an internally fractured existence is toxic to a soul.
The irony is that the rejection and loss involved in coming out almost killed me too. But to be clear, this doesn't indicate that queer people are inherently mentally ill. Rather, this process is dangerous and brutal because we live in a world still characterized by deep homophobia/transphobia, and that leads to internal and external stressors that adversely impact our mental health.
And so, despite all the costs, I wouldn't go back in the closet—even if I could. I might have done some things differently based on what I know now, but you don't know what you don't know, well, until you do. And so I have nothing but grace and compassion for myself as I have stumbled through this first year of being out.
This has been a year of growing pains and making mistakes. But also, it's been a year of authenticity. It's been a year of finally understanding who I am. It's been a year of freedom and triumph. I spent decades fighting against myself and feeling as if I was inherently a broken human being. And for most of those years, I didn't know why. And then I knew. And once everything came into focus, the proverbial sigh of relief in my soul was overwhelming, beautiful, clear, and absolute.
It's also been a year of therapy, reading, and learning. Here's something I learned— the average person usually doesn't begin to fully integrate their queer identity until about 2-3 years after they publicly come out. Before then, it's kind of a shitshow. It's a second adolescence in a lot of ways. And while everyone is an individual, there are definitely trends surrounding behaviors that many newly-out queer people engage in. And while I didn't know about these norms and trends until more recently, I can see in retrospect that my experience is a fucking textbook example of a couple of different theoretical frameworks related to gay identity integration, the patterns following the dissolution of a mixed-orientation marriage, and norms of minority stress theory. (Maybe someday I will explain more of these things because it's pretty interesting).
Here are a few observations/lessons I have learned in my first year of out living.
- I don't think "lesbian" is the correct term for me. I mean, I am, FOR SURE, not heterosexual. And I am not bisexual. (Men are a no for me). But in addition to experiencing attraction to women, I am also attracted to some AFAB non-binary/trans folks. And so "gay" just seems more inclusive of a term. Or queer. But honestly, I feel like I shave too often to claim the term queer.
- I am a cis woman. This means my natal sex matches my gender. That was never really in question in my mind, but the exploration of sexuality also often involves side-by-side exploration of issues related to gender. That didn't turn up any surprises for me.
- Evangelical purity culture and a concept referred to as "compulsory heterosexuality" easily explain how I didn't recognize my actual orientation until later in life. (I want to write about this more someday, too, because I think it's VERY common for people who come out late in life to share specific key experiences— it's fucking fascinating).
- I had some really great, supportive reactions from friends and family members when I came out. I also had some very painful, damaging reactions. My advice is this— do a little googling now on how to react when a loved one comes out to you so that your initial response does not cause harm if someone new comes out to you. I think this is crucial for ALL parents to do, especially if you suspect your child might be queer. (Maybe I will write about THAT someday, too--HA!)
- There are no shortcuts to integrating this part of your identity. There are no shortcuts around grief. You cannot sidestep the process no matter how type A you are. In the beginning, every single thing in life will seem like it's about your sexual orientation because you're learning how to see and experience the world through a different lens. So in a way, everything IS about your sexual orientation at first. It will take the time it takes, and there's no way to expedite it. It will probably annoy other people sometimes, but everybody that comes out goes through this phase to some extent. So hang in there with your newly-out friends. I cannot explain how freaking desperately they need you.
- Learn to invest in "fuck yes" relationships. A few months ago, my friend Emily told me that she is at the point in her life where the only people she really wants to invest in deeply are people for whom she shares "fuck yes" energy. This has been a transformative concept for me. In this process, you will need your friends to be your cheerleader, your therapist, your designated driver, and your sounding board. They will be your sex therapist, your shoulder to cry on, and sometimes, the only thing that's getting you through the night when caught up in a big wave of grief. When you find people willing to show up for you like this, LOVE THEM WELL. Show up for them with the same energy every time you can. You also have the freedom to release relationships, or parts of relationships, that harm you or no longer serve you. I am learning who my "fuck yes" people are. And that's where I am putting my energy.
- Dating as a middle-aged person is such a trip. Over the past year, I have dated a few people. I literally have a note on my phone where I keep track of what I have learned from each relationship I had. I have learned some things I really want in future relationships and other things I cannot work with. Connections between two AFAB folks can quickly become super enmeshed and intense (read: codependent). That is something I made progress on over time, but something that I will need to keep working on. I am taking a break from dating here for a little bit to catch my breath. I am exploring this new-to-me idea that platonic friendships can be as close, and intimate, and meaningful as some partnerships. (See item #6- fuck yes people). I want to invest in those platonic relationships for a little bit and learn how to love myself, to heal, and to develop the kind of autonomy I need to show up in healthy ways in the future. So I am not seeking anything out or looking for my next partner. I am just existing and trusting that it will manifest if something is for me.
- Living on my own for the first time is a WHOLE THING. I am learning how to do all sorts of new things. Some things I enjoy. Some things I hate. But I am making it. (4+ months and counting!)
I have no idea what the next year will bring.
Literally no idea.
I am scared of the future.
I am hopeful for the future.
But whatever happens, I am pretty sure I will have a gay old time.