Looking back on things, I guess it was pretty obvious, given society's understanding of the relationships between sex, gender and sexual orientation. Maybe it was that I always wanted to be the dad when we played house. Maybe it was that I wore shit kickers and overalls, searched for snakes under rocks and begged my dad to build me a tree house. Maybe it was that I would get home from elementary school, fill backpacks with crackers, water bottles, dry socks, and snacks, gear up, grab my bb gun and walkie talkie (leaving the other with mom) and venture out into the woods, the creek, pretending I was a soldier in enemy territory. Maybe it was that I started, at the age of three, playing with tool kits and taking the heater vents apart and putting them back together or stealing mom's keys and putting them in VCRs so I could take them apart and put them back together. Maybe it was that I wanted a Creepy Crawlers oven and not an Easy Bake. Maybe that's why my family wasn't so surprised, why my cousin told her mom she was wondering when I'd come out. Or maybe, the most telling of all, it was the crushes I had on girls. The jealousy I felt towards Tommy, the White Power Ranger, for possessing the object of my affection, Kimberly, the Pink Ranger. Mom didn't realize my obsession with Amy Jo Johnson's character and presumable mimicry of her: refusal to get out of my Halloween costume (even when I peed), insistence on starting karate lessons, taking up rollerblading, was, in fact, my tiny brain's outlet of subverting these strange feelings I wasn't supposed to have.
I'm from a small, conservative village in Upstate New York, more specifically, the Finger Lakes Region. We have a population of 5,000, a large farming/Mennonite community with (until recently) asbestos seeping from the untiled high school walls. Not only is this village part of one of the poorest counties in the state, it is also primarily white and lower middle class. The extent of the diversity we experience manifests in the migrant workers who sell their labor for incredibly unfair wages on the multitude of farms we boast. So, it's pretty easy to see how my tomboy identity didn't serve me well and I learned quickly, once I hit middle school, to flaunt my prepubescent goodies, stay on the cheer team, date the boys I've been taught are attractive, bully others to assert my status as un-analyzable, straighten my hair, and cake my face with far too much makeup. My compulsory heterosexuality was constructed and assumed. In seventh grade, my mom made the off-handed comment that it was okay for other people to be gay, but not her kids. And then, in eighth grade, I fell in love with my best friend. Without realizing it.
As a result of said whirlwind romance (which occurred entirely inside my own mind, of course), I left my public school system when high school started and attended a Catholic high school with my best friend. Before long, Shelby (who always had and still does identify as completely heterosexual) told me she had feelings for me. She told me in a note. That other people found. In order to escape persecution (and because I truly did not understand my feelings for her), I projected, made it seem one-sided, and went back to public school, aching heart semi-intact.
When I came back to the public school system, it was the second half of freshmen year and not much had changed: boys liked me, girls thought I was cool; I maintained my seat on the tip of the high school hierarchy of asshats. But then, I got over myself. I decided not to be an asshole. I started making friends with the three out LGBTQ kids in my school. I pretended an ally was a separate category entirely, mutually exclusive from being gay. I attempted to correct my internalized homophobia, yet still hid behind the defense of the ever-benevolent ally.
When rumors began to surface sophomore year, after I made the mistake of telling my gay male friend I had hooked up with my then best friend (aka I told the whole school I hooked up with Morgan Potts in her bedroom while her religious babysitter forbid her brother from watching Will & Grace downstairs), those who still sat atop the high school hierarchy came to my defense, telling people I couldn't possibly be that, not me. There had to be some mistake. Valiant effort, friends, but it only increased my internalized homophobia and led to the suicide attempt junior year that landed me in an inpatient facility for five days.
Upon my release from the Strong Psychiatric Center with a bipolar disorder diagnosis (because I still refused to admit my sexual orientation or the fact that it was driving my self-loathing), I moved in with my dad to his home in Rochester, NY where I began attending Athena High School. Greece Athena High School: WASP production central – think the Sneetches before they learn their lesson. Literally pumping out arrogance. There were two safe zone stickers in the entire building, two members in the GSA, everyone was a bully, and the teachers were no exception. I had short hair, another lesbian outed me, and I panicked and got a boyfriend. Once again, my friends began defending me against the horrible accusation that I might (oh no, the horror!) be interested in going down. Once again, this internalized homophobia heightened, and I began bullying the lesbian identified individual who had outed me.
After finishing my junior year, I transferred to Greece Olympia and began senior year. It was a whole new world. My principal was a lesbian. There were counselors, teachers, staff, and students of color. There were queer staff, teachers, and students. I found a community, gained a support system, and I got really serious with my internet girlfriend. So serious, in fact, that I decided to tell my mom.
As we were driving to Penn Yan from Rochester for my mom's weekly visit, I opened the dialogue:
Me: I called my friend's mom to ask her how to make squash.
Mom: You could have called me, I would have told you how to make it.
Me: Oh, you like squash?
Mom: I love squash!
Me: Really? What else do you like?
Mom: [names other vegetables]
Me: What do you like besides vegetables?
Mom: Oh you know, carbs, bread, pasta, all the bad things.
At this point, I assume my leading questions will prompt her to inquire about my likes. Not the case. So, when we're about two minutes from my mom's house, I go for it. Heart racing, palms sweating, guts getting hot, I manically blurt out, "Oh, I um…I like girls."
Mom's hands visibly clench the steering wheel. "Girls? What kind of food is that?"
I rise above the tuna joke I could make and explain girls is not a food. My mom tells me not to let anyone convince me I'm something I'm not. I tell her not to convince me I'm something I'm not. We pull in, park, and I go watch Margaret Cho for three hours in my bedroom until I get so thirsty I decide to venture into the kitchen. Mom finally speaks to me. "I got you blueberry muffins, they're in the cupboard." I think I went to bed after eating those muffins.
The next night, the family (my mom, my stepdad Kasey, and my little brother, who was, at the time, 7) decided to play Life in the living room. When I stopped to get married, I asked my stepdad, who was sitting closest to the box of pegs, to hook me up. As the blue peg was about to take a seat in my stylish green mini van, I simply said "wrong color." "Oh, my bad," Kasey responded as he swapped it with a pink peg. After the game, he asked if I batted for both teams or just one. I told him I wasn't ambidextrous. He said cool, and then spent the next few months helping my mom understand the situation, me, and reassess her relationship to God, religion, her previous moral system.
While coming out is not a one time be-all end-all experience as simple as checking "interested in women" on Facebook and forgetting about it forever, there are many moments of coming out in certain places to certain people as certain identities that will forever leave their mark in my mind and have the biggest roles in shaping how I view, perform, and articulate my queer identity. This is certainly one of them.
Here I am, five years later, with an awesome support system at home, a great advocate in my mom, and gratuitous Tumblr posts in the form of screenshots of my mom sharing risqué photos of ladies or liking "let Constance take her date to prom." She's learning, she's understanding, and she's showing me she loves me. Having my family accept my identity and understand the ways in which it shapes my day to day life helped me combat my own internalized homophobia, explore queer identities beyond the glimpses of commoditized/normalized queer life I would sneak through Logo programs and South of Nowhere, and develop my concentrations around queer/trans* studies.
There is much to be said about the impact of community and support in the lives of queer individuals. There is also much to be said about how we are expected to articulate our queerness through the production and reproduction of "coming out narratives." But it is through these collective voices and experiences that we truly form a cohesive, tangible community – a space to share our experiences, both positive and negative, and reflect upon the ways in which they help us understand ourselves, society, and the formation of community.