Today is National Coming Out Day. If you’ve read some of my other personal entries or my social media (particularly the one about my New York trip last June), you’d probably know this already, but today’s as good as any to stand up and be counted.
For lack of a better label, I’m queer, though I tend to vacillate between that, “gay” and “bisexual”. Men do something for me in a way that most women don’t, but there have been a handful of women I’ve been strongly attracted to (both on a physical and emotional level). At the same time, I feel like queer is a little more accurate and covers all the nuances of gender. Either way, I’m not straight; to truly know me is to see and respect that.
I recently read Katie Heaney’s Would You Rather, about her falling in love with a woman at 28; she talks about a few things that really hit home, such as being concerned she wouldn’t be considered gay enough because she came out late, looking at her past and trying to piece together clues that she was attracted to women when , and the validating experience of seeing and being seen by other queer folk. It also had me thinking about my own story.
I was raised Christian, as one usually is when they're the child of a Presbyterian minister. I had spent a few years of my adolescence away from the regular church-going habit, but by the time I was in high school in Winnipeg, I had begun a flirtation with evangelical Christianity; my family went to a church that met in the auditorium of a local public junior high school and I eventually joined a weekly youth group. For a not particularly socially-adept teenager, an excuse to have some time out of the house with other people my age was a draw, but I also was a fairly rule-abiding youth; some preachers’ kids end up rebelling by this time in their lives, but I never felt like I had either the drive or the ability to really pull it off. I wasn’t particularly interested in drawing any more attention to myself. I also bought into what I was taught, that being gay was a choice, and the wrong one at that. I thought it was mostly a matter of stopping yourself from being led astray from certain influences and not letting your mind think about certain topics.
Around the same time, there was a story in one of my community papers about a pair of twin sisters that had started giving anti-homophobia presentations in their high school, which was in the same school division as mine. At the time homosexuality was one of the topics the division forbade teachers to discuss in class (the other two were abortion and masturbation - HAM for short); while the sisters (who were gay themselves) had the blessing of their teacher and principal, two parents made complaints and the presentations were forced to stop. That story stuck with me for years. I also remember another story about gay teenagers in the city paper around the same time; the sisters were featured, as were a few other queer youth. The details of the article have faded from my memory over time, but for some reason I remember reading these articles with a twinge of curiosity. These were people the same age as I was. How did they know? How long did they know?
I was also having thoughts about my own sexuality, at least, whenever I didn’t try to fight them off (reading the New Testament in order kind of lulled most doubt away). I didn't really consider myself gay because I was convinced it was a choice, and as long as I kept my brain from thinking too much about the subject, I was safe. I still felt a weird bit of fascination and recognition every time I read these articles.
Looking back, a lot of my past “crushes” on women were more about the abstract idea of having a girlfriend than actual attraction; I don’t think there was really much compatibility or connection happening, just things I was telling myself because they seemed to check certain boxes in terms of appearance and interests. I only became aware how two-dimensional most of these fixations really were when I actually felt a real attraction or connection. I was also still in the mentality where I didn’t feel like my “true” self existed too far outside the expectations of others, so any deviation would have just been considered play-acting.
I'm not sure what caused the shift, where I was starting to consider the possibility that I might actually find men attractive. I remember starting to notice more men at university (without really admitting to myself that it was a sexual attraction), and occasionally, the odd one would creep into my fantasies. I noticed the signs for the campus LGBT club but never brought myself to go to a meeting; even if I had the thoughts, I didn’t think I would act on them, and I didn’t feel like I was queer enough to join.
By the time I hit that age, I had also stopped believing that being gay was a choice, and felt a completely visceral disagreement with those who argued against LGBTQ equality. While I still attended the campus Christian fellowship for the first two years at Mount Allison, there came a point where I felt like I was mostly there for my parents’ sake than my own. (That’s another blog post in itself). I had also started to meet more openly queer folks on campus. I admired their ability to just live their lives and be themselves.
This was also around the time I started blogging and reading other blogs; I found I still had that same fascination and recognition I felt when I was a teenager reading those articles in the paper whenever I read a coming out narrative. I was also starting to think more about what it would be like to have sex with another man. Eventually I realized the thoughts I had were happening more frequently for it to be incidental curiosity that most people had. I had to figure out what my own body and brain were telling me, instead of trying to figure out how to move myself along on a narrative that I thought I had to follow. The more I thought about it, the less accurate “straight” felt.
