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Queer Grief – Making Sense of the Past

This might be a messy topic in that I think I’m also simply catching up on what has been going on of late but a lot of it revolves around a sense of what I think is queer grief. First in the catch-up department, I had my “big” coming out moment. Now, I should probably put quotes around a lot of that because even a newbie like me knows that it never stops. For the rest of my life there will be moments big and small of coming out to new people in my life or old people who missed the news. Moments of deciding how safe I feel in being visible. But regardless after having selectively picked who in my old world knew for many months, I finally found the courage to yell it from the Facebook mountaintop.

Screenshot of a Facebook post Dated Sept 9, 2023 - text of post follows:

Relatively recently, after a lifetime of being unable to find space for a significant part of my identity, I finally found the strength to acknowledge myself. One by one, I ploddingly shared more about myself with some of you than I ever thought I would. 
You see I have always avoided any sort of spotlights. Naturally introverted or the result of years of avoiding scrutiny? I don't know yet. But I do know I never expected to make some big announcement but here I finally am, tired of being timid and slow. 
I’m beating around the bush a bit because I am honestly still very ambivalent about labels. Straight? Definitely not. Queer is what I have told people so far but I'm also comfortable with gay because being attracted to men is all I'm actually sure about at this juncture in my life. 
In therapy? Oh, yes. Part of the situation is I have enough social anxiety to power a small city. Earlier this year I finally came to the realization that trying to lone wolf my way through life’s challenges was not working or at the very least was glacially slow. I'm tired of my anxiety being in the driver's seat.
I hope this last bit is addressed to a small minority but if you have something negative to say I invite you to just quietly show yourself to the door. Not long ago, I genuinely thought I would die alone without ever sharing any of this with a living soul. So finding the strength to embrace myself authentically was harder and more important to me than the opinion of anyone else on this matter. Rest assured after all those internal hurdles your opinion only has the power to alter my opinion of you.
Outing Myself

So that’s getting close to two months ago now and I have posted to my blog twice since then and didn’t mention it. I’m not sure why it coasted by since it was really a big and long-delayed moment in my life. I don’t regret it at all. The only regret I have is not doing it a hell of a lot sooner. And trust me I know that the reaction in 2023 was not what it would have been even 20 years ago. But there were always going to be people who can’t accept it. The only person who mattered was me whether in 2003 or 2023.

My message was a lot more open and direct than I ever expected to be. I had thought about this moment for awhile and could never find the words. I would look for short pithy coming out posts others had shared looking for inspiration and none ever seemed to fit exactly what my experience was and I finally realized only my story was going to fit. No shortcuts! So I told it as succinctly as someone like me can. I mean, seriously I could probably write a novella about falling on a banana peel. You know? I originally wanted to be short because detailed felt like exposing the vulnerable part of me. And that combined with recent experience was behind the closing paragraph clearly putting up boundaries that this subject wasn’t something I could or would change. I spent enough of my life trying to bend to fit society. I’m unwilling to debate my existence with anyone now.

Grieving Over The Unchangeable Past

Despite that feeling of conviction, notice the part where I mentioned regret because that’s the key to most of the queer grief I’ve felt recently. It’s hard for me to even wrap my head around how long it’s taken me. Most but not all of the people my age I know who came out later had significant straight relationships. Many were married with kids and the picket fence. Often there’s also a strong religious angle for many who waited. I did not grow up attending a church. Now I think anyone growing up in the American south and probably in other parts of the country in that time picked up on some sense of what subjects were taboo without ever needing to step foot in a church. There were no gay role models in my world growing up. If there was a gay character on TV they were coded as campy or the villain or sometimes both.

This is one reason I will say anytime I get the chance how important positive queer representation is. No one is sexualizing children by showing queer characters on TV, in movies, or in books. Think of the number of times you saw or read about fairy tale princes and princesses growing up. All those hetero fairy tale romances… It’s way more than you probably realize. In fact, how many of you my age watched the soaps with your Mom or grandmothers? I saw a lot more than cartoon representations of straight couples hitting the sheets. So for kids in my generation there was one “default” option shown over and over and if you didn’t fit, life was going to mean trying to chart your own unadvertised path.

