Even though yesterday was my eighth coming out anniversary, I didn’t repost my coming out story this year, as I have done for the past several years. The reason is simple: Instead of republishing it in English, I decided to translate it into my native Norwegian and post it on another blog I’m running. As such, yesterday probably saw a greater addition to my online legacy as a bearer of gayness than many other anniversaries.
Rereading, translating and preparing the piece for publication had me thinking about what the story I was telling actually meant now. The most striking thing to me, reading a piece that I have kept largely unchanged since its inception, is how much my perception of it had changed. What’s in the piece is true enough, but it’s at best a partial truth. If you take a look at Gay I Am sidebar on this page, you’ll find a couple of pieces that fill out the backstory to my coming out story. The most important of those is called The Wheelchair In The Room. In it, I discuss how my disability may have contributed to how relatively late I came to the realization that I was gay. I argued that some self-esteem issues, stemming from the fact that I’m in a wheelchair, combined with a lack of romantic attention from the opposite sex rivaled only by my own lack of interest in them, led me to put off confronting my sneaking suspicion that I might be gay. Since I couldn’t see myself as someone other people might take an interest in, I didn’t think it made any real difference whether I might be gay or not, and so I pushed that complicated and somewhat uncomfortable question to the back of my mind again and again.
Shout It From The Rooftops is another personal essay that offers some nuance to my coming out story and what happened in the aftermath. There I wrote about how I struggled to convince myself that I didn’t want anything about how people thought of me to change now that they knew I was gay. Listening to people who insisted that being gay was the most natural thing in the world (I agree!), I thought that was how I was supposed to think. The problem was that I wanted things to change, I wanted them to think of me in a different way. I was desperate for people to acknowledge me as a gay man, even though I was often terrified if and when they actually did. But this, too, fell outside the boundaries of the slightly rewritten coming out essay I published yesterday.
My initial plan was to simply do a direct translation of my original blog post, with additions and subtractions for clarity and context, but pretty soon it became clear that it was a little more complicated. I had decided to keep relatively strictly to a coming out narrative, but since I had written so much more on the subject over the intervening years, I ended up feeling that I couldn’t really recognize the spirit of my coming out process in the words, even though the facts were mostly correct. So why did I nonetheless end up writing a version of the original post, instead of a more nuanced and complicated, but in the last instance likely more truthful account?
I don’t have a simple answer, but let me try to close in on one: As I’ve probably said before, I started this blog in order to have a space in which I was free to be gay. I didn’t know many gay people at the time, much less have somebody to talk intimately to about gay stuff. So for lack of a better and more proper venue, I turned to this form of terapeutic, pseudonymous writing on the Internet. Sure, my cloak of invisibility was such that my real name and picture was a mere image search away, but I still felt an enormous personal and creative freedom. I also think writing in my second language allowed me to be more open and honest, which was important since, at least in the beginning (before I got a handful of loyal readers) I didn’t write with a particular reader in mind. I wrote short pieces on gay issues and essays in a fairly traditional sense, meaning that I used the writing process itself to discuss what I felt about a particular aspect of gay life. Yesterday, when I tried to adapt that conversational and confessional writing style to a piece whose audience would likely consist mostly of my friends and other people who know me, but most of whom are less familiar with my unabashedly gay side, I suddenly began to get cold feet.
I considered a few options. One was to drop the piece altogether. However much I like writing them, I’m not always an avid reader of confessional personal essays myself, and for a brief moment, the thought of calling attention to my “otherness” by publishing an essay on my relatively unremarkable coming out process repulsed me. Or perhaps I should rather say “frightened”. But then I thought it through once more. Over the years I have encouraged other people to come out, both in person and in writing, so wouldn’t it be hypocritical of me to back out once I became the subject? And perhaps as important: Having already written a similar piece in English several times and just a click or two away, what was I really afraid of? I’m just testing hypotheses here, but I think the larger personal issue for me was that writing for a Norwegian audience of peers and friends would unavoidably “bring it all back home” in a way writing anonymously for “the Internet” never could. Forgoing semi-anonymity to put a face and a signature to my story meant taking responsibility for the very real vulnerabilities and insecurity it laid bare. One of the things I want and need to explore more deeply in the future, and which I would have written about in a more complete version of my Norwegian coming out essay if I had also brought up insights from the Wheelchair In The Room and Shout It From The Rooftops essays, is whether it’s still true, as I claimed in my initial coming out piece, that I never was a self-loathing homosexual. I’m not so sure anymore, although it’s not immediately clear to me where the gay aspect ends and the disability issue begins.
All of that said, when I finally decided to go ahead and publish the somewhat glossier version of a straightforward coming out story with the complicating matters of disability and ever present self-doubt excised from the narrative, I got a lot of wonderful, positive feedback, and my reservations about writing it in the first place didn’t stop me from promoting it on Facebook and taking endless ego-stroking pleasure in the sound of my Iphone alerting me to new likes and comments. Several of them thanked me for sharing my story, and a few chimed in to say that they recognized some aspects of their own experiences in mine. It was, I suppose, the kind of confirmation I had sought by writing it in the first place.