Coming out… Repeat that?

Image of famous LGB Poster found on http://www.missivemaven.com/

Image of famous "....Too Straight" LGB Poster found on http://www.missivemaven.com/

I remember the first time I saw this poster at the Fire Station House (I believe it is now called the “Pride House”) on Stanford campus.  It is quite difficult still to capture in words the precise feeling of joy that the sight gave me.  The idea of these famous people of different races and talents were identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual was beyond belief and tremendously comforting, especially for my then 17 year old self.
I spent my undergraduate years working actively as a member of the lesbian gay bisexual transgender queer/questioning community (LGBQQT… Yes, we tried to cover everyone).  In some ways, I hoped that my work on campus was meaningful and helpful.  For myself it was as it meant doing something for my community and also belonging to a community.
The reality was that back then I did not feel accepted as a part of the Black student community either while in a southern public high school or at Stanford due to my sexuality.  Being Black, lesbian, and highly partial to heavy metal and dressing goth didn’t seem to fit in with what I understood those community expectations to be, which were to be… straight and into hip-hop/rap and R&B (okay, I did some stereotyping of my own ;))  Also,  I never seemed to fit in with the profile of people’s notion of a “Jamaican.”
Apparently, I didn’t sound Jamaican (and still don’t I’ve been told).  I didn’t act Jamaican (this is due the aforementioned heavy metal/goth thing).  I was also a good student and made friends within the non-Black community (this was an issue in high school not college).  All of these factors afforded me the label of “oreo” in high school, i.e. “Black on the outside, White on the inside.”  Teenagers can be so very cruel… and tedious.  Regardless of the critique, I still continued to be my quite strange Jamaican self to this day and am the happier for it.
Coming out

"True Mirror Image," photography by Dolores Juhas (2010). Copyright (c) Dolores Juhas. All Rights Reserved.

I’ve never really had to “come out” in any really major ways.  I told my mother I was a lesbian when I was 18, but then proceeded to confuse her by dating men for a year after that.  I also took my first girlfriend to prom in 1995, but that failed to make the headlines in central Florida even though the issue continues to cause scandal in the south.  I guess Poinciana High was ahead of its time, but didn’t know it.

My sisters eventually asked me some years after my coming out to my mother if I were indeed a lesbian, and I believe I answered them.  We are a private family for the most part, and can be evasive in disclosing our personal lives.
From the time I arrived at Stanford in 1995 until… well… last year, I have managed to live a life completely and utterly surrounded by the gay community.  I actually didn’t have any straight friends that I could readily identify.  I could take it a step further actually.  I actually didn’t really have any gay male friends I could readily identify.  That’s right, I have spent a good portion of my adult life surrounded solely by women, primarily lesbians until recently.
Being known as a lesbian has been a crucial part of my identity.  It is something that most people would have known about me within… oh, five minutes of a conversation.  My self-identity was a kind of list that I could state like this, “Hi, I am D. I am Jamaican.  I am lesbian.  I am a confirmed Catholic.  I am Buddhist.  I am a therapist….”  and so on.
I suppose one could say that every conversation was a process of coming out.  In a way that is the lot in life for those of us who are perceived as “different” in some way from the majority of society.
Repeat that???

"Not the self-destruct button" found at http://www.connectedprincipals.com/archives/4100. I had to include this image... It was just too funny not to do so.

I believe it was my senior year at Stanford when a lesbian friend of mine asked to speak with me about something personal-I should have recognized my calling then.  Of course, I thought that this was going to be news of the start or end of a relationship.  I was right.  It was news of the start of a new relationship.  The relationship, however, was not what I expected.

She sat me down and told me that she had met someone very very special in the past weeks.  I said things like “Uh huh” (being a young adult and all).  She then told me that this very very special person was a man.  I said things like “Uh huh.”  (being a young adult and all).
And then it hit me.  She said the word “man,” but she is a lesbian like me.
It was jarring.  However, I have a tendency to be open to change.  This was simply a change and one that I could easily accept.  She was my friend that was all.
What was shocking was to hear that when she had told other lesbian friends about her new love, they had abandoned her and had felt betrayed by her…  (It made me think of the 90s lesbian film Go Fish.)  Wow, I thought… I am so glad not to be in that position…
Repeat that????

"If you had 5 minutes...," collage with magazine and cardstock by Diedré M. Blake, (2010)

Fast forward some decade plus to my current life.  My ex stated to me, in no uncertain terms, approximately two years ago that she thought that I was straight or interested in dating men.

Now, given the fact that I’ve self-identified as lesbian since the age of 11, the idea seemed quite preposterous.  Even my dating of men at the age of 18 was a complete experiment on my part… and it was an utter disaster-even my mother told me to quit while I was ahead!
More recently as my world has expanded to include more diverse groups of people, I recognize that I am open to dating whomever I please.  Does it mean that I have de-label myself “lesbian”?  Should I now proclaim bisexuality?  Eh, I don’t think so.
I am simply myself.  And to be quite frank, I am quite sick labels in general… and if I must have one, then I will go back to the good ole tried and true “Queer” that was (and possibly is) so popular in California.
Until next time!
Best,
D. 

Self-potrait, photography by Dolores Juhas

Photographs are by Croatian photographer, Dolores Juhas, whose work has been featured in such magazines as Italian Vogue.  You can visit her website at http://www.dolores-juhas.tk or email her: d_juhas@yahoo.co.uk.  She has her own blog at http://themax.bloger.hr
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5 thoughts on “Coming out… Repeat that?

  1. BOB says:

    Oh, what a great post!

