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  • Writer's pictureDr. Danna Bodenheimer

On Childhood Secrecy, Queerness, and Coming Out to Oneself

Last night I was talking with my wife about Taylor Swift singing the song "Maroon" on Karlie Kloss’s birthday. If you don’t know what I am talking about, don’t worry. Let me briefly explain: I became obsessed with Taylor Swift about a year ago. I love her music, went to the Eras tour, went off the deep end when it appeared she was dating someone deeply problematic. I love her. It feels like real love.

Of course, it’s not.

What I am really obsessed with is figuring out if Taylor Swift is queer, and it’s an endlessly painful process that won’t produce any real results. I am Gaylor. But I am really a closeted little kid. While I am fully “out” in my adulthood as queer, it still feels like I am desperately searching for hints of queerness all around me, so I can be a little less lonely as a kid and a bit more normalized as an adult. How normal would it be to be gay if Taylor Swift were gay? I started this process of searching for signs of queerness around me when I was five or six years old. I was in kindergarten. I had never heard the word gay, in any way that I am aware of. But when one girl was partnered with another girl in gym, I became jealous and possessive in a way that scared me. It didn’t feel like a feeling that I was going to easily be able to regulate or hide. I knew it was a different feeling than other kids were experiencing. I understood friendship rivalry and knew this wasn’t it. I understood, but still dabbled in, the elasticity of the words "best friend". Because I knew it was different, I knew it was a secret. Because I knew I was different, I was a secret. This is what we do when we first become aware of our differences, right? We seek to hide and bury them as quickly as we can. And the more we try to do that, the more we are throbbing inside. But I was completely devout in my intention to never share it. It was awful really, because I also wanted to seek joy and connection and love, and I wanted it to be queer love. I just couldn’t tell anyone, or myself. I don’t even understand what my plan was. I was in so many intense relationships with girls that I could have sworn were romantic and that I could feel throughout my entire body, but I would never say anything. And they didn’t either. I don’t even know what was true for them. I was so scared of knowing, so scared of the possibility that I was reading it all wrong. Then those girls would start having boyfriends and having sex with them. This was always my worst fear and biggest source of confusion. How could they be interested in that path, when my whole heart felt so intertwined with theirs? Honestly, drinking and doing some drugs helped. It helped a lot. It allowed me to be with boys enough that I was able to pass, and loose enough with girls that I got some sort of deep seated need met. The only relief from the closet was a faux, unarticulated one—drunk and high in a web of lies. Even though I was in dialogue with myself the whole time, it was really a dance of knowing and not knowing. In psychoanalysis, this is called "the unthought known". I knew it, but I didn't fully allow it to manifest itself into a full cognition. I think we are wizards at preventing cognitions, us queer people, but we don’t have the same power over our feelings. My feelings were always growing, but I would not assign words to them or meaning to them through the articulation of them to anyone, including myself. I spent all of elementary school and high school knowing and unknowing this secret, moving between haze and clarity. I am in my mid-forties now. I came out when I was 19. I was drunk when I did it, but I did manage to do it. I told my parents I had a girlfriend, and I bought all the books and posters and flags. I immersed myself in queerness. I want to say that this was relieving, and I think it was. But I drank myself through the first years of it and I think that it kept the pain of the years of loneliness and silence at bay, somehow. When I got sober, I was 24 and the realness of it all became more terrifying than relieving. I fell in real love and faced the risk of real intimacy and commitment. It made me sick to my stomach. I was panicking all the time. It took years to settle into. And I do mean years. I was jumping out of my own skin as I was beginning to ease into the sober reality of my truth, my difference. This is the thing, though: the sobriety, the time past, even the coming out—it doesn’t fix the secret-keeping. It never heals what I had to do myself and with myself to get through the years of having a completely distinct internal versus external life. It doesn’t heal or answer my questions about the lack of queerness around me. Was I the only gay one? Honestly, it still feels that way. The girls I went to high school with (with the exception of maybe 2 or 3) seamlessly seeped into the predictable tides of heteronormativity. Even many of the girls and women I was with who said they were queer floated away from the queerness into the seemingly irresistible embrace of sameness, gender norms, husbands, and inexplicable divisions of labor. I think the feeling of being a secret never really ends. And being a person and a secret at the same time is really a terrible thing. Searching for signals to try to decode other people’s secrets doesn’t feel great either. When you are a therapist, as I am, you get a little bit of a behind the scenes look at it all. You see how unsure everyone is of everything. I also see how often we choose to fit rather than to risk our own self actualization and fullness.

I think queerness and secrets are heartbreaking. I also think they are the best and coolest shit ever. It is sort of super hero-like to have a rich internal dialogue with oneself that is ongoing and life-long, which was totally set off by being queer. I am going to keep trying to figure this out about Taylor. I know no answer will come. And I will take care of the little kid inside of me with the balm of the Indigo Girls or whoever else is trying to throw more than secret hints out to the rest of us–so that we can connect, as we need.


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