The tires beat a slow, steady rhythm against the highway. The sun was at our backs, causing the light in front of us to develop a surreal, hazy glow. My mother and I were tired from the long day, and as is my usual, extroverted personality, my tiredness makes me gab. And gabbing I was – talking excitedly about the things I was learning about gender theory and sexuality and equal rights and how I feel a push and a calling to advocate for justice particularly in those areas. As we turned down I-90, an hour from home, Mom asked The Question.
“Dianna, are you gay?”
I paused, taking a moment before my answer. It’s the question that’s probably been on the tip of her tongue for a while now, and I wanted to honor her bravery in asking.
My family, like most conservative Christian families, has a strange relationship with the idea of homosexuality. On the surface, they condemn it, but all of us know gay people who are “exceptions” to this rule of condemnation. My mom’s been good friends with a gay man since the 1970s; we’ve had aunts in the family who came out after long struggles and, in their coming out, wreaked havoc across the family. My extended family also has the tendency to assume (and worry) about a person’s sexuality if they’re not dating.
This is an area in which I must tread lightly.
Part of the problem with growing up in purity culture is that it forces sexuality underground. I feel like I’m doing discovery work about myself and my identity a decade later than all my peers, many of whom were sure of their identities by the time they hit 20. I never even kissed someone until I was 25. And that, too, is the peculiar thing about purity-culture raised sexuality – if you get really, really good at repressing the feelings they say you should repress, it makes it really hard to figure out what you want when you start exploring those feelings.
So I’m late on this. I’m late on pretty much everything. It’s an Anderson trait.
But in that moment, in that car that felt like a confessional, like a one-of-a-kind moment I would never be able to recapture, I knew I could never tell my mom that I was straight. So I didn’t. And she accepted it and moved on.
And now, I know, I can never tell you the same thing. Coming out is an interesting thing – once you’ve told one person and they respond well, you kind of want to tell the whole world. But I knew it wasn’t right, that I had to settle things in my soul first before I told the world. Then it got to a point where I realized I was banking on my privilege as being perceived as straight for my words to carry more authority. I talked about what allies should or shouldn’t do, and was read unfortunately speaking for the marginalized groups rather than as one of them. And I couldn’t correct this perception without outing myself in a manner that made me uncomfortable.
So, I guess with the New Year, now is the time to clear the air. I do not speak as an LGBT ally, but rather as a member. I’m not a lesbian, but I’m not a straight woman, either. I’m in that amorphous group of bisexuality. I tend to prefer men, but have attractions toward women and non-binary people. Identifying as “bi” feels weird to me, so right now, I suppose I am most comfortable identifying as “queer” (which I understand means different things for my generation than it does for my parents’ generation, but I use it in the sense that I don’t know what label to put on myself other than “not-straight.”).
I’m here. I’m queer. And I’m getting used to it. Hello.