Sartorial Exsanguination

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Out of the closet, everything.

This morning I’ve been pulling out the remnants of pre-Leigh from the apartment. Mostly, clothes. Pre-Leigh’s sartorial existence has been shoved into boxes and bags, little ceremony to be found except for the salute provided by my own interiority. And even she doesn’t know exactly what farewell message best suits the moment.

Saying farewell to the masculine uniform of a previous version of myself renders neither joy, nor sadness. Just a representation of the passage of time. And change.

After all this is just the uniform; a representation of a gender identity that I had and no longer have. I’m not taking Chris to the Goodwill never to be seen again. Or, the whole Chris, at least. Chris remains in ways I don’t quite understand; but he’s not dead. His name is still on my drivers license, and frequently (too frequently, honestly) in my ears. But his name remains, next to Leigh. Before Leigh, legally and regretfully. Chris, jealous in the deep hidden regions, sees Leigh only as the new addition. Leigh: the shiny new she that has made Chris a backward facing, stuck in time shell of masculinity no long relevant or desired as a part of this future. He’s not wrong.

But when Chris wasn’t a shell, I loved him, too. When Leigh wasn’t in the picture. When she was a subtle tremor in a beating heart, yet to rip through a body and replace the blood of a man with a new vitality. Before a femme transfusion occurred (full bloodwork yet to be run). Life force, I’m saying. Whatever that means. She communicated with Chris, that day that she could no longer tolerate straight legged jeans and a J.Crew cardigan. She was out, and Chris, henceforth, was just not me. I’m still working out how that was possible; the how seems so important. My therapists tells me it’s not.

Anyway. It’s been more than a year since Leigh arrived, and in that time I’ve realized things.

That Leigh is not a detour. That Leigh is alive in a way that Chris simply is not. That Chris is not dead, but Chris is not the girlish boyish girl that Leigh is and wants to be. That holding on to the uniform has become a crutch and a curse.

And so I’m getting rid of it, today.

This morning.

Now.

Andrea Gibson comes to town; I shall die (with squeals).

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Favorite tour shirt ever. @marylambertsing

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Tomorrow, Andrea Gibson, queer poet and object of my distant/lyric adoration, will be in Minneapolis on a release tour for their new book, Lord of the Butterflies. I’m attending this event, and will be happily releasing any restraints I may have placed over the 16 year-old girl currently emerging from my chest, who waits impatiently today for the chance to squeal with delight in their presence.

To be sure, the 16 year-old girl to which I’m referring, she is real. I love her, and she is me. Perhaps it’ve been better if a more age-appropriate girl emerged from the depth of my soul or tummy or wherever she was, but here I am regardless, enduring the slings and arrows of finally coming out as the genderqueer trans femme I didn’t even know I was waiting to be.

For much of my adult life, I was happily straight, happily married and in love, though carrying within me a potato sack of denial about what I did in fact know (I was not a hetero boy). That denial was released when I came out as gay; only to immediately confront something I did not know (I was not a boy).

The comparison has been made by many LGBTQ folks, but in case you’re not reading the queer writers of the world, coming out as an adult is very like entering a second adolescence. In my case, coming out in my mid- (or late? is 36 mid or late?) thirties, I’ve found the emergent experience of second adolescence to be highly disorienting.

Great effort did it take me, getting from in the closet to out of the closet. First, just to myself, then to my first secret-keeper, then eventually to others, only to go back to the first person to come out again, this time with a more precise notion of my identity, with additional details culled from my therapist and shared with the unwarranted confidence of youth…it’s all very much like being in high school again.

I wonder not infrequently why this pubescent teenage mindset must set upon the newly queer folks of the world. I wonder how it relates to becoming the Responsible Queer Advocate I imagine myself being. I mean, I’m a parent. I love being a parent. Can I also be an emotional adolescent, prone to the common mistakes of 16 year-olds, throwing on-and-off identities like vintage skirts?

Obviously, the answer is yes. And the feeling, while admittedly taxing for the people around me, is also intoxicating. Just thinking about hearing Andrea Gibson tomorrow moves me. I hope that the piles of tears I’m waiting to shed provide me even a pittance of the emotional depth of the teenage heartbreaks this girl never got to feel. Intoxicate me now.

Boys, Erased

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Me at Fernbrook Elementary School, circa 1988-89

Heading out to see Boy, Erased today. Long overdue but its release has been weirdly limited in MSP and also, I’m busy. And lazy. Anyway, it got a wide release over the holiday weekend so off I go.

I read Garrard Conley’s memoir last year, and, while our personal stories have little in common, the markers of our lives are quite similar: queerness, gayness, religion, fear of parental rejection, actual parental rejection.

Conley was an Evangelical Christian when he was forced out of the closet in college, by the very person who sexually assaulted him. The son of a preacher and a faithful believer himself, the conservative religiousness of Conley’s community was used as a weapon to, well, attempt to erase him.

I, on the other hand, got close to the idea of coming out as a teenager. But confronted with the reality of

a: not knowing what the heck my deal was, and
b: having to come to out to my dad,

I  retreated. I’m talking a deep retreat, into the religious conservatism that was weaponized against Conley, and so many other LGBTQ young people. I became a Christian. A born-again Evangelical for the rest of high school; then, for about ten more years, just your run of the mill midwestern progressive mainliner.

Garrard’s faith, family, community, all tried to erase his queerness with the horrific programs of conversion therapy. I attempted to erase it myself, with evangelicalism.

It would be another twenty years before I figured out enough of my deal to come out (still mining the depths, but getting deeper daily). And the act, coming out, turned my world inside out even at 36 years old. Conley, at 19 or so, was pushed out, into the fire, and had his own resulting traumas. Which is just to reiterate the uncontroversial but crucial point, that the stories of LGBTQ folks finding their place in the American cultural and religious landscape are all unique, but many of the brands we’ve been burned with are the same.

More:
Listen to Radiolab’s podcast series on conversion therapy, UnErased.
Listen to Garrard Conley on Cameron Esposito’s show, Queery.