{11.4.15} (un)mask

We Wear the Mask // Paul Lawrence Dunbar

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

I recognize that the context of this poem is different from my own, the struggle layered with much more power, much more suffering, but the message still resonates. Masks, closets, what’s the real difference? I’ve never much liked either of them. I’ve never been one to cake (much less dab or sprinkle) myself with makeup. Closets are dark, and I’ve always been a sunlight sprite. Thing is, not liking those boxes does not necessarily translate well into finding an easy escape.

[cries to thee]

The first time I came out to anyone, it was to a girl I thought was pretty cute. I said something lik “I think I might like girls”, like I was, I don’t know, contemplating murder. “It’s ok,” was her reply. “This is a good place to explore that.” (Context: I go to a women’s college). But then her girlfriend got mad at her for being up at 4am talking with a first-year, and it was not until 6 months later that I really told anyone else.

I came out to my parents at the beginning of my First Relationship. I mentioned, rather noncholantly, I thought, my then girlfriend. To my disappointment, they were not surprised. Shoot. I’d kind of wanted a bit of a scene. Or at least an “Oh my GOSH. That’s WONDERFUL, sweetie.” Really anything other than “I sort of suspected” and “What was her name again?” … for the umpteenth time.

[we sing]

Sometimes I use coming out as a tool. I’ve definitely come out to people because I wanted them to know that I trusted them. Wanted them to know that they were special to me. I came out to my host mom in Chile because I knew that she didn’t (knowingly) know any gay people, and probably had a lot of misconceptions. We spent a really nice hour-long conversation bashing through a bunch of the stereotypes she’s accumulated over the years, and I felt useful to have expanded her world a bit, teaching her that gay people are not some homogenous glob of hypersexual creatures all attracted to the same people. We be all shades of the rainbow!

I’ve gotten used to the experience of coming out. The slow cracendo of my heartbeat as I decide what I’ll say and the opportune moment draws near. The way my heart almost stops before the reveal. The relax of tension as the other person responds, either doing their absolute best to control their own strong emotional reaction (surprise? aversion? confusion?) or being rather noncholant about the whole thing (“that explains it”, “that’s hot”, “I was wondering”). Very rarely, someone will be honored that I trusted them enough to tell them. With time, I’ve gotten better at it. I no longer get so fluttery underneath my ribcage or in my stomach. Thinking about it no longer gives the kind of adrenaline jolt that used to keep me sleepless for hours.

So, I’m about 50% gay, 50% straight, 100% bi, might eventually identify as queer or something. Big deal. I’ve watched so so so many people come out about their sexuality in the past 3 years that it’s started to seem kind of weird if people don’t have some inner side that mainstream society doesn’t accept and that they’ve now just got to share.It’s also kind of opened my eyes to the incredibly vibrant inner worlds we all inhabit. The twisted and colorful secrets we keep hidden inside of us, too scared to let out until we’ve found people who we feel actually might actually understand them.

[tread lovingly by // those unperceived tears and sighs]

So, with practice, practicing myself and being practiced upon, I’ve come to realize just how important the coming out process is.

First, I think it’s important to explore who you are and be open to new possibilities. In high school and before, I didn’t allow myself to think that I might be even partially gay because the thought of people finding out was unbearable. Eventually unsticking myself from that mind sinkhole took a lot of unnecessary energy. This past fall, as a sort of existential exercise, I decided to stop assuming that my gender and sex were the same, and then let that take me where it would. It led right back to me feeling (basically) that my gender and sex are the same, but it was an interesting journey, and not something I would have allowed in myself three years ago. Through the process, I also learned a lot about gender, and became a lot more comfortable with my own fluidity.

Second, and I think more importantly, practicing coming out keeps me sensitive to the ways that I hide. Just as importantly, it keeps me sensitive to the ways that other people around me keep things hidden. It reminds me to be always gentle.

[it shades our eyes]

It reminds me to not make assumptions, let people speak for themselves, and in their own good time. While it may seem, from my few short years at Wellesley, that everyone’s actually secretly gay, that is, of course, not true. But everyone is secretly something. Secrets are fine, often necessary, even healthy, but forced secrets are another story.

Sometimes, other people force us to keep our secrets hidden by indicating, either explicitly or implicitly, that given certain information, they’ll treat us badly. I think, though, that usually it is our own selves that convice us that our only option is vigilant silence. I thought being on a sports team in high school would be awful if people knew I was gay. They would judge me! Changing in locker rooms would be the awkwardest thing ever! But maybe the problem was that I was the awkwardest thing ever. Perhaps, had I come out and done so with conviction, I would have found support instead of the rejection I feared. I never will know, though, because I never tried. I learned from my own epilogue, though: the people from high school that I have since told have been neither very surprised nor judgmental, and we’re still friends. Not all stories turn out so hunky dory, of course, but what are we here doing, anyways, besides creating the story of our own lives? And what kind of a story is it if the narrator bucks at dramatic tension?

I’ll leave you with that. Onward, dear ones! And may you find a way to replace whatever fear that keeps the door squeezed shut with your very own truth, a dash of daring if called for and most of all compassion for those you hold close, including yourself.

