Happy National Coming Out Day! Whether you came out today, you’re celebrating an anniversary of coming out, or you’re simply reflecting on your own personal journey, today is a day to be proud of yourself exactly as you are.
This year for Coming Out Day, I’m going to tell the story of how I came out… to myself.
I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian church, which meant I had some strong feelings about homosexuality and God. So when I was in high school, and I started to wonder if I was in love with my best (girl) friend, I shoved the “sinful” thoughts away. Most of the time, my general repression was subconscious, but these were feelings that I actively repressed. They scared me too much to give any serious thought to them. I comforted myself with the reassurance that I was attracted to boys, and therefore could not be a lesbian.
Four years or so later, having been in a couple of feminist theory classes, and out of my parents’ house, I stopped going to church. I could no longer believe that love could keep someone out of Heaven. My decision to leave that toxic environment was the first step I had to take before I could truly love and accept myself.
About six months later, my then-boyfriend and I were talking and he said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we told people that we’re both bi, and we both just happened to end up with someone of the opposite sex?” So that became our inside joke.
I think I needed that non-threatening, humorous space to say those words about myself before I could say in all seriousness and honesty, “I don’t think it’s a joke for me.” It still took me months to be comfortable enough to say out loud, “I’m bisexual,” and even longer to be able to say it to my family and the majority of my friends.
But admitting to myself that I’m attracted to women was not the end of my self-acceptance journey. For me, the last piece of the puzzle was a life-changing college class, Philosophy of the Body, with Denise Lecamp.
I was more or less halfway through getting my bachelor’s degree at the University of Nevada, Reno, and a philosophy course that doubled as a women’s studies course seemed like a great way to get the major-related elective that I needed. We discussed the mind-body split and wabi sabi, and I learned that “imperfection” could be viewed as a form of perfection.
Now, I’d had body image issues for years, since before I’d even begun middle school. I used to spend days at a time with sheets draped over my mirrors, and fantasies of self-attempted liposuction in my head. I used to beat myself up over not having enough will power to be anorexic.
So the idea of finding beauty in imperfection was a much-needed revelation.
But it was one specific passage of one specific book, Appetites: Why Women Want by Caroline Knapp, that made the true difference:
Look at me, the goddess says. You’re so fat compared to me. You’ll never have hair like mine. You’ll never be so desirable. As Wheelock professor Gail Dines puts it, “To men, the look says ‘Fuck me’; to women, it says, ‘Fuck you.'”
Like I said, it was the last piece of the puzzle. All those years I’d spent hating myself, it wasn’t truly because of the way I looked. The real reason was because whenever I saw that ever-present image of the “perfect” woman, I couldn’t handle the “fuck me” message she sent, and so I exaggerated the “fuck you” message.
Once I was able to accept my bisexuality, I was able to stop exaggerating the “fuck you” message. And I was able to truly love myself. Just as I learned that there is no split between the mind and the body, I learned that I had to fully love who I am on the inside before I could love myself on the outside.