On Coming Out
Author: Reino Karlberg
‘That’s assault. You know that? That’s a physical assault.’
For the first time in 47 sessions, a fire burns visibly in my therapist’s eyes. She is angry for me.
‘That is beyond bullying. It’s assault.’
I am sitting with my legs curled beneath me on the couch. Sun streams through the windows. It is July 2014. I have just explained that six years ago, a girl in my class heard a rumour that I was gay. She was a very popular girl. I was desperate to be like Henrietta. She was skinny, sporty, funny. I was short, pudgy and awkward, with a weird name nowhere near as beautiful as Henrietta. Henrietta. Her name caught in my throat and the whole class watched as she swung her legs over the table, blocking my way.
‘Heard you’re a homo, Rainy.’
She said nothing. Just swung her legs carelessly.
Her eyes bore into the top of my head as I gazed at the floor. I felt my cheeks flare scarlet and sweat pool on my palms. Time seemed to stop. And then a long lithe leg flew up, ever so gracefully, into my abdomen. I was lifted off my feet.
Henrietta laughed. The class laughed. I laughed. My face burned. My heart ached. The teacher came and no-one said a thing. I carried on.
Back in the present, it’s been three weeks since I came out to my therapist, and therefore three weeks since I deliberately, by choice, came out to anyone, ever.
‘She guessed about your sexuality and then initiated a homophobic assault.’
‘I don’t think I ever realised that.’
‘Did you think it was okay?’
‘I knew she shouldn’t kick me. But…’
‘Well. I thought she had a good reason.’
‘That being your queerness?’
How damning, that a child could believe themselves so damaged that they deserve a bruise lasting a month (physically) and several years (emotionally). It’s quite alarming, really.
I don’t think anyone comes out of school unscathed. I wondered, back then, if anyone comes out of the closet unscathed, either. I've learned that you can.
I am reminded of a line in the performance poem Dear Straight People by Denice Frohman: ‘I don’t like closets, but you make the living room an unshared space, and now I’m feeling like a guest in my own house.’ But living rooms are meant to be shared. We all have room to live. We all deserve our place on this earth. And no matter how horribly one coming out goes, there will always be another one, because it’s an ongoing process that you can choose to do with anyone who comes into your life. Yes, you can choose. It blew my mind, when I learned that — you don’t have to have it kicked out of you. Your capacity to love a person is not a dirty secret to be passed around in rumours. There’s no right or wrong way, there’s no right time, place, age. There are no words other than truth and honesty. I have friends who find it no trouble, who enjoy sharing that information about themselves. For me, what I have named my ‘shame’ and ‘denial’ phases were pretty long and strong. I cried myself to sleep for five years; I prayed for ten years. Then, at 21, I learned how good it is. How gorgeous it is to find someone to love, who loves you, to wake up with. My closet was dark. It had no windows. Fear cobwebbed the corners, which were not really corners, because the darkness was infinite. It is still there. I stand in its doorway, but the doors are always open, now I know how lovely the light is. The sweetness of love is worth it all, and when I learned that, I became okay with sharing my sexuality. Only okay — but okay is all I need. Coming out is a weird thing. It takes self-acceptance, self-love, and a whole lot of guts, too.