What Does Gay Look Like?
TNG reader Jean Stanula submitted this post.
In the almost ten years that I have been dating women, only the last 2 or so have I been really, completely “out.” In college, my relationship was passed off to most as a really close “best friendship” and after college, girls I dated were accepted among friends but never known by my family. It wasn’t until I found someone who I really thought I could spend my life with, when I was in my early 20′s, that I thought, “Yeeeeeah. If we are going to get married someday, I should probably tell my family.” The final coming out was truly anticlimactic. I felt lucky that it was easy.
It was easy for me to choose, during all those years, when I wanted to pass for straight and when I wanted to “look” gay. I’ve always had a little bit of a tom-boyish style, but I wear makeup and always had long to medium length hair. I straightened my hair and painted on the eyeliner to go to a dance bar with my roommates, and I put on a baseball cap, and a button-down shirt when I took my girlfriend to the movies. I moved in and out of both worlds seamlessly and without repercussion.
Then, 3 months ago, in the anticipation of the Hades that is DC’s summer, and an uncontrollable urge for change, I decided to cut my curly locks. I strolled into a salon on a Saturday morning and walked out 30 minutes later, leaving my ambiguity in a pile around my chair and a faux hawk sprouting from my head. Saturday and Sunday I reveled in my new look. I broke out the cargo shorts, tried on sunglasses, earrings and eyeliner. I felt powerful. I loved it.
And then I didn’t love it. I swooped out of my apartment on that Sunday night to pick up some Thai food and crossed paths with a couple of young men who gave me a look I’ve never seen before – I couldn’t tell if it was anger, or curiosity or fear, but a knot bunched up in my chest. For the first time in my life, when a stranger saw me they saw Lesbian. Gay. Dyke—Other. This was a whole different kind of coming out. In 30 short minutes I had lost my X-Man power: my ability to live in both worlds, to choose when and if I revealed my sexual orientation, to not live my whole life “out.”
I flew home to Chicago for the weekend and I felt my old friends’ and family’s discomfort that I had crossed a line—that I was “gayer” than before, that they supported my lifestyle more before when I didn’t look the part as much.
Maybe this isn’t true. Maybe it was me who saw myself differently, not them. I haven’t figured that out yet.
A haircut seems like such a simple cosmetic alteration, but it has changed how I see myself and how others see me. Yes, I am more afraid of discrimination, but I’m also acutely more aware of my community now. I have found a whole new kind of confidence in presenting externally who I am; in being more serious about activism and awareness; about talking and writing about LGBT issues; about being out.
When someone inevitably asks me when I “came out”, the only response I have is, “every day.”
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