Remembering the Crazy Beauty of Coming-Out years
Last night my partner and I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the sweet, slightly retro coming-of-age film featuring Emma Watson in her big post-Potter debut. The plot was more or less about teenagers hanging out after curfew at the park or in cars, talking about lives they’d yet to live. My partner mused, “Remember how amazing those little things were when you were young?” Oh, absolutely. The film took me back to a time when sharing a contraband cigarette with a kid who was cooler than me could lift me up for a week before I’d revert to being a miserable adolescent. I think this is what 16-year-old superblogger Tavi Gevinson meant recently when she said that amidst the inevitable horribleness of being a teenager, there were “moments of gleaming joy and beauty.”
At what point then did the deliciousness of being slightly delinquent with my friends become merely boring? If I hung out at a park at midnight with my friends now, we’d probably get arrested—if we didn’t fall asleep first. Sadly, and just as inevitably, at some point in adulthood that exquisite brew of limitless possibility, hormones, and fear morphs into acceptance, equilibrium, and experience. More useful, but far less exciting.
The last time I remember feeling that magic was in the first few years of being “out” as a lesbian. After a while things, though, got ordinary, and going to clubs or Pride marches became predictable, though pleasant enough. My hormones mellowed, my world expanded, and being gay stopped being so notable, which is how it should be, I suppose, with the passage of time.
Most of us, no matter how old we are when we come out, briefly experience a kind of adolescence, if you will: a few years when the most mundane moments take on epic meaning. The doors open and we step over the threshold into blazing Technicolor, after what felt like an age trapped in muted tones and waiting…for something. All fear and trepidation (there’s lots of that) get completely mowed over by the thrill that we are, at last, totally alive.
It’s easy to forget what that feels like until something (e.g., Emma Watson standing up in the open sun roof of a racing car while Bowie’s grand gift to freaks, “Heroes,” blasts through the stereo) triggers old memories. And it’s easy to smirk at those newbies who are “all gay all the time” as if it’s no big deal to be out, even though “f@#got” continues to be a ubiquitous and vicious slur.
When my friend’s 13-year-old son came out of the closet (not really to anyone’s surprise), he turned right into a miniature Harvey Milk. It was kind of annoying to be lectured about LGBT history that we all remembered first hand, and which he’d only just discovered on the Internet. Nonetheless, I told my friend to resist the urge to ask her son to talk about anything other than being gay. He was both a teenager and newly out, I argued, and was entitled to enjoy those moments of passionate discovery—or “gleaming joy”—for a little while more.
But most of the time I forget to cut people slack for still being in the throes of discovery. I think it embarrasses me to remember the moment when I realized I might find someone to love after all, or when I learned that I wasn’t the only one who felt how I did. I imagine how it looks to straight people who wonder why gays are so obsessed with being gay, and I don’t want anyone to think that LGBT people actually regress when we come out.
It’s not regression, after all, when we never got to experience some of those key moments of belonging, of first crushes, or tell-all friendship that others got to. And yes, there comes a time when it’s important to move on into the ordinary world. Right now, though, if you’re still caught up in those simple moments of endless possibility, I admit that I’m a little envious. Promise me that you won’t forget it later.
Abby is a civil rights attorney-turned-author who has been in the LGBT rights trenches for 25+ years.