In Cheap Courage’s continued effort to shine a light on being honest about what scares us, I am still accepting monthly guest posts that explore the meaning of bravery, fear, courage, and honesty. Please reach out if you’re interested in sharing!
This week’s essay, “Coming Out as Queer after Being Gay for 15 Years” comes from one of my closest friends and a recent self discovery he has made. I thank him for his bravery and for your openness and dedication to my little project here.
I was fifteen and living in Iowa when I first came out as gay. I was young, terrified, and hurting so much emotionally that my only way to control heartache was by cutting myself with a fishing knife.
But I came out. I got help. I got better eventually. And I’ve known love since then.
I think a lot about this time of my life. The scars on my arm won’t let me forget it. And, after 15 years of survival and knowing myself as a gay man, I am now confronted with a new, terrifying realization:
I am not a gay man. I am a queer man.
And that’s hard for me to reconcile. It’s hard for my family and friends to understand. And it’s a hard conversation to have with gay men who view queer men as a threat or unknown they can’t process.
Over the last 18 months I’ve found myself in these moments that feel emotionally similar to those I was having before I came out as a gay man. I noticed increased levels of anxiety as I struggled to resolve a grating tension between my mental and emotional self. Like before, the feeling of heartache and the inevitable loss of control were ever-present and frightening.
It is really hard to look in the mirror and have the thought, “who you project to the world isn’t who you are.”
It’s nearly impossible to look in the mirror at the age of thirty and have the thought; “you can’t possibly do this for the rest of your life.”
Recently, my twin sister came to visit, and I came out to her as queer. I did it very nonchalantly – as I have with most of my friends – because I’m secretly hoping if I’m casual about it they won’t ask me what I mean.
Because if I’m honest. I’m still figuring this out. I’m not sure what it means. But I do know that for the first time in a long time I haven’t felt trapped in a consciousness that wasn’t my own. And that feeling is a sacred space that many LGBTQ folks struggle to find.
During this conversation with my sister she did the most loving thing a person could do at that moment: she was honest, “I don’t know much about this. What does being queer mean?”
I didn’t give her a finite definition. I’m not sure that there is one definition of what it means to be queer – it differs for every person. For queer folks their own identity is a sacred place of understanding.
But I do know what I’ve been reconciling as I’ve navigated this realization:
• It started with my increasing rejection of the binary. I’ve never believed in the binary when regarding sexuality and have always believed that sexuality is an every-moving point on an endless spectrum.
• I’ve also been contemplating how the binary (sexual, gender) has been, is, and will always be used as a means of oppression for one end of the binary.
• And what it mans to be an “other” outside of an accepted binary caste system.
Mostly, though, I’ve felt trapped inside a definition of myself wasn’t me, but rather what I felt was wanted from me.
Looking back, I’ve realized that I was accepted for being gay by many because they could understand what being gay meant in opposition of themselves, or straight. They were comfortable only because they could compare it to themselves, with my sexuality being the abnormal identity.
In the few times I expressed any behavior that crossed any sort of known boundary, it was rejected because they couldn’t place it within their binary understanding. And as such, I too, internalized the idea that a binary look at sexuality and gender was the only correct way to understand these complex identities.
Struggling to be gay for fifteen years has confined the possibility of me being my actual self – whatever or whoever that turns out to be. And if I feel this at thirty in New York, I can only imagine what a scared teenager of 15 in Iowa is feeling. So I’ll leave with this: I’m queer, and if you are too, you have don’t be alone in this.
Justin Dewey is a former playwright and current arts marketing professional living in Queens. He currently serves as a Marketing Manager at The Public Theater.