Things just fall apart sometimes. Things also fall in to place. Occasionally at the same moment.
Earlier in the year I had Martha Wainwright’s ‘Bloody Motherfucking Asshole’ on frequent rotation in my head. (I was angry, okay?) But my anger was not only directed outward. In that iconic song, Wainwright says
you say my time here has been some sort of joke
that I’ve been messing around
some sort of incubating period
before I really come around
I had been waiting for someone else to say this to me to save me from having to deliver the news to myself. Waiting wasn’t working for me. I sent myself a memo.
The end of a marriage is a public event. People who’d never reached out in support of the couple before suddenly wield opinions. Strangers, Centrelink workers, small-town acquaintances, parents of your child’s friends, your hairdresser, your online connections; any and all of these people might judge you, question you, probe you for weaknesses and blame. Any of them could (and some of them will) ask you, but what about the kid/s? Any or all of them could make it about them; their own pain, their own parents’ failings, their own investment in your coupledom as a kind of talisman for monogamy.
Some people, the ones who always treated you as one part of a boxed set when you were married, will struggle the most.
(Caring about their struggle whilst you’re in the middle of your own pain will register lower on the list of priorities than belting out Martha Wainwright in the shower, by the way.)
There are many reasons I’m not with Bean’s dad anymore and I’m not going to list any of them here.
But I will say what one of them isn’t.
I did not leave my marriage because I’m queer; nor am I queer because I left my marriage. There are a lot of explanations for why I didn’t take the step of talking about the ways in which I do not fit straight until now but, sure, living the Heterosexual Marriage Lifestyle often seemed like such a powerful imperative that there wasn’t much point in finding space for anything else. Wearing a wedding ring was a shibboleth, mentioning my husband when people asked about my pregnancy or later my child, a ticket to social approval. I benefited from heteronormativity even as it erased me, erases me, and people that I love.
In traditional narratives of coming out, people always ask, when did you know? And the answer is, for me, that I didn’t know and I always knew. I wasn’t able to express and I was always expressing. I was hiding in plain sight and I was never hiding. Perhaps I was never in plain sight.
Critiquing our culture’s narrow way of conceptualising sexuality and gender — and love — has been one of the themes of my parenting and of my writing about parenting. And, not unhappily, it is becoming one of the themes of my life. Because queerness is not a hat I’m trying on. It’s not even about a relationship I’m trying on.
The confessional part is this: I have always been queer. I do not remember a time, from when I began to have romantic and sexual inclinations, that those were exclusively directed at boys and men. But I also do not remember a time during my childhood or teen years where I even had the words and concepts to articulate the ways that I experienced desire and love. Knowing that I liked boys was enough, given the scripts from which I had to choose, to tell me I was not a lesbian. So I wrote my story in straight lines. I’m re-imagining it now, embracing the apocryphal entries, in a mostly positive process. And I want to write the next chapter boldly, even though it’s a little embarrassing for a thirty-something feminist to be only just learning how to express her queerness.
Embarrassment is one thing. Sadness over lost time and estrangement from self is another.
I am here, writing so personally, not only because speaking soothes me, but also because I am angry. I’m angry at the motherfucking assholes who perpetuate violence – both physical and mental – against queer youth. I am angry about the lack of visibility of bisexuality which leads to the relegation of people like me to a footnote, or a punch line.
Most of all I am writing because of this: someone said to me recently that at least Bean will find it easier to come out to her parents if it turns out that she is not heterosexual.
The best we can hope for for our children is not that there will merely be safe ports in the storm for them to reveal their true selves when they have reached a certain age. We can do better than that. We can allow them to express and explore their developing gender identities and sexualities in safety from the very beginning. We can create a world where children don’t ever ‘come out’ to their parents because their parents are witness to unabashed expressions of queer orientation from whenever they emerge. Children can, quite simply, be permitted to be who they actually are. No coercion, no erasure, no shaming.
The ritual of coming out is only a product of the lucrative heteronormative trade in closets. So however Bean comes to express her sexuality in the future, I only hope she uses her wit and loving heart to undermine the closet business that trapped her mother for so long. The rest of the story is up to her.