by Veronica Rose
The first time I kissed another woman, the sun was shining brightly through my windows on what I had been taught was a scandalous act. I expected it to feel different from any other kisses I’d ever shared, but it just felt like every other kiss.
Popular culture paints “coming out” as a number of steps that we have to follow. Movies like Pariah and But I’m A Cheerleader make it seem like coming into a sexuality is a “before” and “after” situation, or a huge moment when somebody finally becomes who they really are. But, just as there is no right or wrong way to “come out”, not everybody needs to have a celebrated moment of “coming out.”
My grasp of homosexuality wasn’t some big reveal or a huge moment in my life. My coming out happened slowly. It was a gradual process of self-realization through quietly questioning my identity.
For me, “coming out” never made sense. I attended a conservative, majority heterosexual, historically black university, and I knew how adding “queer” in front of “black woman” would single me out. The typical idea of “being in the closet” is thought of as a solitary experience, but I don’t believe this was true for me.
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A major reason why I stayed in the closet was because year after year, requests to form a group for LGBT solidarity were denied by the conservative university who continued to ignore the queer members of the student body. For many, college is a time of freedom in all aspects of life. For the queer community, conservative ideology kept us in secrecy.
Luckily, I had a group of queer friends who knew about each other without any of us having to say it. I didn’t have to decide between community and queerness; I discovered community in the closet with a covert clique of queer women. We existed under a cloak of invisibility and, even though we all knew about each other’s queerness, we rarely approached the “issue.” We shared a rarely spoken solidarity throughout our relationships and queer sexual activities.
Even without a safe space to commune, we managed to gravitate towards one another. While we never met en masse, individual friendships were formed from our secret network of queer sexualities. For myself, it manifested in one-on-one talks with folks who ranged from questioning to very secure in their queer identities.
We helped one another to figure out the gritty details of who we are. I hold these friendships dear and celebrate each one as we progress and live in our truths, free from the burden of judgment. Without them, I may have never become comfortable identifying as a queer black woman. Without them my path to finding love would have taken a lot longer.
Still, looking back, I can say that my college version of myself was far from out and proud. But it wasn’t exactly a secret either.
For me, it manifested in this weird limbo that exists in between being comfortable with who I was but also being really private. We’re talking cryptic tweets, genderless cries about love over the internet, and suppressed crushes on straight people.
This was not without difficulty. As androgynous as I present, there were certain things I wanted to do, like wearing a tuxedo to Senior Ball, that were out of the question. Some members of the closeted community worried that leadership or organizational opportunities could be taken from them if anyone found out about their sexualities. I swallowed my pride when my relationships, or lack thereof, were taken as a joke.
A few of my former classmates who overlapped into the partner category, likely won’t divulge our exchanges. They won’t tell you about how I sent an Uber to fetch them for late night rendezvous before I had a car. Or how I hid in the bathroom when their “boyfriend” came home. How “just this once” or “I’ve never done this before” turned into regular activities.
Having a place to express myself would have been a huge catalyst in the formation of my personal identity. While my queer community may have been vastly different outside of our sexual orientations, we did share that commonality, at least in secrecy.
I’ve since grown comfortable in my own identity and realize that a lot of the mental burden was a direct result of the conservative environment. Now that I’ve graduated it’s more of a huge joke that I ever thought any of it was a secret. Looking back, none of us were ever all that discreet. A huge bonus came in knowing that none of our situation-ships would ever result in accidental pregnancy.
Since my graduation, the college I attended has recently introduced a club for LGBT solidarity. It carries the same name from its initial proposal years ago. Hopefully its creation will foster a healthier environment for all people involved. Though, I can’t help but wonder how it may have positively impacted my peers and myself had it existed during my tenure.
Despite our lack of a sanctioned safe space, the links from my closet community were genuine. We connected without rainbow flags or pride parades. Whether we shared a nod in passing or acknowledgement via the Internet, we saw each other even when others did not.
Veronica Rose is an opinionated Black queer woman, writer, music enthusiast, comic nerd, professional festival worker who will talk your head off about things on Twitter @uhitsveronica
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