Being Gay Without Ever Coming Out


I’ve been gay for three years now.

The moment I met her, I felt every inch of my body vibrant and spinning as my muscles contracted, unable to look away. I had begun to doubt that this cinematic sensation was anything more than special effects. Animals react to threat via an adaptive stress response that effectively suppresses all nonessential processes to conserve energy needed to survive a fleeting, unexpected event. The sympathetic nervous system is like an alarm screaming, releasing the body’s supply of adrenaline, constricting blood vessels, inhibiting digestion, accelerating heart rate and breathing, and liberating metabolic energy stores. I met her buzzed and half-naked at a dorm room party, the air smoky and thick with tepid moisture rising from the exposed skins of weekend bodies. She were a vaguely familiar girl with short hair and electric green eyes, and she backed me into a corner without even touching me and pinned me there, motionless and speechless, locked to the pitted cinderblock wall by her gaze. I did not blink. I gave her my phone number. She had a complicated, sad history of straight girls. She thought I was straight. I was. I couldn’t move.

They say that queer communities are built on the shared experience of coming out, the incapacitating emotional struggle of questioning identity, anticipating alienation and internalizing the collective failure thrust upon queer people by an benighted straight world. It’s like the deeper, more existential side of the queer coin, as much a part of “who we are” as the cultural vocabulary of The L Word and Tegan and Sara and Provincetown summers or the sometimes elitist academics’ references to hooks, Lorde, Rich, Butler and Halberstam. I skipped that step, though, when I met her. I had grown up below the Mason-Dixon bible belt, where my sexuality developed in backseats of cars parked in public parks after dusk. I liked boys and went after boys and wanted to be small and demure and unobtrusive for boys, and gay was sort of off my radar. But from that moment and that institutional cinderblock wall, years and miles and several phases ago, I knew. My heartache was never about questioning my identity or coming into my sexuality or revealing myself because I was too consumed with wanting her.

Perhaps the coming out experience isn’t quite as specific as coming out. For some of us, it’s the stunning silence of being actually, honestly swept off our feet for the first time. It’s the feeling of being hit by an emotional 18-wheeler, stepping blindfolded onto a roller coaster, erasing all pre-existing common knowledge about love and relationships and sex. It is the great unknown. None of us have been taught the rules for this, the boundaries are hopelessly blurred. Sometimes it’s about releasing control and going for it, giving into the sleepless preoccupation and uncontrollable abdominal tug and restless nervousness that can only mean one thing. Sometimes coming out happens by choice, sometimes by force.

When she pins you down, don’t compare her to men. Don’t be afraid to touch her. Don’t tell yourself no. Sometimes it’s the last thing anyone expected to happen. It’s a chance to rewrite the rules, unlearn expectations, and claim uncharted territory.