I never understood why folks’ didn’t want to stay in the closet. My closet has always been a safe haven. I used to bring all my toys in my closet and play in there, I could shut that closet door and keep my room clean. When I got older and had stopped playing with toys, I’d bring a lamp into my closet and read for hours. I could get lost in my closet and didn’t have to explain anything to anyone in there. I could be real, true, honest there.
The first day of high school I found the furthest trailer in the back right corner of the “tennis courts” and walked in. I sat in the back desk nearest the door, in case this geography class didn’t go as I wanted, I could escape quickly. Ms. Caccamise’s hair was wet and curly. She wore a flowing skirt, one that looked like it was light and airy, weightless. She was enthusiastic, almost too much so for my 12 year old self. I wanted to hide out, I wanted to just get through this day. Ms. Caccamise introduced herself and shared, “I never sleep the day before the first day of school, I’m just so nervous.” At that moment, my body relaxed. This woman was real, true, honest. She was going to show me how to be those things.
Ms. Caccamise was passionate about maps. The course was Geography and we made so many maps. We painted them, we made a lot of them out of playdough or modeling clay, and we drew them. I wish that I had retained more content. The truth is she taught me other things that can’t be confined by arbitrary borders like maps are confined. Although she could share her first day jitters, her sexual orientation wasn’t something she could share freely in my Catholic school. We all knew as teenagers always know about random seemingly scandalous things that occur with adults. I remember spending an afternoon in her trailer with a group of students and her talking about her partner at the time. It didn’t feel scandalous at all. It felt real, true, honest. Julie was showing her true self to all of us.
That fall I told my best friend E I loved her. She told me I was wrong and hormonally challenged. I was devastated. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I didn’t love her. Maybe what I was feeling wasn’t real, true, honest.
My friend A came out to me my senior year. She told me she loved me too. I remembered how I felt being rejected by E – I didn’t reject A. She held my hand and I didn’t know what to do. It felt exciting and terrifying. But it wasn’t right with her.
In college I met K who would become my partner. As I student-taught in North Carolina, my cooperating teachers would ask me about my life. I knew I could lose the opportunity to be licensed or hired if they knew I was in a relationship with a woman, so I kept it a secret. I hid in my closet, knowing there I could be safe in my wholeness. My closet held this fear of losing the opportunity to work with young people based on my identity made it clear I needed to hide it.
I never felt like I could say I was lesbian because I wasn’t. I felt only a part of the LGBTQ+ community as long as I was with K. Once we decided to divorce, I felt like I was kicked out.
I felt like I didn’t get to identify myself as LGBTQ+. I struggled to own my marriage. I used vague sentences and statements to explain how I ended up in Massachusetts. When people asked me, as they always do, I would say things like, “I was in a relationship,” but never expand on it. I removed the rainbow sticker from my car. I didn’t tell most people I had been married. The fear had taken a deep root. I had closed the closet and was denying its existence in my life.
When I started teaching high school, I decided to be myself, except for this one thing. This one giant thing. In my classroom, I encouraged my students to be real, true, honest and they were. They shared things with me through their artmaking and writing that were beautiful, raw, heart breaking. They shared things with me about their sexuality, their love lives, their questions, their answers. I felt like almost my whole self in my classroom. I could be silly. I could emote. I could love fully. I could ask so many questions I could learn from the smartest humans around. But I wasn’t whole.
I was still hiding portions of myself in my closet while keeping the room clean. I would only allow folks into my closet, I wouldn’t emerge from the closet. I would share with people I trusted completely. I would share it on a first date in order to see the person’s reaction, to know if this could continue. I didn’t have the language or vocabulary to explain what I was feeling or who I was. I knew I wasn’t a lesbian but I also knew I wasn’t heterosexual. Bisexuality was ridiculed as someone who was confused or wanted more than humans should desire or deserved. I read The 57 Bus and on pages 32-35 there is a list of vocabulary with definitions. I began to see myself in those words, which ones, I still wasn’t sure. Could I be in the LGBTQ+ community when I couldn’t identify which letter I was? The letters feel exclusive and limiting when I don’t know the fullness of each letter, the fullness of the community – how do I expand that understanding in my own life?
I’m still working through the letters and who I am, as I think we all should be forever. Forever reflecting on our lives and our loves. Right now, I can only point to the letter Q right now to describe my place inside a community because I’m still untangling the trauma of abuse and denial through my life about my sexuality. And that letter feels as clear as can be right now for me.