Edition #73: On Acknowledging Yourself

Plus, a birthday experiment, a series of eccentricities, and a documentary to watch

A Note From the Editor

I wouldn’t call what happened earlier this year my “coming out”. The proclamation feels far too grandiose for what occurred, and it also feels like claiming an experience that I don’t feel entitled to. I tried to do it subtly, slipping a few sentences about my attraction to women in a recent edition without addressing it further. Up until that point, I hadn’t shared this quasi-secret with anyone in my family, nor with a vast majority of my more distant friends. I figured most of them would read it, maybe they would ask me about it or maybe they would ignore it. I wasn’t sure which outcome I wanted more.

With my closer friends, especially my New York friends, it was easier. I had only started dating again earlier this year, and when I got myself back on the dating apps I opened my gender preference to both men and women. When friends asked me how dating was going, I would slip in this news with a practiced casualty. “I’m dating women now, too.” Some might express surprise, others would be intrigued. “How long have you been interested in women?” or “Wow, cool! How’s it been going?” To these questions I had easy rebuttals; “I’m young and have always been curious so I figured why not try it now?” The key to this delivery was my informality. It needn’t be a serious claim if I could say it with a laugh, chuck it up to something rooted in self-exploration.

As I began to share the stories of my (rather unsuccessful) dates with women, a curious thing happened; several of my friends began to admit they had some form of same-sex interest, too. In the same breath, they would justify their curiosity with the disclaimer I had once used—I’m not interested in having a relationship with (women/men), I’m only sexually curious. For women, there seemed to be an invisible line in the straight/gay sand. If you are interested in going down on a woman it means you’re gay with a capital G, so some of my girlfriends would be sure to clarify their lack of interest in getting *that* intimate. Some would express repulsion at the act, not realizing that the sentiment of being “grossed out” might be hurtful or insensitive. Often this expression felt feigned, more like a way to cement their place on the straight ladder than anything else.

I’d never put any thought into any of these subtle statements, nor had I ever examined why I had been so quick to slap on so many qualifiers on my own romantic or sexual preferences because I had never claimed queerness as a part of my identity. I grew up going to a performing arts school, so I was no stranger to the world of queerness. It was, as far as I could tell, OK to be gay. Plenty of people were gay, gay men were some of the most coveted friends for young, straight women to have and they also seemed to have the most confidence. All in all, I considered myself a decent ally (before I even knew what an ally was) because I liked gay people and I didn’t think being gay was a bad thing. As I’ve come to terms with my sexuality, I can see what was bubbling below the surface in me—a quiet, internalized homophobia disguised as a lackadaisical playfulness. It’s OK for others to be gay, as long as you’re not gay. It’s OK to want to kiss a woman, but you shouldn’t want to go any further. I could accept any form of gayness in others, but in myself, it was fundamentally rejected. There wasn’t space in this life I had built for anything other than the heteronormative dynamics I had always existed within, even during the phases in my life when I was repulsed by being intimate with men. I was deeply afraid of opening any can of worms that might threaten my place in this safe space. Straight was easier. I never needed to explain myself.

The irony is that I’ve always known this duality existed in me. I dated a girl for months in middle school and confessed this newfound preference to two of my eighth grade best friends, but since then I had folded the experience up, sealed it away in the box, and tossed it in the ocean, never to be explored again. In the wake of this deep, years-long repression, I used to have stress dreams about being in a committed relationship with another woman, in which I would look over at my partner with whom I shared a home and a child, only to realize that she was a she. Even in my deepest state of REM sleep, I would experience a state of unbridled panic—this isn’t right, this isn’t who you are! What have you done? What will people say?

In an essay about Hannah Gadspy’s Netflix special, Nanette, Fariha Róisín discusses how the special resonated with her as a queer Muslim woman who had repressed her own identity for so long. She says:

“Gadsby takes us into her deepest feelings, speaking about how by the time she was able to accept that she was gay, she began to realize that she herself was homophobic, and by that time she was too far gone — she had become lost in her own self-hatred. “

It feels intense to use the word “homophobic” in any sense, especially in relation to yourself, but it also feels empowering to acknowledge those biases that lie dormant within us—in relation to others and in relation to ourselves. I’ve spent years denying what is a rather small, insignificant part of my identity because I was afraid of what people might think or how it might change who I perceived I was. Róisín’s writing gave me the tools to realize why I’d hidden for so long. Her words gave me permission to inhibit all sides of myself without shame, to confront my fears and biases, and to realize that I only get to live on this planet once, so I might as well show up as my whole self. 

Cheers my dears, and a happy Pride month. To celebrate, I’ll be listening to this song on repeat.

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Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming

  1. The Birthday Experiment That Changed Everything. Are you a birthday person? Admittedly, I am. Not one that insists people celebrate my day for an entire month, but one that feels a compelling need to have the day acknowledged and to celebrate amongst friends, ideally in a different country (pre-COVID, at least). I vote we replace the empty, obligatory “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!“ Instagram story with something more intimate, like this.

  2. Everything is Becoming Paywalled Content—Even You. As of today, here's how the internet works: websites, media companies and social media companies make money off advertising. Most companies, save for social media companies, want to make money on consumer revenue (i.e. a subscription to the New York Times), but ads still dominate. Imagine a future where your internet experience was fully ad-free, where your feed was curated to your wants and needs but where you paid for everything you consumed. This fascinating piece made me think about the future of what the internet might look like—a pay-to-play space where we are all just paying each other for access to ....well, eachother.

    No one has to make content just to get views and appeal to the masses, and the masses don’t have to sort through everything they don’t want to find what they do—a shift that will change not just the future of work but internet life as we will come to know it.

  3. Are Pets As Happy As Their Owners Think They Are? If you are one of the 85 million Americans who have a pet, this one is going to make you feel personally attacked. Have you ever thought critically about the concept of having a pet? In a way, it's sort of like having a child: a little creature who loves you and depends on you, except this creature will never have free will or civil rights because it is an animal and it cannot talk. But is your pet actually happy? And, does it even matter? An interesting read about the ways in which people currently care for their pets (spoiler alert, not nearly enough time is spent doing so), and about how pets need consistent stimulation that we don't always give them (example: if your cat gets the zoomies every night, he/she probably isn't being stimulated enough by you). 

Perhaps You Should…
Watch Class Divide on HBO

Class Divide is one of the most well-done documentaries I’ve ever seen. It’s about an ultra-wealthy private school in Chelsea, one of NYC’s most expensive neighborhoods, that sits across from public housing projects. The documentary follows kids from both the private school and the projects, exploring the ways in which money, privilege, and access shape every facet of their lives.

**Bonus Content** (A Series of Eccentricities)

This Twitter thread made me giggle so hard. Can you tell she’s a writer?

A Quote From A Book You Should Read:

“And the world went on. It always does. The world doesn’t care about you or me or any of this. The world just keeps on going.”

-Real Life by Brandon Taylor