Category Archives: Coming Out

Boots

img_0139I buy my first pair of Dr. Marten’s before I come out. Before I know I’m a lesbian.

I buy them at a teen-oriented store in the mall that I’m too old to be shopping at.

Brown boots. Seven eyelet lace-ups. With the yellow stitching at the bottom, circling like the moons of Jupiter.

In many ways, my coming out is fluid. A smooth continuation of who I am. An ocean wave that sweeps over me and keeps going.

After I come out, the boots seem to have purpose. I stand taller in them. I stomp harder in them, the AirWair rubber soles bouncing off the pavement like basketballs.

I wear them on dates.

I wear them to piss my mother off.

I wear them when I’m angry.

I wear them when I’m not.

I wear them as a calling card. Rae Theodore, Lesbian, they say with each step.

Friends of mine are planning on attending the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21, the day after the inauguration. It’s not a protest against Trump or the election results but a march to shed light on women’s issues, including sexual assault and workplace discrimination. You can read more about it here.

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I ask W if she wants to go.

“You want to change the world with me?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say.

I look at the route of the march. Two miles from the Lincoln Memorial to the White House.

I need to break in my boots before January.

* * *

Do you have something you wear that makes you feel powerful?

Gratitude (#NationalComingOutDay)

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Just these three lesbian movies please and a pack of microwave popcorn.

Thank you to the clerks at my local Blockbuster store who rented me all of those lesbian movies when I was trying to figure out if I was a lesbian. You never batted an eye, even when I rented When Night Is Falling two times in a row for “research.”

Thanks to Melissa Etheridge for her 2001 memoir The Truth Is … that I read and re-read when I was coming out. And for the album Yes I am. If you could announce to the world on the cover of an album that you were, I knew I could tell the people in my life that I was, too.

Thanks to the Indigo Girls. Along with Melissa, you provided the soundtrack to my coming out. Somebody bring me some water. Please.

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I still love you, Jessica Stein.

Thank you to Jessica Stein. I was coming out in real life when you were coming out in your movie Kissing Jessica Stein, even though you weren’t really gay and ended up with the guy at the end. Helen was super sexy. What were you thinking? Anyway, when I was sitting in the movie theater with my Raisinets and newfound knowledge, it was like we were both coming out together.

Thank you to my therapist who organized coming out groups for women married to men. I thought I was the only one in the world. And to all of those women who participated in those groups. It was an honor to come out alongside you.

Thanks to Sisters, the lesbian bar in Philadelphia, that provided a safe meeting place for people like me. And the cute bartender who always called me “hon.” (Yes, I know she called everyone “hon.”)

Thanks to Ellen and Billie Jean and Martina and k.d. and Rosie.

Thank you to my brother who told me he just wanted me to be happy.

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Xena, you are a badass babe.

Thanks to Xena: Warrior Princess, who I caught in reruns that summer. I drew my warrior strength from you. Aieeeeee!

Thank you to my friends who just nodded their heads. “Of course,” they all said.

Thank you to everyone who came out before me and paved the way. The life I live today is possible because of you.

Thanks to everyone in my life who accepts me for who I am and gives me the courage to be myself every single day.

Happy National Coming Out Day!

* * *

Who do you need to thank for your coming out?

Love

Like you, W and I we are heartbroken over Orlando.

I sat at my computer much of Sunday trying to work and trying not to feel. I was unsuccessful at both.

I had an overwhelming urge to do something. Anything. I could feel the itch on my skin.

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See that word in purple caps?

I glanced over at my filing cabinet and saw a poster for a yoga/wellness festival that a friend of mine is putting together. A single word in purple ink caught my eye: LOVE.

I sent off a clumsy e-mail. Can we table there and raise money for Orlando? I asked. Maybe hand out rainbow ribbons. Maybe do something else. Just brainstorming right now. Let me know.

An hour later, I got the go ahead. A 10′ by 10′ spot and three free passes to the event.

The next day, W came up with a plan. I ran around most of Monday securing supplies.

