From: (Ayana)
Subject: Coming Out (Again.  And Again.  And Again?)
Date: 8 Jul 1995 22:24:44 -0400

Part I (The easy part)
    I came out the first time at 16.  Right after my 17th 
birthday, I took a bus to San Francisco, and from a safe 
distance, wrote my mother to tell her 1) I wasn't coming
back, and 2) I was a lesbian.  I also wrote to my sister 
Nancy at the same time, since I figured it might be good for 
Mom to have someone to talk to, and she and Nancy were 
close.  Besides, Nancy is the sanest sibling I've got.  
(Nancy told me this past week that she still has the letter 
I sent her eighteen years ago.  I was flabbergasted.  She 
said it meant a lot to her that I would trust her enough to 
tell her, and that I wanted to share that part of my self 
with her.)
    So there was a year in San Francisco, with my big purple 
DYKE button and political meetings *every* night.  I learned
a lot, about politics and about people.  I got used to being 
very out, in every part of my life.
    Then I went back to TN, once my parents had no more 
legal control.  After a couple of years of living closeted 
and working junk jobs, I started back to school, as the only 
out dyke on campus, wearing my big purple DYKE button on my 
cap.  Some of us tried to get a GLB group started, but there 
was *very* little progress made.  I think in my entire time 
at UT, I knew of 3 other lesbians there.
    When I did my work stints at NASA and Oak Ridge National 
Labs, I was out to the personnel office (security clearance) 
but not to my "co-workers".  I needed the jobs, and I was 
already the only woman in my division each time.  I didn't 
have the guts to be out at work.
    My first job out of school I again talked to the 
personnel officer about GLB* policies - there were none, and 
she suggested that I might not want to be too public.  I 
needed the job very badly, and I did exactly what she said.  
For about six months.  
    Once Barb and I got together, it was impossible to stay 
in the closet.  When other folks talked about their spouses, 
I talked about Barb.  It didn't take long for people to 
start talking about her as my spouse, asking how she was and 
how our weekend went, little different from any other couple.  
So for about 7 years, I was out in my work life and in my
personal life (although I didn't wear the DYKE button :-) ).

Part II (The hard part)
    When I left that relationship, and that job, I came to 
the most conservative city I have ever known, to work in a 
tiny company, with a bunch of guys who are also *very* 
conservative politically and socially.
    I am not out at work here.  And I have not been out in 
my personal life - what little life there is outside of 
working and trying to maintain a long-distance relationship.
    When I came to Cincy, I got a rainbow flag for my 
car.  It sat on my desk for close to a year - I found it 
again when I moved last February.  I thought about it a 
long while before putting it on the car.  There was some 
trepidation the first few times I drove out to a client 
site, and even the first few times I drove to work with 
the sticker on.  But there's been no reaction.
    Well, not entirely none.  As I was leaving for 
vacation last May, I stopped by the house up front to let 
my neighbor know I was going to be gone.  While we were 
chatting, he looked at my car, and asked "Are you gay?"  
When I said yes, he of course asked if J (who visits) was 
my girlfriend (yes!).  And as he said goodbye, he told me 
to bring him back a boyfriend.  So the only reaction I've 
gotten so far has been good.

Part III (The last part, or "why I'm writing this")
    It's harder to come out this time.  In college, I had 
little to lose.  I couldn't believe the school would throw 
me out for wearing a dyke button.  And working for gov't 
organizations, it's better to tell them up front, so that 
wasn't much of a question.  But I think I got used to a 
feeling of security during the years I was in KY.  I'm 
afraid that if I come out here, *really* come out, it will 
cost me my job.  And I need the job.  Oh, I could probably 
get another one pretty quickly, if I'm willing to move, and 
willing to take what is available.  But after my "divorce", 
my savings are low, and I'm feeling strangely vulnerable.  
It's been a while since I was really on my own.  There's 
nowhere to fall back to if I *did* lose my job.  I don't 
have qualms about being out in my personal life.  But I 
feel like a coward for not being out at work.
    There are a couple of reasons/excuses for being closeted.  
One is simply that it's easier to come out at work if one has 
a spouse, so one can talk about what the two of you did this 
weekend.  I can do some of that, but there is the little 
problem of how to explain that I'm in a relationship with someone 
who lives 500 miles away, and no, she isn't planning to move....
It does raise questions.  And so far, there have been no
queer jokes (I think my response to the attempts at sexist
humor may have clued them in).
    The bigger thing is economics.  I think there's a 
significant class component in the decision of whether or 
not to be out of the closet.  At the risk of sounding like 
the original Scarlett O'hara, one of the *top* priorities 
in my life is that I don't ever want to go hungry again. 
That's a reality, and it's not entirely rational.  Ten or 
fifteen years ago, I had little or nothing to lose, and I
could find another junk job if I lost the one I had.  
Things are different now.  I've become accustomed to 
luxuries like a winter coat, and a car that runs.  And 
I'm helping support my sister (who has recently been 
declared cancer-free, for now), and my mother.  Maybe I'm 
just making excuses - I *do* realize that folks who grew 
up comfortably well-off have the same qualms about risking 
their livelihoods as do those who have first-hand 
experience of poverty.  But if I look at my friends, there 
are few who grew up poor or working class who are out at 
work, a lot fewer than the out folks who grew up 
middle-class or higher.  Maybe having someone to fall back
on makes a difference ?
    So if there's a point to this, I suppose it's to ask 
if anybody else sees a class issue involved in the decision 
of whether to come out at work.  I *know* that my point of 
view is somewhat warped, but it seems to me that the debate 
on coming out has to include some discussion on class and 
economics, and the realization that part of what we're
(I'm) fighting is not internalized homophobia, 
but remembered despair.

Or maybe it's just that I'm becoming reactionary and 
comfortable in my old age, and want somebody else to do
all the hard work....  Does anybody else find it harder
to come out the second time (or third, or ...) ?  I
think I'd rather be told I've become a coward in my
middle years, than to think it's one more area where
people seem to work for change only until they get some
ease in their own lives.

Ayana, semi-out but moving slowly toward the light....
Return to Gay:Stories:Coming Out
The Bibble Pages, Christian Molick,