The Weight of the Closet Door

I was organizing some files on my laptop and came across this, and thought I’d share it here. I wrote it about three and a half years ago when I was going through an exceptionally rough period coping with the world around me. Of course, now I think I finally have that other missing piece I was trying to describe when I referred to my ‘otherness’ here – and one more closet to manage. I really do need to try and do more journaling; sometimes it’s really helpful to be able to go back and read things months or years down the road, from a different perspective.

As an aside, it’s telling how far we still have to go with #AutismAcceptance that when I came out as gay to close friends and family, the reaction was mostly “well, duh, I knew that already” but when I have come out as Autistic, there’s been an equal mix of “that explains a lot” and “wow, really? You don’t look autistic.”

The Weight of the Closet Door

Nearly twenty years ago, I came to the realization that I was gay, and began the process of slowly incorporating that understanding into my life. To say that it was a life changing event would be an understatement. It was, in a sense, liberating (Oh! So that is what is ‘wrong’ with me!) but it also destroyed – or at least finished off – the life I had created for myself up until that point, and forced me to find the courage to build a new one. It meant the end of a failed marriage, and leaving the safety and security of the home I had, and splitting up my little family of furry children. I had to start over, and be truly independent for the first time in my life.

It wasn’t like I had a new life to go to; it was just that this epiphany – the result of a lot of soul-searching – meant that my old life was over. I could have made the choice that I know many have made, and just suppressed the knowledge and carried on, but that would have just caused more pain and misunderstanding, and there had already been enough of that.

Over the months that followed, I had to have many uncomfortable conversations… This was the proverbial ‘coming out of the closet’ and I have to say that most of my friends and family were very supportive. I also have to say that I almost resented that – how dare they welcome and embrace this new part of me that I didn’t ask for and was not at all comfortable with, myself? That must sound horribly whiny and selfish, but that’s how I felt at the time. I wasn’t so much coming out of the closet as opening the door a crack, and peeking through, and then some well meaning person would come along and yank the door wide open and stand there with open arms, leaving me cringing in the sudden light, exposed and vulnerable.

Anyway, that was all many years ago. I made my new life, and – unexpectedly – even found someone to share it with. I don’t for a minute regret taking those first tentative steps outside that closet door, but I don’t think I expected the closet to still be there, almost half a lifetime later. Because it is, and lately I have been thinking about this a lot, and I have realized that it always will be.

That is the part I didn’t get, back then, and I think perhaps quite a few people never do understand: coming out is a lifelong process. It isn’t some single epic life event, like reaching legal drinking age, or hitting puberty, or graduating high school. Every day you are in a new situation where you have to decide whether to do it all over again. And over time, that can really get to you.

I imagine there are gay men and women who come charging out of that closet, slam the door behind them, and never look back. I also think for many others, it’s more of a balancing act. At least, for me, it is. There are situations where it is not comfortable, or safe, to be ‘out’. I am a very private person, and maybe I will never quite be comfortable in my own skin, ever. It still takes courage every single time to have that conversation, and sometimes it’s just easier not to have it.

Every day, every new situation, I have to stop and think about what I say or do.

In my personal life, I’d probably be a lot more open, but there’s my partner to consider – if I am going to come marching out of my closet at a given time, do I have the right to drag her along with me? There have been awkward situations where a friend posted something a bit too revealing of my private life on my wall – seemingly innocuous things like using the prefix ‘our’ with ‘bedroom’ that I was not uncomfortable with, but my partner was, and I had to remove it and explain to the person why I did so.

As another example, my employers are wonderfully accepting people, and being gay is such a non-issue there that it’s perhaps the place where I have to do the least amount of self-editing, but I spend most of my time onsite at one of our biggest service contract clients and the situation is very different there. I have a pretty good inkling that I would make some of the staff very uncomfortable, and because my employer’s livelihood is at stake, I choose to keep that closet door pretty much slammed shut there.

One time, at different client site, I had to sit for a half hour while I was installing software, listening to two staff members loudly discussing a gay rights bill that had passed in another state. It was a surreal moment, seeing these women who had, moments before, been smiling and friendly and polite to me (they clearly had no idea that they were in the presence of one of the ‘sick deviant abominations’ they were spouting off about) and realizing that they hated my guts… or, at least, would if they knew I was gay, for no other reason than just that one fact. And ever since then, I wonder, when I interact with people at work and in my community, is that how this person feels?

