I fell off a bar stool at Windows on Church after one too many Long Island Iced Teas. Sunburnt and happy and all of 17, my Vive La Difference t-shirt—the one that didn’t mention gays and lesbians—would be worn till it could not be worn anymore. We dodged TV cameras and microphones, not because we were famous in any way, but because she was a teacher and feared being outed at school. There were a few hundred people and part of Church Street, a tiny portion, had been cordoned off. I did not take part in the March even though back then, you could just leap in and be one with the brave stream of people. Tasted good, being out there.
The coming-out conversations with friends that go weirdly and end up as make-out sessions that last for longer than they should. We’re just friends, you will hear later. She is irritated by your femaleness, the curve of your mouth after a night of platonic dancing. The word unrequited should be the tattoo, but somehow, the tattoo never happens. You remain undecorated, an anti-hero of the war on straight girls seeking silent sanctuary. Nauseating reminders in saccharine songs on buses headed south: you are the unwelcome 4 a.m. caller till it all works out for the best and you move away. You get over her; she gets married; you get married, too, because it is now legal to do so.
Raped for being a lesbian at 22, I did not go back into the closet. Instead, I came raging out, hair shorn and feminist phrases flying. A one-woman all-night show of hands-down fury. Later I would learn to box and they would chide me to keep my hands up, keep my hands up. Kapow. But not now. I stayed angry and anesthetized for a decade—or more. Grew my hair back, chopped it off, grew it, let it go silver and granny white. Quit smoking (twice) and drinking (twice) and hung on tight till someone loved me enough to loosen my grip from the ledges. Out, damned spot of trouble.
Come out and stay out, that’s the challenge. You forget how easy life is in welcoming quarters. Fall into happiness and love and lose touch with how hard that first conversation can be. The dry throat and shaking hands should never be far from your memory, but for a time, you forget. Come out to everyone, person by person, workplace by workplace—resist the urge to hide when it is more convenient. Come out because some teenager you have not yet met needs you to always be out, out, out. Quote Mandela—or was it Marianne Williamson, no one ever seems to know the real source—and be big, and quote some more smart people and stay out, right in the light. Re-marry, happily.
Older, no wiser. Out, out a little farther. Unable to keep track of all the right letters in the LGBTTIQQ2SA equation but thrilled by the progress. Stranded alone on islands of belief some mornings, sober, eyes on what is working and what is beautiful, straining to acknowledge the need for constant change and weary at the thought of it. The world pushes in at the windows and you do not close the curtains and all the closets have had the doors removed for sake of ease.
Dyke March in the streets, greyer and gayer than ever. Look how young everyone is! Out before they rot in a dark bar, rejoicing in the streets 45 different ways. Why do we need a parade why do we have to ram it down your throat? Because some have had to dance harder than others to get here. Stay here. Keep dancing, celebrate the curve of your own mouth, hers, remember the lost loves and the exhausting battles and the stamped out nights. Be out for someone you’ve never met in a world not immediately your own—she needs you to, and so does he. Rage as needed but mostly, love.