On June thirteenth, 2016, the day after the Orlando nightclub shooting, I was a wreck. I watched the footage of people carrying blood-covered friends from the club and I cried so hard I nearly threw up. The first thing I said when I could speak at all was, “Why aren’t they blurring their faces? Some of those people are being outted on national television.” I could hardly breathe at the thought. More even then the death, the idea of being forced to come out before you were ready horrified me.
That should tell you a lot about my issues.
I’m pretty sure I never spoke a single word about the shooting to anyone. I couldn’t talk about it. Instead, I wrote thousands of words. Words about safety and community and violation. I wrote words I’ve never written before. And then I stuck the words in a folder and ignored them for three years.
A few days ago, I watched Eugene Lee Yang’s coming out video. It is a masterpiece of vulnerability and pain and acceptance of self. A melancholy emergence of truth. I cried for him. And then I cried for me and all the truths I’ve yet to own.
So I opened the file back up, deleted everything about guns and violence and safety and wrote this instead.
Here’s the deal. I hate how complicated I am. I am living breathing shades of grey. A fatherless mishmash of unidentified races. I cannot truly claim blackness because I don’t know if I am black. I only know I’m not white. And not white isn’t a race. Because of this, my hair doesn’t fit into any hair categories either. Last time I went to the salon my stylist said I had at least three distinct curl patterns going on at the same time and he wasn’t sure what products to use because my hair defies all conventional ideas of what it should be and do. Of course it does. I have never been able to define myself as just one thing. My life is one massive qualifier. I might be this. Or that. Who knows? I’m a solve-for-X equation that is inherently unsolvable.
As a kid I was already so goddamned different. I was a mixed-race fat girl with a genius IQ living in a tiny racist town. I was a nigger. A spic. A coon. A fat ass. A sexless, loveless coffee stain on a pristine white napkin. I already related to absolutely no one in my life, so there was no way I could process my attraction to both boys and girls. I felt isolated and weird and ugly and I just couldn’t add one more thing on top of that.
As a teenager, I discovered the word bisexual. It’s a word that fit well enough for me to stick it in my back pocket and hide it there with the lint. I took it out one time in the entirety of my twenties. I was twenty-two and I had gone to a strip club with a group of guy friends. I started talking to a dancer there and we hit it off. We ended up chatting through three songs and she gave me her phone number. That piece of paper filled me with such anxiety that I threw her number away before we’d even left. And on the way home, the guys were egging me on, trying to get me to admit that I was into her. And I remember whispering, “I can’t be bi until my grandma dies because it would kill her.”
And so, I only dated men. Which was fine because I love and am attracted to men. But I’m also attracted to women and genderqueer people and trans people in all stages of transition. And I didn’t date any of them because I didn’t know what that my feelings meant or how to define them. I *felt* more than bi but less than a lesbian.
Another unsolvable equation.
The first time I saw the word pansexual, I felt a light come on for me. That’s what I was. Someone who didn’t require a particular configuration of sex organs or one specific kind of gender expression for attraction to happen. Once I saw that word, I understood myself, my otherness, more fully. But I still didn’t own what I was. I simply replaced bi with pan, cramming the new word in my back pocket, and never taking it out. I wanted to wait until my grandmother was gone before I dusted it off and tried it on. Before I explored this part of me. And then I met my future husband and I fell madly in love with him and everything that he was. So by the time my grandmother passed away and it felt safe to say that I wasn’t really straight, I was already in a heterosexual marriage. This led to all kinds of conflicting feelings. Can I really claim being queer when I’m married to a straight man? When I haven’t done much more than kiss and caress someone who wasn’t a hetero male? When I have a ton of issues with my own body and I’m not even sure how those issues would translate into sex with someone who isn’t a cis male?
More blurry lines in a life full of them.
Even writing this feels equal parts profound and stupid. What does it matter? My closest friends already know. And I’ve been dropping breadcrumbs for everyone else for years, leaving comments here or there on social media indicating my not-straightness. But that’s not the same as owning it, is it? That’s just hiding in plain sight. It’s not the same as finally pulling my community into my arms instead of loving it from afar.
I am the survivor of hate crimes, physical abuse and sexual abuse. And I take meds to cope with all of that. I’ve never felt settled or comfortable enough in my life to embrace yet another confusing piece of my identity. But hiding in plain sight isn’t helping me to feel any more settled. I have already lived a life of shame and isolation. I have hated everything that I am, from the competing textures in my hair to what turns me on. And all of that self-loathing, that feeling of being wrong or bad or fucked up, is wearing me down. Ovid once said, “Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” I’m a stone, eroded by persistent self-loathing and fear and frustration with my otherness. I’m hollowed out and if I don’t get out from underneath the drip, there won’t be anything left of me.
And that’s why Eugene’s coming out video hit me so hard. He is thirty-three and he too has been dropping bread crumbs for years. His close friends all knew. But he’d never just…said it. And it was hurting him. He was self-destructing and realized that he had to do it. He had to get out from under the drip. At here I am, nearly forty, afraid of what my in-laws and coworkers and friends who are deeply religious will think of me.
Thing is, I am not a brave person. I have to be coaxed into doing anything that requires me to step outside of my comfort zone. I haven’t slept for days worrying about this. I also haven’t talked about it to anyone other than my husband. I think my friends will be surprised that it even matters to me. And honestly, it feels like it shouldn’t. But it does.
Fear silenced me three years ago. And now there’s more on the line for me. Will people refuse to read my book because I’ve claimed this truth? Many times over the last few days I’ve nearly hidden these words in that same folder from 2016. Couldn’t it wait for my career to get on solid ground? Did I have to do this now? Couldn’t I wait another three years? Or five? Or ten?
No. I can’t.
I don’t think doing this will give me answers or clarity. I will remain unsolvable. A walking conundrum wearing a cloud of indefinable curls. But for whatever it’s worth, I’m pansexual. Or omnisexual. Or bi if the other terms don’t make sense to you. Just…genitals and gender expression don’t factor into who I’m intensely attracted to, and for some reason, I need you to know this about me. Why? I don’t fucking know. But the faucet’s been on long enough and I’m getting out from under the drip. I’ll never be straight forward and I’ll never be straight. And that’s that. The LGBTQIA+ community is MY community.
Oh yeah, I’m also bipolar. Been meaning to pull the ban-aid off of that one for a while now, too.
This song is my fucking anthem.