April 12, 2010

My Coming Out Story

I came out so long ago that it feels like ancient history. Or Texas history. I came out in 7th grade, the one year I had to take Texas History. My coming out is kind of like the Battle of the Alamo: though I initially lost I ended the war a winner. I knew I was non-straight when I saw the Rocky Horror Picture show live the summer before the start of 7th grade. I had previously been attracted to women but had thought everyone else felt the way I did; they just didn’t talk about it. After going home I talked to my friend Blake on AIM who was in the same theatre program as me and openly gay. We talked about the show. I casually mentioned that the character Columbia was “hot.” He asked me if I was gay. I told him I had never considered it. After our night-long conversation I was convinced that I was different from the other girls and the word “bisexual” applied to me. My friend Catherine started talking to Blake. He accidentally told her of my sexual revelation.

I didn’t know this had happened until the first day of 7th grade when Catherine and her friends interrogated me about my “bisexuality.” Lacking any sense of self-preservation and with the knowledge that the damage had already been done, I told Catherine I didn’t care about whom she shared this knowledge with. One day I had a group of nerdy, conventional friends. Another day they all avoided me. The words fag, dyke, bitch, slut and whore followed me from advisory to the long bus ride home. I had been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder in elementary school. This wave of hostility brought out the worst depression of my life.

I came out to my parents around the same time. I had come home from school crying. My dad went to my room and asked me question after question. He asked me if I had a boyfriend and then asked if I had a girlfriend. When I answered yes, he told me I was too young to know and left the room. I tried in vain for months to convince my parents that I wasn’t too young to know. My dad, concerned about my safety, forbid me from telling anyone about my sexuality. Unfortunately, the damage was already done.

My new friends were potheads and punks, though I was too emotionally detached to be more than their mute accomplice during school. I had been a tomboy from a young age but slowly morphed into a feminine creature. At first I was grotesque. I wore too much make-up and thrift store clothes. Now I am completely comfortable with my identity as a femme. In 7th grade I managed to still make excellent grades. I was isolated but not without hope. By 8th grade I was barely passing my classes. The “girlfriends” I had in middle school only wanted sex from me or told the most vicious bullies about my sexuality. Everyday I faked sick or begged my mom not to take me to school. I was convinced that I couldn’t stay in school and had no future. The summer between 7th and 8th grade I only ate cheerios and nearly fainted in the shower.

Though I constantly felt like I wanted to die, I didn’t have a plan for how to commit suicide. I faint at the sight of blood, had no idea how to get a gun (I hope no one’s surprised that my Texas house was sans gun) and didn’t have pills readily available. I spent most of my time listening to avant-jazz and making crude drawings. When my parents and I met with the school counselor I spent the whole time hysterically crying and yelling at her. I was convinced that all the other kids in school were stupid. Though I don’t like to draw now, I became quite good at anatomical drawings. This one picture particularly impressed me and I was fond of copying it:


My privilege saved me from suicide. My parents had enough money to send me to therapy and put me on anti-depressants and cared enough to let me leave therapists who I felt weren’t supportive. The transfer to private Catholic school saved me academically and wouldn’t have been possible without my parent’s economic status. Though I was marked as the “weird lesbian girl” at my Catholic high school and wasn’t socially active, I did well enough to get into Duke. I am privileged that my family now treats my sexuality as a non-issue. As a result I can completely commit to being out to everyone I meet at Duke and can act as a witness to all facets of Duke’s social climate. I am not afraid of how people will react to my sexuality because I’ve heard it all. I still don’t know what it’s like to live somewhere where race and sexuality are not hot-button topics. While I intend to have this experience soon I am also grateful for the perspective I gained from being out at a young age in San Antonio, Texas.

This is part of a poem I wrote from my “dark period.” I sometimes chant the stanza to myself when I’m feeling down:
If god hates fags
You think that I would burn and die
My outside rubbing with my inside
Like they teach you to rub two sticks together

9 comments:

  1. Veronica-thank you so much for sharing this and for being so open and honest about your coming out story. I know I can certainly relate to a lot of what you've shared here. I hope you know, that if it wasn't evident already, I really admire the confidence you have at Duke being a queer woman. You are an inspiration. =)

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  2. V-Ray! This is very well-written and your poem sent me shivers. I don't know if I've told you this, but I very much appreciate how you are never afraid to disclose your sexuality and engage with people on all different types of issues. Reading your post just deepens my appreciation for how committed you are "to being out". Not all of us are able to be committed as you, so thanks for being you!

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  3. Veronica, great post. I second what Michelle said about your commitment to being out and visible. As someone who hasn't even managed to begin talking about coming out, except when I'm at the Center, I really admire you. So, thanks.

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  4. Dear Veronica, This isn't a gay/coming out related comment, but I hope that's okay.

    Thank you for your openness about your mental health. I've recently been thinking a lot about the lack of discussion surrounding these issues on Duke's campus. Different venues give a voice to those who have or are dealing with eating disorders and self harm (which I'm not belittling) and administrators certainly promote the services at CAPS, but nobody talks about their own experiences or struggles with things like Seasonal Affective Disorder or anti-depressant medications. This pervasive silence makes it hard to be a student here who continues to deal with these issues and is medicated for them. Thanks for being so honest.

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  5. I like thrift store clothes. Come shopping with me--I'll show you the beauty of it. :)

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  6. a) Thrift store adventure for a next semester WLW meeting?!

    b) I wanna ditto the anonymous comment on mental health. I know we often hear little snippets of how someone is doing, or an emergency CAPS meeting, or frantic texts from friends, or just feeling something is wrong. Struggling though lots of shit sophomore year, the whole lgbt factor thrown on top of everything else can be the straw that breaks the camel's back. I appreciate your honesty. I hope more folks can help break down the wall of silence regarding bouts of craziness and long term effects of depression. I've been there. I have my bad days. Let's talk about it. We can pick each other up as a community and all grow together. I'm glad you're finding your space at duke. I've definitely continued to bloom and have become stronger. I love you.

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  7. Veronica, your honesty is incredible. Thank you for being you, celebrating you, and letting us learn a little more about you.

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  8. Veronica... =) Thank you. Your story is really touching, and I can see how this has contributed to you becoming the strong, confident woman you are today. To be honest, after reading this, I have SO much newfound respect and admiration for you and who you are.

    I also, like Summer and the anonymous commenter, found it cathartic to read about your experience with depression, therapy, and anti-depressant medication. As they said, so many of us struggle or have struggled with this, and yet there is an OVERWHELMING silence about it at Duke. When I 'came out' to people as depressed in recent months, it was much worse than any reaction I've ever gotten from coming out as same-sex attracted. Most of the time it was just completely ignored- which, for me, was the worst possible reaction anyone could have had in that situation. Many, including those I thought were among my closest friends, shied away from me, having no clue what to say or how to interact with or be supportive of someone who wasn't always immersed in a bubble of happy perfectness. As a human community, we need to learn to accept and engage with the fact that our experiences and emotions are not always positive. I often get the feeling that no one wants to deal with it.. and maybe they don't. But a lot more of us than we realize are sharing these experiences and can probably be of use to one another, if only we continue to give voice to them.

    You may have inspired me to submit a blog post... Either way, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed reading this and how glad I am that you're here with us today. You're amazing.

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  9. This is an amazing post. It must take such courage to live the coming out experience and then write about it for everyone to see, stripped bare. And I loved that poem - a brilliant way to say what you want to say. Thank you.

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