When I came out of the closet, I took tentative steps in stockinged feet. I stepped quietly on the carpet, and I tried not to make any noise. But I tripped and stumbled and then farted two columns. While exiting my closet, I was anything by graceful.
I came out through my Daily Californian articles — in terms of my disability, with my first column, and my sexuality, with my second. It has been very public, open and deliberately personal. I haven’t been radical, just honest.
So yesterday, when a classmate asked me if I was ever embarrassed to be so publicly “out there” on the Internet, I lifted my shoulders and shrugged. She told me that “the Internet is forever, brah.” I was like, “Yeah, brah, I know.” (I am not — and never have been — a “brah.” I don’t even wear a bra.) But the paragraphs I write are going to stick around forever.
Being forever “out there” feels pretty damn good.
Journalism let me step out of the closet and onto a soapbox. For this, I am humbled. After 19 years in the closet, I needed some room to dance. This soapbox let me be loud and live loudly — uncensored and unafraid. Most importantly, these columns brought me some much-needed inner peace.
Writing two semesters’ worth of columns brought me serenity that I couldn’t have imagined seven years ago. In eighth grade, when I began to have warm, gushy feelings for other ladies in my class, I was nervous. I was nervous and anxious all the time, racked with puberty, confusing feelings and body odor. At 14, I felt like I was carrying a bucket of secrets: sloshing secrets that were apt to spill over the rim of my bucket at any point. Being bisexual and kinda physically disabled didn’t fit into my own idea of what my program should look like. I have an incredible support network and a loving and supportive family, but it took me a while to come to terms with myself.
I was anxious, and I was young. I wore too-tight T-shirts, straightened my hair, worshipped the Jonas brothers and tried to be passionately (overtly) heterosexual. It didn’t work. I held my bucket of secrets close while its contents sloshed precariously.
In high school, the Gay Straight Alliance was made up of costume-y white boys. They did rainbow cupcakes on club food day and not much else. At 16, I was fairly comfortable staying in the Plexiglas closet I had built for myself and blatantly denying my feelings. I didn’t want to stand out. At 17, I applied to colleges and doodled the names of my male crushes, in Sharpie marker, on lined paper in my spiral notebooks. I sat in orange chairs and fumbled through statistics homework. I attended the homecoming football game, skipped prom and applied too much aqua eyeliner. I laughed loudly and pretended I wasn’t as smart as I am. I didn’t want be weird or different.
But in a small corner of my mind, I compartmentalized and labeled my mental buckets. I questioned my gender, my sexuality, the authenticity of my disability and my own dependability.
As a sophomore, 19 and in college, I was tired. I was tired and upset: My buckets were too heavy, and my heart was too full. I applied to the Daily Cal on an angsty whim. The sample articles accompanying my application constituted the first experiences I had written about that anybody actually read.
In January, I started my column about disability. I wanted to talk about a marginalized and largely invisible community, but more importantly, I wanted to break my own culture of silence. It was the first time that I didn’t even try to hide my cerebral palsy. With a pronated foot in an insoled shoe, I took one tentative step out of the closet. In the newspaper, I felt unmedicalized and whole.
This summer, I wrote a column on first-time experiences. You read all my ranty thoughts on sex education, gender stereotypes and writing real columns. But this article is different. This article is a “thank you.” Thank you for reading and laughing and crying and raging with me. Thank you for becoming angry and righteous — and for letting me hear your thoughts. I read all of your emails. Usually, I read them twice. Thank you for letting me come out of the closet and into your open (loving) arms. I am so humbled. Darn it, even as I type this, I’m getting emotional.
These two columns have been been some of the most rewarding in my brief 20 years. For now, I need a couple quiet moments. This column has been good, beautiful and cathartically painful. All good things must come to a close. This is my last, first time.
I’m stepping off of the soapbox. I’m handing over the mic. As I stand back to listen, I ask that you project all the way to the back of the room. Let your voice be heard, because, perhaps in time, we will break the culture of silence around marginalized identities.
I can already begin to see the fractures.
Jasmine Leiser writes the Thursday column on lessons learned from first-time experiences. You can contact her at [email protected].