I came out to myself on August 17, 2005. I was living at home at the time, so I wasn’t really able to really act on this, but at the same time it felt good to finally get toward the truth of who I was, however incrementally. I would slowly come out to people and furtively look for connection with other queers in this time, behind the relative safety of a locked Livejournal account and anonymous profiles on sites like GayCanada. “Bisexual” was the label that felt right to me at the time because I still felt like I noticed women, though the more I explored my own desires, my body didn’t respond in the same way as it does for men. To be honest, a lot of what I notice in a woman is purely cosmetic, such as fashion sense and hair; I still notice a pretty face and if there’s a spark whenever we interact, but a lot of the time the body doesn’t really come onto my radar. I may find them cute on an objective level but most times I just don’t really feel enough of anything to really want to take things further.
I didn't hit a gay bar until about three years later, after I had moved to Riverview, NB, a town across the river from Moncton. Part of it was apprehension, part of it was practicality; at the time, I was working a low-waged call centre job with often unfortunate hours. Going to Triangles, the only LGBTQ bar in Moncton (which sadly closed this year), meant spending money on cover, drinks and cab fare, and the Moncton public transit service only included Riverview as an afterthought; there was no service after the early evening most nights, and the nights that did have later runs only had them until 10 pm. Still, I wanted to finally take advantage of having that option. Eventually, I started going more and more; not necessarily to pick up, but just to be in a safe physical space where I could feel more like myself.
Despite having this space, I found myself growing more unhappy in Riverview, and I ended up moving back to my parents’ place in Miramichi, NB. I wasn’t out to them then, and Miramichi had considerably fewer queer-friendly spaces (if any) and is one of those places where people tend to know others’ business. I always knew this was going to be a temporary stop,and had my mind on my next move to a bigger city, but ironically, I began to feel more secure in my own queerness around this time, despite having to hide this part of me from my parents: there were a surprising number of fellow LGBTQ folk at my new workplace, and I had started to make more online connections as well, particularly on Twitter..
I finally moved to Halifax six years ago. One thing that drew me was that it was a big enough city to have a sizable queer scene; in fact, I had started making connections on Twitter before I moved down, and on a few visits to the city before the move I made sure to check out the local gay bars. Money was tight the first few years I lived here, but when I could I would go to events at The Company House (RIP), screenings at the OutEast Film Festival, or plays at Queer Acts. It was actually a connection through some volunteer work in the community that helped me land a contract job a few years back. Reflections Cabaret was never my thing, though, and while I don’t go to Menz & Mollyz as much as I want to, I usually don’t think the cost of cover and cabfare is worth it (I live out in the suburbs). I would go to the Halifax Pride parade every year too, though I wasn’t ready to actually march in the parade until I finally came out to my parents last Christmas.
I became less visible in the scene after a few years. Some of it was depression and anxiety, some of it was due to a lot of people I knew moving out of the city, some of it was from feeling a little old and out of place at events. I had also experienced my first strong attraction to a woman in over 10 years, and that caused a little more of an identity crisis. I’m not sure if I read as queer enough sometimes, though I don’t feel particularly comfortable in more heteronormative places, and usually try to be as inconspicuous when I’m in them alone. I’m aware of the various forms of privilege I carry and usually just want to take up as little space as I can, but still want to connect with other queer folk (when I have the energy and capacity to do so). I’m also not in a place where I feel ready to be in a relationship right now
I sometimes wonder how my life would have been different had I come out to myself before I was 23. On one hand I doubt I would have been ready to deal with this information as a Christian teenager trying to get through adolescence as unscathed as possible; on the other hand I wonder about the connections I could have made with people if I had a better idea of who I was back then. On some level things happen when they’re ready to happen. Either way, I’m glad I accepted this part of myself long ago and don’t feel like I have to negate it. I always feel more comfortable with other people if I know they recognize and accept my queerness (I also find my mannerisms get a little more effeminate when I’m in this zone).
As freeing as it it is to be open about this, and as heartening as it is to see and know so many visible queer people, I won’t lie: the rise of certain demagogues (who will go unnamed) scares me. It’s enabled and encouraged a segment of the population that doesn’t just disagree with an abstract “lifestyle”, but seem to relish in inflicting cruelty on other people. It’s not so much about making their own lives better so much as making sure that they have the power to hurt whoever they think deserves it. They’re not even pretending otherwise anymore. The last two years have shaken a lot of my optimism about the future, and I worry how far this trend is going to go. We’ve made so much progress, but progress can be wiped away. Just ask Magnus Hirschfeld.
Still for now, I’m relishing the opportunity I have in front of me, the validation of being recognized as myself, and the ability to have that full self shared with others.