December 25, 2011

More in the Closet than Ever Before

[Author's note: I wrote the crux of this post in mid-June. I didn't post it then because while writing helps me to process things and get things off my chest, I'm not always comfortable publicly sharing things I write when the issues are still raw. Now that I'm comfortably past this experience, it seems especially relevant given the nature of going 'home for the holidays.' A lot of people spend the semester out of the closet and engaging in activities related to their LGBTQ identity. If someone isn't out at home, leaving Duke means wrapping all of that back up (see Jonathan's post from yesterday). For me, the only thing harder than coming out of the closet to people the first time was going back in the closet when I moved to a new community for my summer job as a camp counselor.]

I always knew that when people weren't out it took a lot of extra energy on their part to hide that identity. I spent the last several years of my life not out, and in some ways, I'm still not. For one thing, I don't identify as anything. But also, there are people who don't know that about me and who I've intentionally not told. Through this half-in and half-out thing, I've come to understand the potential struggle that closeted, or only partially out, people feel in a way that I never did before, even though I, too, was in the closet. In many ways, it really does feel like living two separate lives.

I only had two weeks at home between my post-school travels and coming to camp. My time was so limited that it forced me to talk about my sexuality a lot. After all, there were a lot of people I needed to fill in. After filling those people in, I posted my blog post, coming out to all of cyberspace. The very next day, I came to camp.

It was weird spending so much time talking about my sexuality and then coming to a place with lots of new people and others to whom I was not out. Those from camp whom I told, via sending them my blog, and I didn't really get to talk about it--they read the blog and that was that.

I'm not sure how much of my identity my sexuality (or lack thereof) is. During those two weeks at home, though, it was a really big focus in my life. After all, it was my first time home in over 5 months and I'd been waiting to tell my high school best friends and immediate family that I was questioning my sexuality in person. I had two weeks to come out some 15 or so times. And then I came to camp--where my complicated sexuality simply doesn't exist.

Even during all the years when I was "in the closet" I never felt like I was in the closet the way I do right now. Every small group discussion we had about our year, I wonder whether I should bring it up. After all, coming to terms with this was a huge part of my year (as in, The Biggest development in my life). I debate with myself in my head, until its my turn to talk. And then I choose--to tell or not to tell. In the end, I've done different things in different situations. But before now, I never debated in my head whether or not to share. (Because it was just a "duh" thing; of course I wasn't going to bring it up.) And I never felt like I was being deceitful when I didn't share this with people. I guess I never felt like I was hiding something, because I wasn't talking about it with anyone. But now that I am, it all feels so different.

In an unexpected way, I spent the last ten months coming out of the closet, but the truth is, I've never felt more in the closet than I do right now.

[Author's note, part ii: I want to make it very clear that my camp's environment played no role in my anxiety. On several occasions during staff week and the summer, our director made it very clear that this was a safe space for counselors and campers of all sexualities (Bravo v'todah, Rav).]

[Author's note, part iii: I'm happy to report that this feeling did not last long. The contrast between the two weeks before camp and the first few days at camp was the source of my frustration. So once I made it past the few days, things calmed down. I didn't come out to everyone, but by the end of the summer, I'd told the people I wanted to tell, even had an age and time appropriate conversation about it with some of my high school campers, and stopped second guessing myself. (Bravo v'todah, Self)]

1 comment:

  1. Risa thank you for writing this!

    Coming out to new people, or at least the process of deciding whether or not to do so, is always so exhausting.

    I'm out to my immediate family, friends, and classmates, but I still dread vacations where hordes of relatives and local family friends will be wondering when I'm going to find me a wife. It's not like I care how they react. I'm just tired of coming out, but I'm also tired of people not knowing who I am in a very important way.

    It's an annoying contradiction. It's hard for me to treat it like an important conversation because sexuality for me is like talking about my hair color or blood type. I just wish knowing other people didn't know wasn't so bothersome.

    I'm glad you eventually had the conversations.
    I can empathize with how relieving it is to finally put yourself out there.

    Have a wonderful holiday season! This was a great read.