Clearly some of us figured it out better than others. And I have no good explanation for that. I knew from the time that I was in Kindergarten that something was different. I had outsider feelings that I couldn’t explain. With hindsight I realize why but at the time I was absolutely clueless yet I’ve heard guys my age who at that age already knew. If not then certainly by the time puberty hit. In my case when puberty hit I had experienced bullying and had isolated myself so much it wasn’t funny. In high school I basically never ate in the lunch room. If I wasn’t in a classroom then I was probably hiding in the study room in the library. It’s hard to find yourself when you’re cloistered like that. And it’s why I don’t look back at high school as fondly as some seem to. There were light moments here and there, some special friends, but mainly it was something I survived more than experienced. And I’m not saying that because I want sympathy just because it’s how I remember it and I think it helps explain how I managed to get through that period of my life without any clarity or clear awakening about my sexuality. But again, there were hints and clues if I had been open to them. In hindsight they are far more clear.

I managed to get to my mid to late 20’s without any serious introspection. I had glimmers of same sex attraction but at the same time I thought I had opposite sex attraction as well. I am coming more and more to believe that either those women were rare unicorns in my life or, more likely, that was my response to compulsory heterosexuality. I had spent so long seeing one option in the world that I clung to any small hint that it was the path for me. It helped or hurt that I could pick out attractive women. In hindsight, I don’t think it was actual sexual attraction though. I think it was the same eye that can see the beauty in a statue or piece of art. I know what society defines as pretty.

Ultimately the only reason now that I won’t completely put a wooden stake in the heart of the possibility there are women in the world that I’m attracted to is that I don’t want to box myself in again. I spent enough time trying to contort myself to occupy a role that didn’t fit me. Still, I will admit that I’m leaning pretty strongly in the gay direction now. And I think I really always have.

On some level I will probably always wonder how things might have been different growing up in a world with positive queer representation? How about if AIDS hadn’t come on the scene right as I hit puberty? If Matthew Shepard hadn’t made the headlines months after I was out of college and living really on my own in a major city? What if my childhood years had given me the capacity to embrace and understand my own feelings on a conscious level? These questions can’t be answered but they are the source of a lot of regret and grief that I’ve been working hard to process lately. And I know that acceptance is really the only option. There’s no re-do button. But it equally takes time like grieving for a person who has recently died. Although in my case it’s grief for the path not taken. As much as I’ve tried, I can’t just shrug my shoulders and cleanly break from these feelings.

My past is an inescapable part of who I am today. But not in the sense that things can’t change. I only recently found it in myself to accept who I am. And thanks to therapy I’m learning to not bottle up my emotions. I’m learning to actively experience what I’m feeling. And I’m learning to re-frame some thoughts. Or sometimes it’s as simple as asking myself why I feel the way I do about a given topic. That sort of self-examination is something I sorely lacked before.

Changing Perspective by Changing the Yardstick

For instance I recently discussed my body image issues throughout my life. One of the things that has helped me is something I saw, I think, in an Instagram video somewhere. Or maybe it was mentioned in a podcast? Now, I’m still trying with earnest to exercise regularly and be more healthy. But at the same time I don’t want my entire sense of self worth to completely hinge on how I think I look. If being more healthy does in fact give me a more traditionally attractive body, great. But based on the advice I mentioned, I’ve started following social media accounts for men who don’t fit the stereotypes. They don’t look like they live in a gym. And I’ve come to realize I do easily see them as attractive, I have come to the conclusion that a lot of it is their self confidence in their bodies more than anything. Making that leap for myself is still something I’m working on but seeing people with bodies more like mine who are happy in their physical skin has been a help. Mind you, I still enjoy seeing the Henry Cavills of the world, too, but that’s not the only option there is. It’s both a liberating as well as an enlightening observation. There’s more than one way to be hot, so to say. Some of it is an accumulation of physical traits, but some of it is also how you carry yourself in the world.

I’ve also been doing mirror exercises where I talk to myself in the mirror. That’s helped too but I think a huge part for me was realizing there are traits I see in others as positive but not in myself. I won’t say I’m done there but learning to flip the script a little is helping move the needle in the right direction. I think that was a necessary part of the mirror exercise for me. Otherwise it was like paying a compliment I didn’t mean.

Be Kind To Yourself

In the end, part of the equation has been attempting to find grace for myself. Similarly from my post about body image where I commented that I was learning to be nice to myself if I occasionally fall short of my goals. I’ve generally been much harsher in how I treat myself than I have ever been towards my friends. I have struggled with understanding where this critical voice comes from but it’s there and there may have been times it helped me succeed in school or work but ultimately I’m learning to question what it’s saying to me. Is this a message I would ever say to a friend or is it overly critical?

I’m leaving on this RuPaul quote that I’ve heard several times recently that is very apropos. Since it’s new to me then it’s probably clear that I haven’t watched Drag Race so far… There’s a lot of new territory I have yet to explore.

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