Back in April I spent some time in California, spending time with friends, getting some fresh air and sunshine, and visiting all the places I’d only ever dreamed of.
High on the list of places I wanted to see was the Castro in San Francisco, one of the United States’ most well-known gay-friendly and politically-active neighbourhoods, home to the likes of the great Harvey Milk, the iconic Castro Theatre and the fabulous GLBT History Museum.
As I entered the museum I was greeted by a wonderfully chirpy man, ready to instruct me on what I could hope to see as I walked around. A typical sunny Californian, he really looked happy to see those who ventured inside for a peek, always willing to answer questions and make our visit a worthwhile one.
Then he turned to ask me, “So, what brings you here?”
I told him I was fascinated with Harvey Milk’s life and was interested to discover more by visiting the area he helped make so famous through his non-stop fight for equal rights.
My breath caught in my chest as I laid eyes on Harvey’s T-shirt, his megaphone, and all the other little items donated by his one-time partner, Scott Smith. So many personal things that once belonged to one of my idols lay directly in front of me and I became overwhelmed with sadness and anger thinking about how his life had come to such a tragic end.
As I ventured further into the museum I found myself more and more unable to speak. Photographs showing the never-ending fight for equality and expression, as well as the pain, rage and suffering caused by so much injustice and hate covered the walls.
The bravery and heroism of the protesters, students and victims displayed in these pictures struck a chord with me. This collection in particular was from such a recent period (1985-1990); From my own lifetime. And while AIDS victims now have access to medicine without the callousness and ignorance that once rained, I couldn’t help but stare at these photos and think of the wars we’re still fighting, those battles for equal rights that are still left ignored.
Cabinets displayed more and more articles, clippings, and souvenirs from the campaigns that had once rained through the streets of California. Letters to and from politicians, advocating the rights that every human being is entitled to, provided a backdrop to reports and flyers screaming to be heard.
A small corner of the museum displayed photographs, books and posters dating back to the 19th and early 20th centuries, proving that, although hidden from society, sexuality was always something people were born with and no amount of pressure from hierarchy or the “powers that be” could suppress their true feelings and natural urges.
Gorgeous displays of drag in pictures, posters, and stunning clothing and jewellery taught me all about the earliest forms of cross-dressing in vaudeville and burlesque and how it had evolved and spread all around the globe as the decades passed.
It was the screenings of marches, protests and chanting that broke me, though. The two vintage-style televisions, sat in the corner, playing footage of activists staging sit-ins, picket lines and even die-ins, throwing out the call “Out of the closets and into the streets”, shook me from inside.
The persecutions and hatred, the prejudice and bigotry, roared on in front of me as the moving pictures told their story of a revulsion so hurtful, I almost had to look away. So much denial for something so natural.
I’ve never made a huge deal out of my sexuality. I’ve never “come out” and announced it to friends and family because I never felt the need to. My sexuality felt like a normal part of me and coming forward to tell everyone what my preference was always seemed like a strange thing to do. It felt as strange as announcing, “I have two arms/green eyes/bony elbows, etc.”
But it wasn’t until I wandered around the GLBT Museum that I began to realise why these steps are so important.
This museum represented only a small portion of the world; The people who fought – and are still fighting – for equality in California and laid down their lives to be heard. So much pain and suffering was caused and so much bravery and togetherness rose up just so everyone could be able to walk down the street with their head held high and not be treated like an outsider.
When I thought about everything that had been done in this state and how much more suffering and rage had washed through the world, I began to cry. I suddenly understood the bravery so many people need to step forward, be proud of who they are and not be afraid to let the world know.
I’m lucky to come from an open-minded family who I know will always support me. Yet, somehow, I’ve still been afraid to come forward and tell them who I am. I feel ashamed of myself for holding it back for so long; For not having the balls to say:
❤ I’m a bisexual woman. I’m equally attracted to women and men.
❤ I’ve had relationships with men and relationships with women.
❤ I was afraid and confused about how I felt towards women until I went to university and met people who taught me that I wasn’t strange or unusual. Until then, I’d felt very alone.
❤ I was hurt by the friend who said my sexuality was only a ‘faze’ and that I was probably saying it ‘to show off.’
❤ I get angry and upset by people who assume that, because I’m a woman, I’m just going through an experimental stage in my life and will eventually grow out of it and settle down with a man.
❤ I am not loose. I’m tired of the assumption that people who share my sexuality will have anyone and everyone.
❤ I do not fancy you. “I’m fine with your sexuality … as long as you don’t come on to me.” … Just because I’m attracted to your sex doesn’t mean you’ve become irresistible to me. I’m not usually attracted to heterosexual women; That only happens in the movies.
❤ Two things that helped teenage me realise that being attracted to women as well as men was okay? Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Susan and Carol in Friends.
❤ I get extremely frustrated and upset by people whose reason for voting YES to Gay Marriage is: “I could never look my gay friends in the eye if I didn’t.“ That is not a valid reason. BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS ARE.
Today is National Coming Out Day, a day of celebration for those who identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender and a day to raise awareness of civil rights, the GLBT community, and that big step we all face of finally disclosing who we really are to the people around us.
So, here it is. My official and long overdue ‘coming out’.
I feel better. I feel relieved. I feel honest. I feel normal.