Coming-Out is a lifelong process

by Joy Sterner

In Notes for a Coming-Out Story, Susan J. Friedman says that one should:

"Write about why it's important. Why it's still important. Why all of our stories are important, because mine is different from hers is different from yours..." (Testimonies: Lesbian Coming-Out Stories)

I had thought that telling you this story, the story of my coming out as a lesbian, would be an easy thing. Girl meets boys. Girl dates and kisses boys. Girl wonders what the fuss about kissing boys is all about. Girl meets girl. Girl wants to know girl, wants to kiss girl. Girl knows that kissing another girl in public, at least where she is going to school, in rural Iowa, could mean big problems. So, girl meets with girl in secret places, hiding places where, one day, girl kisses girl. And knows, now, what all the fuss has been about.

It's not as easy as that, though, this process of coming out. In the past few years, and especially in the year that just ended, I've discovered that there are numerous ways of "coming out;" ones that go beyond the first step of admitting to oneself that one is lesbian or gay. Ways that involve honesty in dealing with a world outside of the gay community that one finds a certain degree of safety in.

Coming out, for me, is a process that is still evolving, even as I move into my twenty-fifth year. It has been about a lingering hand at my partner's side in the video store, as I point out a film I'd like to rent. It has been about putting her photo on my desk, where more than my own eyes will see it...and it is about holding my breath for a split-second before answering the questions from straight co-workers that have followed. It has been about reminding my mother, again and again, that though I will never marry a man, being lesbian does not mean that I have decided to spend my life alone.

This coming out, it has been about walking into a gay bookstore for the first time, and not being ashamed to make eye-contact with the clerk. It has been about buying a book that tells the stories of others who are coming out, and holding my head a bit higher as I leave, clutching that book in a paper sack that says, in bold, pink letters, "People Like Us." It has been about memorizing passages from that book, ones that will help to keep me strong when my decision to not keep secret my sexuality any longer is questioned. It has been about placing that same book not in a box in a corner of my closet, but on my book shelves, next to others that have played important roles in my life.

It is about writing, again and again, my coming-out story. One that I continue to tell, because, as Susan J. Friedman says, "...we are becoming braver and more numerous. Because we have always been brave and numerous. Because the coming-out story will not be obsolete until all hatred of queerness is obsolete."

Joy Sterner recently celebrated her 25th birthday in Eugene, Oregon, where she she lives with her four cats. She is employed as a Researcher at the University of Oregon Foundation, and has come to learn that coming out is a continuous process.
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