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. griffitht@comcast.net says:

    Hola Savannah, Before life intervenes again I want to quickly say regarding your (un)masking blog that I (we) are fully supportive. Who you love and how you express your love are entirely your choice, that you have our love, and that we hope we are loves of yours! That’s it… We have another announcement to make regarding Jack’s college future (its changed) but no announcement until the papers are signed. One more visit is required. Truly hope you are mending nicely. Life now intervenes. Mucho, mucho amour, Tom

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ahauge-bacon1233@charter.net says:

    Dear Savannah,

    You are quite a writer! And have told your story very well. I appreciate the insight into your life and journey, and relative peace with your status and decisions. I’m aware that I haven’t been with you much over the years, enough to keep track of your development and relationships. Hopefully we can improve on that in the future.

    In any case, you have my love, concern and prayers. I hope the rest of the semester will go well, and that you will get the care you need to regain full use of your knee and leg, in time.

    The snow is finally melting here, as it gets warmer. I’m lookling forward to getting some tree removal done along the north border of the property. The old Lombardy Poplars need to be removed, as well as some of the spruce trees; to make room for the remaining trees to keep healthy. The daffodils are finally coming up after being covered with more snow last week.

    Love as ever, Grandma

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    1. Yes, let’s fix that! And yeah, I feel like I’ve not just found peace with who I am, but also with who I may become, not just with the space I now fill, but whatever shape I take in the future, if that makes sense.
      On a sad note, those trees were the icons of my winter childhood! I suppose there’s a time for everything…. including daffodowndillies!

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  3. mos-health says:

    Wow! Another blockbuster! Gender and sexuality are such complex, powerful, controversial topics, at every level of discourse. And you’ve out so much of it in a personal way and with your typically that carries me along in a way that I cannot resist!

    I never thought much about your gender, and these days I should know better than to take that for granted with anyone. I assumed that you were a lovely, strong, somewhat androgynous young woman. Your appearance (in the broadest sense) is not stereotypical, which fits my perception of your personality and character, neither of which fits any stereotype known to me — and I like all of that about you. But of course, I’ve met you face to face only twice, talked by phone once, I think, read your blogs, looked at your photos, and corresponded via email. So, how much can I really know? Take what I say in that limited context, and consider my fairly good intuition, too, if you will.

    As for your sexuality and its orientation, I only wondered about that when I saw your blog heading about falling in love. With whom, I wondered; her or him? But that’s my habit not to assume a same or opposite sex orientation. The blog, as it turned out, was about falling in love in a different way, wasn’t it? Otherwise, I disn’t even wonder about your sex life.

    All of these things matter a great deal, of course, as do our ways of expressing our thoughts and feelings about them — or repressing, suppressing, distorting, or hiding them. On that last point, the matter of closeting parts of ourselves, you also raise important questions. And this is the point at which I want to stop writing and telephone! There is so much to say, and typing on my iPhone 6+ in a coffee shop is tedious. So, only a few more comments now: 1) my now 31 y.o. son came out to me as a gay young man at 13. I was no more surprised than it seems your parents were. His mother thought he was gay when we adopted him at age six. 2) Your comments about closets are leading me to think more about my own and what’s in them and what I might do about that. 3) I like and respect you more than ever. Please keep writing. Please know that there are those of us who value you for all you are and do and for your courage and capacity to write about it. Thank you.

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    1. I find quite interesting your interpretation of my persona’s outward projection (which I’d define as the clothes I wear, how I act, those sorts of things, some but not all of which have to do with gender and sexuality). The person you describe isn’t actually how I feel. Like most female people my age I’ve talked to, I don’t actually identify as a woman. I realize, thinking about it, that I don’t identify as androgynous, either, because I don’t really like the idea of having my expression be some sort of midpoint between masculine and feminine…. I’d rather it be it’s own thing (a 3-or-more-D instead of 2D spectrum, if you will). It also just depends so much on the day, with lots of variation in between. Young, well, it’s all relative. At Wellesley, where grades have a pretty narrow age range, I often feel a bit old, and will feel even more when I’m back for senior year. Here in Chile, though, because so many people do other things before college, or take a long time to graduate, I’m a baby compared to the other people in my classes. “Lovely”, well, that’s nice, but I also see that word and think about the ways that women are (and historically have been) valued first for their looks/personality and men for their actions.
      I suppose that right now I am rejecting pretty much all descriptors of myself on some grounds. In fact, I use identity terms mostly to explore the possibilities of that idenity, and then reject them as soon as I realize both the scope and limitations of the term. In fact, the only words that I really identify with (writer, feminist, activist, student, friend) are *action* words (i.e. verbs) instead of descriptors (i.e. adjectives). The only adjectives that I even use (and hesitatingly, at that) are adjectives I’ve assigned myself through a process of inverse induction. For example, I consider myself to be bisexual not because I somehow *feel* bisexual (I just feel like myself, after all, and don’t know how anything else would feel) but because I have been attracted to feminine and masculine people, and have learned that society has a specific descriptor for that state of being (outside of its “norm”).
      Does this reply make any kind of sense to you?

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  4. Thanks Savannah, what a lovely, wonderful person you are. Sensitive, sharing, yup super. I look forward to seeing you. Guess your family will fetch you in May? I love your blogs and you.
    Luanne

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    1. Oh, Luanne, how sweet of you. I miss you, too! My parents will be bringing me home in the end of July after my semester ends and we do some traveling together. The semesters are on a different schedule here. Sending much love your way

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