 

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Here’s a portion of the flag.

On Monday night, we arrived at a local UCC church for a prayer vigil for Orlando. We started our prayer flag there. Those in attendance wrote messages of love and support for Orlando. They tied the rainbow-colored strips of cloth side by side on a rope.

We will take the prayer flag to the festival on Saturday. We will spread love. We will be love.

Because isn’t that what’s it’s all about?

Being able to love openly and freely and safely.

As a butch woman, I think about safety more than W. I’m what you call a hundred footer. From 100 feet away, everyone knows I’m gay. (Or thinks I’m a dude, but that’s a different post.) Every time I reach for my wallet in my back pocket or straighten my necktie or use the restroom that corresponds with my gender, the skin on the back of my neck stands up because I know I could be in danger.

Orlando is a reminder that we are not safe. Not even in those places we thought we were. Especially in those places.

It is also a reminder that we have work to do. I have recommitted to writing my stories and sharing them with anyone who will listen.

So, on Saturday, we will wear our rainbow colors. We will hand out rainbow ribbons. We will collect prayers and messages of support and donations that we will forward to the LGBT Orlando Community Center.

Maybe it won’t matter, this elaborate arts and crafts project. Maybe it won’t make a difference. Maybe it will.

I think about the conversations I’ve had this past week.

I think about my 60-year-old transgender friend telling me about waving the hell out of a giant rainbow flag at a prayer vigil in Philadelphia and marching around City Hall with his cane. You, friend, are my role model.

I think about the middle-aged Latino man I met at the local prayer vigil. He had just come out after having spent most of his life in the closet.

I think about the older woman who grabbed a strip of orange cloth on which to write her message to Orlando. Openly weeping, she told me how she had lived in a small town growing up and how her gentle-hearted brother had been terribly bullied.

At least we are doing something.

We are showing we are not afraid. That we aren’t going away. That we are proud of who we are.

We are starting conversations.

We are talking about the one thing we know about. The one thing we know like the back of our lover’s hands.

thFA256KIZLove.

Orlando will make us love harder and fiercer. Today, I feel more in love with W than ever before.

We are experts on love because we’ve risked it all for love.

Here’s what we know in the deepest place in our hearts: Love is love.

And love always wins.

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If you’d like to take part in our prayer flag, leave your message in the comments section. I’ll transcribe your message on a strip of cloth and tie it to the flag. We will be sending the completed prayer flag to the LGBT Community Center in Orlando.

Prince

“I’m not a woman

I’m not a man

I am something that you’ll never understand”

— Prince, “I Would Die for You”

His music was the soundtrack to my life. I discovered Prince when most of my peers did — after the movie Purple Rain was released in 1984 and the songs on the soundtrack became a permanent part of our everyday life.

images7FZ0N531As a senior in high school at age 18, I played “1999” every morning before school on the turntable in my bedroom. One morning I would play Side 1, which was comprised of “Little Red Corvette,” “1999” and “Delirious.” The next day, I would flip the album over and play the two songs on Side 2, “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” and “D.M.S.R.”

I never tired of those five songs, so I never made it to Side 3 or Side 4 of that double album.

imagesMS624EGMI’m not sure what it was that drew me to Prince and his music. It didn’t sound like anything else I had ever heard. But there was something else. He was dirty and poetic. A cross between Shakespeare and a porn star. Something about that combination appealed to me as I started my journey into adulthood. He seemed to understand all those things I didn’t — sex, love, God, life — so I listened to his music in an effort to crack the code.

When I went off to college, I found a used record store and bought all of his old albums — “Prince,” “Dirty Mind,” “Controversy.” I studied them more than my text books.

My parents never taught me about the birds and bees, but Prince did.

He was my sex ed teacher.

The only reason I know the words to the Lord’s Prayer is because it’s in the middle of his song “Controversy.”

Prince was my Sunday school teacher, too.

He was my church.

He was my religion.

He was my Elvis.

He was my Beatles.

He showed me how to adore and appreciate women.

