My Unlikely Queerness part 2
In part 1 of this series, I talk about developing a queer identity as a child in a religious community based on the notion that I love people for their personalities and don't much care what their nether-bits look like.
By the time I came to terms privately with my own queerness and stopped trying to tell myself that I just really enjoyed the company of my female friends and didn't actually want to recite Sapphic poetry to them while entwined naked in silk sheets watching Gilmore Girls, I was 24 years old. I was also married to a dude. So while there was a predictable feeling of loss--the should've-would've-could've's of my closeted adolescent years--beyond that I was still happy with and committed to my monogamous male partner, making this epiphany of mine wholly internal. On the outside, nothing changed. And that felt weird, because it was so goddamn hard-fought and important to me to accept. I was queer, and I could say that now, but nobody was asking.
And for a long time that's how it stayed. Marc had been privy to my thought process all along, so there was no coming out to him. In fact, I remember trying to have some sort of official conversation with him where I said, definitively, "I'm bisexual," and he just laughed and said "Yeah Nikki, I know, we've talked about this about a hundred times." I had been scared that he would feel like I wasn't attracted to him, or that I regretted our relationship, but like most of the worst things I imagine people think about me, it wasn't an issue. Articulating this to him was part of a much larger spiritual process that we were both going through at the time, and in that context it was probably one of the least earth-shattering things Marc had been contemplating. When you're questioning the very fabric of existence as you've been raised to believe it, the proclivities of people's genitalia--even your wife's--kind of takes a backseat.
I didn't come out to anyone else in my life for several more years after that. After that initial "shout it from the rooftops!" feeling subsided, it didn't seem particularly necessary to alert anyone else that I was attracted to both men and women. Everyone in my life knew that I thought being gay was perfectly awesome. Everyone knew that my clothing and style aesthetic was often androgynous. If I was never going to actually be in a relationship with a woman, what was the point of going out of my way to say that theoretically I could have?
The first time I remember feeling the need to come out more publicly was when SCOTUS legalized gay marriage in 2015. After work that day, I went down to Jackson Square to attend the impromptu celebration rally that had been thrown together. I met up with several queer friends there--people who I have known for a decade or longer, kindred spirits and human beings that I deeply love and respect. The atmosphere was electric, with a kind of unbridled joy I hadn't experienced since my charismatic church days. But my joy was different than my friends'. I was crying because a value that I believe in had been legally recognized. They were crying because they could marry their partner. I was waving my rainbow flag because I celebrated an advance in the social justice of our country. They were waving theirs because now they wouldn't be turned away from their partner's ICU room for not being "family." I am attracted to both genders but fell in love with a man, and because of that happenstance my marriage will never be in peril; my family will never experience the hatred or scorn of small-minded people. The privilege of my situation hit me like a sack full of heterosexual wedding cake toppers. Something in me stirred, and I wanted to shed my protective social layers. I wanted to align myself, publicly, with my community. Ride or die.
After that, I began taking baby steps to come out in more ways, to more people. A direct conversation here, a casual comment there. Before most of them, I would confide in Marc first. "So I'm thinking about posting something for National Coming Out Day..." His response would always be the same: a lackadaisical "cool." At first I was secretly annoyed that he wasn't responding with the gravitas that I thought these occasions called for. Where is your furrowed brow, your probing questions? This is serious, damnit, get in the game! It took me a while to realize that perhaps my patient, loving husband wasn't wringing his hands over my sexual identity for the same reason that he isn't threatened by it: because he recognizes that it isn't actually about him at all. He didn't give his opinion and didn't offer suggestions because he's played enough video games in his life to recognize a big boss when he sees one: there are some battles that are yours alone to fight.
Marc understood immediately what I was only just then starting to piece together, that I'm still piecing together if I'm being honest: Married or not, my coming out matters because my identity matters. Even if the only practical ramification of me being out is that I feel super comfortable saying that I think Janelle Monae is sexy AF, it matters because there was a really long time where I thought God wouldn't love me if I thought Janelle Monae was sexy AF. In the garden of our hearts, shame has deep roots. You have to dig those suckers up from the depths and bleach them in the sun if you want to get rid of it. And in the wider world, coming out matters because visibility matters--the whole spectrum of queerness, in all its complex and varied expressions. Even the 30 year old hetero-married mom ones.