Coming out… and out…and out

So I’m doing this practicum working with the youth librarian in a public library. My supervisor has been really great about encouraging me to bring my own ideas about things I’d like to work on. I’ve contributed a few little bits, thoughts about the summer reading display, suggestions for my “edgy” titles flyer. But anytime she’s asked if I had any ‘big type’ ideas I’ve said “Um, not really.”

Which is a complete lie.

I had an idea, and I’ve had it from the beginning.

Day of Silence is coming up next month, and though it’s more of a school thing then a public library thing, I want to do something at my practicum for it. I want to put up a display, a prominent display, of books with LGBTQ characters in YA books and information about Day of Silence and what its all about and some resources for Queer youth. I also want to reach out to the GSA of the local high school and get them involved. I’d really like to get some suggestions from them abou their favorite queer books, and include a little blurb they’d write about why they liked them with the books on the display. And I’d have one there too. Good idea, yeah?

I am, after all, doing my culminating project on Services to LGBTQ  Youth (not to mention I’m a member of the queer community), and since I’m at a practicum working with youth, it makes sense that I’d like to engage the baby-queers among them. Right? Right. Also, logically, I’m a practicum student, not an employee. They’ve taken me on for the semester and they can’t exactly fire me. The worst they can do is say no and then I’ll leave in 9 weeks and if there’s any awkwardness it will all be done then. So I should just bring it up and see what happens– right?

This was my inner dialogue for the past few weeks. So why did it take me until now to speak up about this moderately brilliant idea?

Because I was scared.

No really.

Me. The Lezbrarian. The token queer. The girl in class who is always talking about gender roles and smashing the patriarchy. The one who writes endless papers about gay things. Who tweets with the hashtag #lezbehonest. The super gay one. I was scared.

Because I still never know what the reaction is going to be when I propose something like that, or when I come out to new people in a new environment. I can’t help but picture the worst. I run through the encounter in my head and look at all the possibilities. Outright disgust and insults. Mildly covered contempt. These are fairly unlikely, but still totally possible.  The uncomfortable silence, the reticence to say the word “gay,” the awkward substitutions of “people like that” or “lifestyle choices,” followed by a vague statement about ‘looking into it’ that we both know will never happen–this is the real possibility. One I dread. One I avoid. I’m Scandinavian– we don’t do conflict. We pretend that everything is fine. It’s not one of my better traits, but I avoid confrontation like the plague. I get a sinking feeling in my stomach and my heart pounds even thinking about it.

So I waited. I took mental notes. I clocked my supervisor’s comment that Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was a great book and she highly recommended it. I listened  as she talked to other people in casual conversation and about books. I watched the way she interacted with the teens. Today I heard a snippet of conversation that gave me enough to think I could trust her.

So I pitched my idea, and said I’d be happy to do all the leg work. She was delighted! She said one of the TAB kids from a few years ago went through a hard time when he came out. And I mentioned that I wished there had been more YA books with gay characters when I was coming out. I’m pretty sure she was surprised (I often get read as straight around here) but didn’t react in any overt way, except to agree that having more queer YA was a very good thing. She needs to clear the display space, and talk to a few people, but it will probably go ahead. So all is well in Lezbrarian land, but I have to stay that it still scared the shit out of me.

It doesn’t matter how many times I do it, coming out to people who hold power over me is always difficult. I always get nervous, tight in the chest. I wonder what they’ll say, what their face will tell me that their words do not. I’ve been lucky. But there are other people working in the library that I wouldn’t have ever mentioned it to. Even in a liberal community, in an accepting field I still survey new territory with trepidation before deciding how open to be.

So why do I do it?

I do it to end the silence. I do it because I believe that being visible as a queer person in every community I can is one of the biggest things I can do to contribute to a change in attitude about queer folk. I do it so that the people I know can never again say that they have never met a gay person. I do it because there are still so many people who can’t speak out. They can’t because they fear physical harm. They can’t because they fear emotional harm. They can’t because they fear mental harm. Each of these harms is equal in import. And while I fear these things also, I am lucky to be in a place where I fear them less than others. So if I can speak out I feel that I must. I spent too much time being silent.

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