And he taught me how to be funky.

I know what you’re thinking. You, Middle-Age Butch, got funky? Tell us another tale. What I’ll tell you is there’s a fine line between funk and swagger. And any butch worth her boots has a little swagger in her. You just got to love yourself. That’s what Prince would have said.

imagesZHT5V4H7I don’t think I realized why I was always so fascinated with the purple one until he dropped his name and became the symbol. The symbol was a perfect mix between male and female.

That’s the thing about Prince.

He transcended gender.

I always thought I was in love with the pretty purple boy with the high heel boots and the puffy blouses and tight little body. Back in the day, this in-the-closet lesbian always had a thing for pretty boys with high cheekbones and beautiful hair.

I wasn’t really in love with Prince. We would have made a strange couple.

But he did show me how to love myself.

* * *

My all-time favorite Prince song is “Little Red Corvette.” What’s yours?

 

 

 

Does my story matter?

In the next few weeks, I am planning on reaching out to some local groups (gay-straight alliances, PFLAG, etc.) about my book.

The people I contacted in November and December said to try back in the new year.

In this in-between time, I am worrying that my story isn’t relevant in this day and age.

Mine is a story about growing up feeling different. It is a story about being a tomboy and not understanding why that me — the one who wore boys’ clothes and could throw a baseball farther than anyone on our block — was so offensive. It is a story about having feelings for other girls and then squashing them out of fear of what other people would think. It is a story about marrying a man, because isn’t that what I was supposed to do and wouldn’t that make my parents proud. And then coming out in my late 30’s, radically altering the trajectory of my life plans.

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A lesbian with a talk show. Gasp.

Things are so much different today. Kids are out at school. Same-sex marriage is legal in this country. Ellen is no longer in the closet and she has her own daytime talk show on a major network.

So, does anyone need to hear my story? Will anyone care? Will it make a difference?

I was reading Curve magazine the other day and Editor-in-Chief Merryn Johns had this to say:

“We lesbians, especially older lesbians, must record our histories so that the younger generations have a point of reference for their own lives, and have something to build upon.”

images[6]That’s what I’m trying to remember. That my story is a Lego block. And that others — this generation of young people who have so many more freedoms than I did — will use it to build upon, brick after brick after brick.

Until it forms a tower so tall it pokes into the clouds.

* * *

What do you think? Are our old-timey stories still relevant?

My butch bucket list

A friend’s husband died a few weeks ago.

We are going to the funeral tomorrow.

I’ve read several versions of the eulogy.

Each time, I’ve been struck by one line.

Bucket listThe man who died was puzzled by the concept of the bucket list.  This was a foreign concept to him, because he lived his bucket list.  As a result, he left this world with no regrets.

I wonder how many of us can say that.

I have always been a late bloomer.  I didn’t come out until my 30s and often regret time lost being young and carefree without a pretty girl or two by my side.

I didn’t start writing creatively until I was in my 40s. I think of all of the blogs and books that I could have written.

But still, I am grateful that I did come out. I feel lucky to have written a book that was published.  I am excited about what the immediate future holds for me as I am challenging myself to tackle things out of my comfort zone like public speaking, mentoring, advocacy and activism.

Today, I am thinking about my bucket list differently. Not as a list of goals to be kept in a drawer and checked off over time but a list of things to do now.  When I am able.  When I still have time.

So, in honor of a friend who knew what was truly important and how to get the most out of life, I’d like to share my bucket list:

Bucket List

  • See Fleetwood Mac in concert
  • Tailgate (and otherwise party) with my Penn State friends as often as possible
  • Write
  • Publish
  • See The Book of Mormon
  • Take W to New Orleans
  • Throw out the first pitch at a baseball game
  • Go on an Olivia cruise
  • Perform as a Drag King
  • Take art classes
  • Learn how to make really good meatballs
  • Go to a strip club
  • Learn how to flyfish
  • Go to Phillies spring training in Clearwater, Fla.
  • Visit the Baseball Hall of Fame
  • Get a hot stone massage
  • Get a koi tattoo

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What about you?  What’s on your list?

