Irrespective of whether we are queer or not, we all have our closets. Sometimes they are built for us by someone else and we are forced to live in them, and sometimes we build them ourselves in the hope of not being targeted. Very often, we even have multiple closets that we are forced to hide ourselves in. Sexuality, gender, body issues, handicaps, behavior, religion, you name it and a closet can be made up for you to be stuffed into. We all even relate to them very differently, some of us having more trouble adjusting to its stuffiness while others just get with it out of lack of choice. But the only common thing among all these closets, the one thing that keeps people locked in them, is the sense of shame. A sense of shame associated with the very act of being; being someone that does not fit (and does not wish to fit) with the conventional mold.
Sexuality, gender, body issues, handicaps, behavior, religion, you name it and a closet can be made up for you to be stuffed into.
This is exactly why coming out of a closet is a daunting task for anyone, irrespective of the type of closet and the history associated with any of them. The magnitude of time, energy and emotions associated with that first step outwards, is nothing short of an achievement that one should be proud of, for there are a million people (sometimes including our own selves) who would just love to call us out and shame us till we shut ourselves back in. The first step towards drowning all these voices out into the background, and stand firmly in your own light and your own right, is self-acceptance. In simpler, kitsch phrasing, as a 1.93m tall, gender-bending, historical LGBTQI+ figure and now television reality host keeps repeating ‘If you can’t love yourself, how the hell can you love somebody else?’.
My experience was no different.
My experience was no different. Growing up in a strongly cis-oriented, heteronormative society, I had my fair set of closets to deal with. As someone skinny, I was constantly told that I was not eating enough, that I would fly away with the wind, that I could be placed in a biology lab to explain the skeletal system, that I would never need an X-Ray scan anyway, that I was too thin to even cause a shadow and so on. As a bookworm, I was repeatedly told I should leave behind my books and pencils, and go play outside with other ‘normal’ boys. As someone differently mannered, I was ridiculed for my tendency to place my hands on my hips, for standing with all my weight on one foot. I was judged for talking long hours to my mother. I was judged for not being like the other boys around me, not wanting to learn to ride a motorbike (the ‘epitome’ of masculinity).
Basically, I had had enough telling, accusing, judging and shaming to last a lifetime inside of me in the form of all kinds of complexes, self-criticism and uncertainty in my own identity. When there is such a heavy external pressure to blend in in terms of behaviour and expectations, it is difficult to know oneself better as an individual entity. It is difficult to recognize oneself as a person and not as a predictable product of social norms and rules. In the absence of a safe space in my immediate environment, I needed a space of anonymity where I would not be afraid to experiment and to get to know myself better. For me, I had this opportunity as I left for Switzerland to continue my studies. After many series of experimentation, uncomfortable questions asked and left unanswered, loves gained and lost, I understood that unless I was at ease with myself, no one else could be.
I had to come out, first of all, to myself before I could come out to others.
Once I had achieved this milestone, there was no turning back. No more apologizing, no more self-deluding, and most importantly, no more self-shaming! I realized now, that me being at ease with myself, made it easier for everyone else around me to accept me wholly.
Of course, since we all constantly evolve, I am still experimenting. But now, by not judging myself for my choices, the whole process is rendered more streamlined. I know now, for example, that I did the right thing by not buying that sweater that I was eyeing last week. For If I had, I would be regretting it now.
Similarly, seven years ago, I also knew that if I didn’t write back to a gorgeous red-haired French boy, I would regret it later. A few years ago, I looked back at what had been, and I wrote to him on our fifth anniversary the letter below, as a short testimony of me coming out to myself.
The fountains had frozen, while the ducks had cold feet. And I felt a million tiny shards of ice plunge into my cheeks as I made my way to the railway station. I had a date, and I too had cold feet, literally and metaphorically.
Uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable in my shoes. I was uncomfortable with my professor’s teaching techniques. I was uncomfortable being so far from home. I was uncomfortable with my sexuality. I was uncomfortable with my bony arms, tiny wrists, sweaty hands and my fat nose.
I was, also, uncomfortable with the thought of another date going awry.
At the station, there you stood: red-haired, long gray coat, gorgeous burgundy shoes and taller than I had imagined. You bent forward to greet me with the customary three pecks on the cheek. I bent forward awkwardly to follow suit.
Here I was, once again, putting my heart out there for decent bidders. The last two had returned it back to me (“It is pretty but doesn’t sit well with my furniture. It’s not you, it’s my furniture.”). Three strikes and you’re out, right? You were the carefully chosen third.
I fumbled through the whole evening. I tumbled through the whole evening. I was breaking all hope of ever seeing your thick red-haired beard ever again. The evening was like a game of pinball where each post is a blunder and you should just let the ball fall through hitting the least number of posts. Except that I was scoring a personal high score having bumped into the posts verbal diarrhea (repeatedly), unimpressive cooking, infantile choice of film, and the worst of all, un-sexy sport clothing shopping. As you left me the next day, I decided to drown my lost hope (and celebrate my high score) on a fatty-fat-fat cheesecake.
That was five years ago.
Five years have passed, and I am clearly a different person now. I’m less uncomfortable. I spend a lot of time (and a lot more money) on clothing. I speak French fluently, and I am more rarely lousy at cooking. I revel in my imperfections. In fact, now, I even care for and nurture them like they were vital organs in my body. Even my thinning hair doesn’t seem so disastrous. I not only wear my oily skin, I own it!
Two days after you left, you wrote back to me. I couldn’t understand why. You said, “Ça va être dur d’attendre deux semaines” (“It will be hard to wait another two weeks”). I still couldn’t understand why. But of course, I acquiesced. I would get to see and feel your thick red-haired beard again!
And months later, as we held hands in public (a first for the both of us) on that sunny, windy autumnal day on the bridge over the Rhone, I let myself go. Ironically, I had never felt closer to myself. And since then, I have only grown closer; to you and to myself.