It’s been two years since I started coming out in earnest. It’s been two years, and my hands still shake a tiny bit when I tell people I’m gay. My mind still races into overdrive when I try to talk about dating or celebrity crushes, even though I know if I was a straight woman talking about a boyfriend or a male actor I wouldn’t think twice. I still struggle to own my queerness.
Sometimes I wonder how much of this is due to the fact that I don’t really look like a stereotypical lesbian. Because there are few, if any, outward signs; mentioning my queerness when no one has any reason to expect it feels like an announcement, feels like zero to sixty in two seconds, feels a little like a blind leap. Maybe if I was more visibly gay, I could disclose with more confidence, knowing that the disclosure most likely wouldn’t surprise anyone.
So perhaps I struggle to own my queerness because I don’t look the part. Do I not look the part because I am afraid of owning my queerness? Am I ignoring important parts of gay culture by failing to stray from my relatively mainstream presentation? Do I fail to stray from my presentation because I am staying true to myself, or because I am afraid of being true to myself?
And what does presentation mean? Because it isn’t even the clothes. Not really. It’s the way I move and the way I speak and the way I behave. I am not proud of my shyness, my soft-spokenness, my visceral aversion to conflict, but it’s all I know of myself and so I feel a tenderness towards these parts of myself, even if they are the result of years of biting my tongue, curling inwards.
It’s not that I don’t feel like a gay woman because I don’t have an edgy undercut, because I don’t wear bow ties or have a closet brimming with plaid flannel. It’s not even that I haven’t slept with scores of women or had a real girlfriend. I feel like–even beyond fashion or actual sexual activities–queer women are supposed to be confident, to be radically body positive, to wield a dagger-sharp understanding that nobody is to make them feel less. Queer women—real queer women—command a room, take up space, refuse to be silenced.
But me—all I know is smallness.
I know this isn’t strictly true, that plenty of queer women (the authenticity of whose queerness I would never question the way I do my own) exist who struggle with confidence, who aren’t outspoken, who don’t radiate intensity and sureness and self-concept. But it’s a sense I can’t always shake. It doesn’t feel like a distinction between masculine and feminine. It feels like a distinction between fierce and mousy, self-possessed and self-erasing. It feels like the difference between visibility and the safety of disappearing into the background.
Am I afraid of being seen as queer? Or am I just afraid of being seen?
There’s too much to unpack here. Femme invisibility? The socialization of young girls to be small, inconspicuous, unassuming? Social anxiety—totally unrelated to queerness or womanhood—simply exacerbated by standing out?
There is too much to unpack here, and I don’t know how to unpack it. I just know how to carry it.
feature photo credit: torbakhopper we ran so far away from each other and never found our way back — but there was life and love where we left ourselves behind : painting detail, torbakhopper, san francisco (2013) via photopin (license)