At the client site I first mentioned, I work in a close knit atmosphere and there’s a lot of joking and storytelling between the three of us who share an office there, chatting about simple daily events of our lives, but when I tell mine I first have to reconstruct what I am saying. Having to do that constant self-editing is frustrating and wears me down. I absolutely refuse to lie – I draw the line there – so instead I have to remove details and omit references, and it still ends up feeling like lying. Sooner or later in situations like this I almost always eventually slip up, and say ‘we’ instead of ‘I’, or sometimes someone will just flat out ask me a personal question, and as I already said, I will not lie. I am not ashamed of who I am and if someone asks me a question that can’t be sidestepped, they get an honest answer.

Those situations can go one of two ways, from my experience; either the person has gradually kind of figured things out on their own, and they are cool with it, or they are completely blindsided by the answer. In the first situation, it’s often an immense relief to just have it out in the open and move on… unless this is someone who then decides to make it the focal point of every future conversation to show how OK they are with it, and/or proceeds to blurt it out to others, in which case the situation can get pretty awkward all around. In the latter case, (when the person really did not see that answer coming when they asked the question) it can get fairly unpleasant whether they are homophobic or not; it may make them feel foolish and deceived and betrayed, and then they blame me for that, At best, it’s just plain uncomfortable.

So, every time I open my mouth, I have to stop and analyze what is about to come out of it, in relation to the setting I am in. Every time I am in public with my partner I have to think before any word or gesture, to guard against drawing attention. And every time I make that decision to ‘edit’, it’s with the understanding that whether I am lying or not, I am being insincere, as well as building a false construct that will probably come down around my ears at some point. Dealing with that anxiety, it starts to become easy just to default to the ‘safe’ path more and more – even in private situations, because I’ve gotten so used to it that it becomes habit. It drives wedges and builds walls.

Interacting with other human beings is like a dance, I suppose, and I have never been able to learn the steps. It’s so much more than just my being gay… I am not necessarily completely at ease around other gay people, either. I am uncomfortable around a lot of people, gay and straight, who are so at ease and open with their sexuality that it’s almost painful to have a conversation because I am at the far extreme opposite of that spectrum, and easily embarrassed. There has always been an ‘otherness’ to me, a sense that I don’t truly belong, that I don’t quite fit anywhere, in fact probably what suppressed my own recognition of my gayness was my unwillingness to add yet another thing to make me different, apart. That, and my strong tendency towards avoidance of conflict.

As open minded and accepting of others’ beliefs as I try to be, there is also something at the core of me that’s deeply antipathetic towards organized religion – and in particular, Christianity; of course with that being very prominent and dominant (in an extreme form) in the culture around me, that becomes another corner in my personal closet. I interact daily with people for whom their church is at the center of their lives, and have to reconcile my gut feeling that they are good and decent people trying to do right, with my detestation of the organization they belong to, that spreads hate and lies, and denies my right to even exist. In my journey towards finding peace in my life, I gravitated towards alternate spirituality (in particular, Paganism) and discovered some things that really resonated with me there, but this created yet another closet because my partner is even more anti-religion than I am, to the point where my interested in Druidry makes her uncomfortable. Beyond that, I am surrounded by people who’d be even more freaked out by paganism than they are by homosexuality.

I release the pressure by keeping the closet door open a crack. I don’t go around making bold statements on Facebook or elsewhere online, but I also do not censor my friend list to hide what groups I join or what pages I like. I wear a pair of little silver earrings with tiny gay pride rainbow beads on them – most people won’t even notice them, or understand what they mean, but they do have meaning. I also, for that matter, have a silver triple-spiral pendant I wear, and also a triskele tattoo, which symbolize my spirituality but to most anyone else just look like pretty swirly patterns. These little things are subtle reminders to me of who I am, I suppose there’s also a sense of being hidden in plain sight.

The thing about The Closet is that it is both a prison and a haven, and as I have grown and changed with the years, not only has it not gone away – it’s gotten bigger. It now has multiple rooms: there’s the gay room and the ‘nontraditional spiritual beliefs’ room and the ‘just plain weird’ room, for starters. Some days it is so stifling in there I can’t breathe, but others, it’s the only place where I feel truly safe and at peace… I just wonder if it’s truly peace I feel, or if the closet door has gotten so heavy over the years that it gets harder and harder to push it open – so I just pretend that I don’t need to?

Hmmm…I sort of think that the fact that I have just spent literally an entire morning pouring all of this out probably answers that question.

Written December 7, 2013

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