    I could honestly relate to this article on various levels.
    Firstly, I feel that a large proportion of the black community don’t do themselves any favours, as the amount of narrow-mindedness and homophobia I’ve come across has both amazed and saddened me. I come from a West Indian background, was born in the UK but have never fully embraced black culture. I’ve always believed that everyone has the right to be whoever they want to and shouldn’t be enslaved by their ethnicity. After all, we are all blank canvasses when born (in theory).

    Now, that’s not to say I’m in denial of my blackness and intend on being a ‘coconut’ (the UK equivalent of ‘oreo’), just more open to other cultural influences and interests. Try telling a black person that you love listening to traditional Hungarian folk music and you’ll be met with a “You’re weird!” facial expression. On the other hand, try telling a caucasian exactly the same thing, only to be met with a lost and bewildered look, followed by a meek “Oh, that’s interesting!” response…

    What’s ironic is that many blacks, as a result, are pigeonholing themselves based on such a refusal to venture outside of their safety zone (while, at the same time, complaining about being stereotyped). I can understand the need to stay in touch with one’s roots but it’s not necessary for this to dictate one’s path or to form some sort of psychological crutch. Why the need to constantly remind yourself of your blackness through black magazines, black literature, black music, black films, etc? There’s a world out there to discover and, in this modern age, you don’t even have to travel to be exposed to it. What’s wrong with embracing it?

    Reggae? Give me some Post-modern experimental chamber music. Spike Lee? Give me an Iranian director any day. Halle Berry? Give me somebody else, anyone! 😉

    Looking back, I would say that the hostility received for being this way (or for adopting this personal philosophy) was more from the black community than any other ethnic group. Even now, nurturing and maintaining relationships with other blacks is extremely difficult because of their inability to unconditionally accept me for who I am. Does it bother me? Not anymore? Has it made me weary of socialising with other blacks? Slightly. So, as a result, I socialise with other ethnic groups more. Sad but true.

    As for the homosexual community, I once had doubts during my teens and, in the process, befriended a lesbian that I grew very close to (okay, I admit, I quite fancied her at first but quickly realised I had mistaken those feelings for a strong platonic bond that was in the offing. And don’t ask – things were confusing enough at the time). Naturally, she was very interested in my feelings of doubt and encouraged me by introducing me to completely new world.

    During those two years, I discovered a lot about myself and have many happy memories. But there came a time when I realised that I wasn’t gay – just a young man who felt like an outsider and who was coming to terms with the fact that he was different from others (especially other blacks). While at university, I wrote her a letter and confessed to her. She replied, stating that she didn’t care what I was and that I would always be her friend. 3-4 months later, she cut off all contact while her gay friends remained tight-lipped. To this day, I still wasn’t given a reason for her sudden change in behaviour but I can bet you it was down to the same reason as your friend.

    So, alas, it seems that everyone’s intent on projecting their expectations onto others – regardless of the context of the relationship – whether it’s a stranger, acquaintance, lover, sibling or close friend. Yes, labels suck but many can’t seem to grasp the ‘complexities’ of life (or acknowledge the blurring of boundaries) without them…

    • Diedré Blake says:

      Your response made me smile and made my day. 🙂 I am truly glad that you like the post. I had been thinking for some time about writing it, and am very glad that I chose to do so.

      One of the best books I read during graduate school is “Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”: A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D. It truly changed my understanding of my internal and external realities… In other words, it helped me to understand the lens through which I was seeing the world up until that point. I would recommend this book to anyone young person of colour, who is trying understand identity formation, particularly racial identity formation.

      I am with you on the strange looks and awkward responses when mentioning my different interests musically or otherwise. I usually get people by saying that I love Croatian singers Alka Vuica and Darko Rundek. Yeah… The nonverbal responses can be quite interesting. 😉 But you know already.

      You know, I was having a conversation the other day about globalization and our growing interconnectedness and what it means for our perception of identity. In my opinion, it is still important to distinguish/retain and maintain our ethnic, racial, religous, sexual, etc. identities not so much to create division or to encourage further marginalization, but actually the contrary. There are certain countries where racial identity does not exist and as a result “racism” supposedly does not exist either, even thought it blatantly does. Do you know what I mean?

      It is a double-edged sword holding on to what makes us different from each other, whether physically or otherwise. What I find important is achieving a balance between “self as other/separate” and “self as same/amongst,” lest one ends in a place of either engaging in complete self-denial in favour of living as the majority (whatever the majority is) or becoming sexuo-/racio-/ethnocentric, etc. Not that it has to be this extreme.

      I often think how wonderful it would be if we could simply acknowledge each other as we are without need for labels. That is I am D. You see that I am female. My skin is brown. My hair is black and curly. My lips are full. My height is above average, etc. That this information does not have to be reduced to “someone of African ancestry,” rather that this is simply visual information, which may have some bearing on my psychology but perhaps not.

      Alas… The world is as it is for the moment. I am quite hopeful for the younger version of ourselves from the ones whom I have met and from what I have observed. Perhaps it is a good thing that some seem so little interested in knowing history. Perhaps it is good to let the pains of the past go in order to move forward as more whole and united people.

      I am truly sorry about your friend. Interestingly enough, my friend did same thing also. Once she began her new life, she lost contact. Perhaps it is the way for some people… It is difficult to confront the past, difficult to integrate the past, difficult to continue carrying the past, especially one that may cause hurt in the present.

      Best,
      D.

  2. BOB says:

    So true!

    Darko Rundek? Gosh, what a blast from the past! I haven’t kept track of him since 2002’s Ruke… Too many potentially interesting albums and so little time! If you don’t know them already, check out the first album by Les Négresses Vertes (Mlah) – it’s a blast!

    Keep ’em coming, girl! 🙂

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