August 20th, 1999
I'm a late bloomer in a lot of ways. At base, it's genetic - Most peoples' chromosomes are XX or XY; mine read XXXY. That little mutant quirk resulted in a whole lot of weirdness in my life, but for the purposes of this story there are two relevant consequences - I didn't hit puberty until it was artificially induced at age 22, and my body makes no testosterone whatsoever. (I'm off the shots at the moment, and have been for 4-5 years now.)
This had a certain effect on my dating habits. I never actually dated until college, and when I got my first big crush it resulted in a one-summer-long platonic relationship. Platonic mainly because I didn't know there should be anything past holding hands, long wonderful walks, and deep meaningful picnics.
Thus it was that I entered graduate school at age 22 with a different take on romance than most folks. The massive testosterone shots changed that in big hurry, and not for the better. As I said - it's a long story. I discovered sex, hormonally-induced psychotic rage, and a host of other fun things over the course of a couple years. Finally I just plain quit the shots completely.
Through that whole time, college on up, I had assumed I was straight. I occasionally had friends tell me I was actually gay and fooling myself, but I didn't pay much attention to the idea. After all, if I found guys attractive, surely I'd know by now, right?
So there I was one February night in my apartment. My roommate, a couple of friends, and myself, watching Days of Thunder, the Tom Cruise flick. Nice mindless entertainment. About halfway through the movie, I remarked casually, "My word, he is gorgeous, isn't he?" Instantly, and with huge grins, all of the others turned and pounced. "See? See? We told you!" I defended my remark as being purely one of objective aesthetics, that it signalled nothing about my sexuality. This, boys and girls, is what is known as denial. Over the next few months, I noticed more and more that I was noticing guys. When my nighttime fantasies started starring Pierce Brosnan and Alec Baldwin, I gave up and finally admitted to myself that my orientation was not what I thought it was.
Was I gay all along, and just kidding myself? I still say no. I honestly was attracted to women before, just as I was honestly not attracted to men. People aren't static creatures; we change, move in different directions. People change careers, political philosophies, and even core ethical beliefs over the span of a lifetime; why not sexual preference? That's why I'm leery of static iconography to represent the self. Selves are fluid; they change. To my mind, symbology that represents the self should incorporate that fluidity.
Admitting things to myself was just the first part. Then there's that huge, ongoing monster known as Coming Out - which is allegedly what this page is about, after all. At core, I'm an academic, so I did what academics tend to do when faced with The Unknown - I looked for books about it. I'm still amused by this instinct. After all, in the words of the old Zen saying, "Reading about food doesn't make you less hungry. Talking about fire doesn't make your mouth hot." But to the books I went, which meant going to the little gay-friendly bookstore.
I think it should be part of the official rite of passage, really - The First Trip To The Gay-Friendly Bookstore. There are formal stages, after all... The Deep Breath As You Cross The Threshold. The Nervous Smile To The Owner. The Pretended Interest In Some Other Section of Books As You Look For What You're Really There For. The Feeling of All Eyes Upon You. The Hunted Look-Left/Look Right As You Actually Pick Something Off the Shelf. And, of course... The Fake-Calm "I Do This All The Time" Attitude As You Pay For Your Selection. (I'd like to take a moment here to thank Aradia Bookstore in Flagstaff for being as wonderful and friendly as they are. All kidding aside, they really helped make a very nervous guy feel welcome.)
Part of what made me so nervous was my age. I mean, by the time you turn thirty, you're darn well supposed to know, right? When I finally got up the nerve to go to the campus Lesbian Gay Bisexual Alliance meetings, the only person there that was my age was the faculty advisor. The group was and is really friendly, but it still felt pretty weird. I feel really stupid asking novice questions when I'm older than almost everyone I socialize with in the local community... Which puts me right back to reading books, desperately trying to catch up, to learn about the community I'm becoming a part of.
Thank the gods for Alison Bechdel. As I said on the previous page, her cartoons have saved me a lot of therapy bills, and I wish I'd found out about Dykes to Watch Out For years ago. In addition, I've picked up several collections of essays. Some helped, some didn't, but each one at least provided one more viewpoint on this alien sea in which I suddenly found myself swimming.
One of the problems is that any identification you choose is in some way a political choice, and to identify as gay, or bisexual, or lesbian, or whatever, is an even more political choice than most. It carries a lot of repercussions - personal, professional, social - and those repercussions come from the straight world and the LGBT community. Do I identify as gay, bi, or what? Who do I identify to? Within the community, are there certain cues I need to be aware of? Do I need to think about how I'm presenting - what I wear to a meeting, how I talk, what interests I talk about? As I said way back at the beginning, I blur a lot of boundaries by conscious choice, which causes some problems occasionally. In a graduate seminar, sometimes I "present" as liberal, sometimes as conservative - because in reality, I'm neither. "Liberal" and "conservative" are both labels, and a label is not an accurate representation of a person. Similarly, I've been told by certain friends in the LBGA that I "present" as straight. This vexes me a little. Does liking men mean I need to ditch my Bob Seeger and Bruce Springsteen albums and replace them with Streisand? Is there an unwritten law that says my videotape collection cannot contain both Jeffrey and Die Hard? So I own a black leather biker jacket and silk pajamas - so what? I'm not a "bear" or a "queen," I'm just me.
On the other hand, I'd also like an occasional date. So I can't just completely blow off this "presenting as straight" issue. That vexes me not a little.
Coming soon - Coming Out To The English Department : Aristotelian Exercise or Postmodern Nightmare?
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