From: Ayana@voyager.cris.com (Ayana)
Subject: Coming Out (Again. And Again. And Again?)
Date: 8 Jul 1995 22:24:44 -0400
Part I (The easy part)
I came out the first time at 16. Right after my 17th
birthday, I took a bus to San Francisco, and from a safe
distance, wrote my mother to tell her 1) I wasn't coming
back, and 2) I was a lesbian. I also wrote to my sister
Nancy at the same time, since I figured it might be good for
Mom to have someone to talk to, and she and Nancy were
close. Besides, Nancy is the sanest sibling I've got.
(Nancy told me this past week that she still has the letter
I sent her eighteen years ago. I was flabbergasted. She
said it meant a lot to her that I would trust her enough to
tell her, and that I wanted to share that part of my self
So there was a year in San Francisco, with my big purple
DYKE button and political meetings *every* night. I learned
a lot, about politics and about people. I got used to being
very out, in every part of my life.
Then I went back to TN, once my parents had no more
legal control. After a couple of years of living closeted
and working junk jobs, I started back to school, as the only
out dyke on campus, wearing my big purple DYKE button on my
cap. Some of us tried to get a GLB group started, but there
was *very* little progress made. I think in my entire time
at UT, I knew of 3 other lesbians there.
When I did my work stints at NASA and Oak Ridge National
Labs, I was out to the personnel office (security clearance)
but not to my "co-workers". I needed the jobs, and I was
already the only woman in my division each time. I didn't
have the guts to be out at work.
My first job out of school I again talked to the
personnel officer about GLB* policies - there were none, and
she suggested that I might not want to be too public. I
needed the job very badly, and I did exactly what she said.
For about six months.
Once Barb and I got together, it was impossible to stay
in the closet. When other folks talked about their spouses,
I talked about Barb. It didn't take long for people to
start talking about her as my spouse, asking how she was and
how our weekend went, little different from any other couple.
So for about 7 years, I was out in my work life and in my
personal life (although I didn't wear the DYKE button :-) ).
Part II (The hard part)
When I left that relationship, and that job, I came to
the most conservative city I have ever known, to work in a
tiny company, with a bunch of guys who are also *very*
conservative politically and socially.
I am not out at work here. And I have not been out in
my personal life - what little life there is outside of
working and trying to maintain a long-distance relationship.
When I came to Cincy, I got a rainbow flag for my
car. It sat on my desk for close to a year - I found it
again when I moved last February. I thought about it a
long while before putting it on the car. There was some
trepidation the first few times I drove out to a client
site, and even the first few times I drove to work with
the sticker on. But there's been no reaction.
Well, not entirely none. As I was leaving for
vacation last May, I stopped by the house up front to let
my neighbor know I was going to be gone. While we were
chatting, he looked at my car, and asked "Are you gay?"
When I said yes, he of course asked if J (who visits) was
my girlfriend (yes!). And as he said goodbye, he told me
to bring him back a boyfriend. So the only reaction I've
gotten so far has been good.
Part III (The last part, or "why I'm writing this")
It's harder to come out this time. In college, I had
little to lose. I couldn't believe the school would throw
me out for wearing a dyke button. And working for gov't
organizations, it's better to tell them up front, so that
wasn't much of a question. But I think I got used to a
feeling of security during the years I was in KY. I'm
afraid that if I come out here, *really* come out, it will
cost me my job. And I need the job. Oh, I could probably
get another one pretty quickly, if I'm willing to move, and
willing to take what is available. But after my "divorce",
my savings are low, and I'm feeling strangely vulnerable.
It's been a while since I was really on my own. There's
nowhere to fall back to if I *did* lose my job. I don't
have qualms about being out in my personal life. But I
feel like a coward for not being out at work.
There are a couple of reasons/excuses for being closeted.
One is simply that it's easier to come out at work if one has
a spouse, so one can talk about what the two of you did this
weekend. I can do some of that, but there is the little
problem of how to explain that I'm in a relationship with someone
who lives 500 miles away, and no, she isn't planning to move....
It does raise questions. And so far, there have been no
queer jokes (I think my response to the attempts at sexist
humor may have clued them in).
The bigger thing is economics. I think there's a
significant class component in the decision of whether or
not to be out of the closet. At the risk of sounding like
the original Scarlett O'hara, one of the *top* priorities
in my life is that I don't ever want to go hungry again.
That's a reality, and it's not entirely rational. Ten or
fifteen years ago, I had little or nothing to lose, and I
could find another junk job if I lost the one I had.
Things are different now. I've become accustomed to
luxuries like a winter coat, and a car that runs. And
I'm helping support my sister (who has recently been
declared cancer-free, for now), and my mother. Maybe I'm
just making excuses - I *do* realize that folks who grew
up comfortably well-off have the same qualms about risking
their livelihoods as do those who have first-hand
experience of poverty. But if I look at my friends, there
are few who grew up poor or working class who are out at
work, a lot fewer than the out folks who grew up
middle-class or higher. Maybe having someone to fall back
on makes a difference ?
So if there's a point to this, I suppose it's to ask
if anybody else sees a class issue involved in the decision
of whether to come out at work. I *know* that my point of
view is somewhat warped, but it seems to me that the debate
on coming out has to include some discussion on class and
economics, and the realization that part of what we're
(I'm) fighting is not internalized homophobia,
but remembered despair.
Or maybe it's just that I'm becoming reactionary and
comfortable in my old age, and want somebody else to do
all the hard work.... Does anybody else find it harder
to come out the second time (or third, or ...) ? I
think I'd rather be told I've become a coward in my
middle years, than to think it's one more area where
people seem to work for change only until they get some
ease in their own lives.
Ayana, semi-out but moving slowly toward the light....
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