Here’s what put the “Fest” in OutFest

Philly PrideI think I’ve finally recovered from OutFest.  If you don’t know, OutFest is the national Coming Out Day block party in Philadelphia.  Tens of thousands of people attend every year.

This year, I paid for a table to promote Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender.  I sold books, handed out business cards, talked with anyone who stopped by and raffled off some sweet bowties to people who signed up to follow The Flannel Files.  A big shout out to all of my new followers!

I pretty much broke even after adding up all of my expenses.  But still, it was a beautiful gay day.  And me and W’s anniversary day to boot.

So, here are my top 10 highlights from OutFest:

10. Everyone who stopped by and talked Fun Home the Musical and “Ring of Keys” with me.  You really know how to make a butch’s day.

9. Those people who gave me fist bumps and high fives and said “I respect that” after I gave them the elevator pitch to my book.

8. The woman who wanted her picture taken with me because I had written a book.

7. The mother who wanted to buy her fresh-out-of-the-closet teen daughter the book, but the daughter wanted nothing to do with the book or me. “Buy it for yourself,” I told the mom.  And she did.  God bless you, mom and good luck.

6. All of the butches in all of their ball cap and cargo shorts and spiky hair glory. You are my tribe.  (Silent head nod.)

5. The guy who told me that he liked the cover to my book.  “We should all wear capes,” he said.  Amen, brother.

4. All the bois who read the back of my book, nodding their heads and saying “yep” to growing up tomboy, being called “sir,” etc.

3. Drag queens.

2. Me and W wearing matching “I Love My Wife” buttons and having everyone congratulate us when they learned it was our anniversary. I felt that people were truly happy for us and understood how big a deal it is that we were able to marry.  Marriage is something our community doesn’t take for granted.

1. Dinner out at a Cuban restaurant with family and friends after.  Our friend who married us last Oct. 11 — the “Right Reverend” — toasted us.  And everything came full circle.  And all was right in the world.

What Fun Home taught me about being gay

When I was coming out 10 plus years ago, I was pretty sure I was doing it all wrong. Not so much the coming out part, but the being gay part.

Looking for guidance, I sent letters and e-mails to a variety of “accessible” celebrity lesbians. And Barney Frank. By “accessible,” I mean the rung below the power lesbians. The writers and activists who I thought might actually write me back. I asked everyone to identify the single most important thing that a gay person can do to further empower the community.

Alison Bechdel

Alison Bechdel

I wrote to cartoonist Alison Bechdel, among other mildly famous lesbians. Back then, she was best known for her Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip. The magic that is Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home wouldn’t happen until 2006.

I can’t find Bechdel’s response, but I remember her sending one.

Everyone pretty much gave the same answer. Be yourself. Be out. It wasn’t the sexy revelation that I was looking for.

W and I often talk about how her experience as a gay person is different than mine. When I walk down the street with my short hair and cargo pants and baseball cap, it’s a political act. I’m out for the world to see in all of my boy/girl glory. Not so much for W. Unless I’m with her.

Flip to last Saturday and W and I are in New York City watching Fun Home the musical on Broadway.

Ring of Keys

Ring of Keys

I’ve heard the butch anthem “Ring of Keys” perhaps a hundred times.

But sitting there in the theater when the luncheonette doorbell rings and Sydney Lucas belts out “Ring of Keys,” I had an epiphany. I had been doing it right all along. With my short hair, dungarees and my lace-up boots.

Because that’s the best thing any of us can do. Be yourself. Be out.

It takes courage. And practice.

But if I can do it, anyone can.

I’ll blog some more on Fun Home, but wanted to get these thoughts down before they left me.

Me and Xena: Warrior Princess

Xena: Warrior PrincessToday is Xena’s 20th anniversary.

A big ayiyiyiyiyi Xena battle cry to all of my Flannel Files followers on this very special occasion.

I’ve been reading the Xena posts and tweets on social media, and I must say it’s taken me back in time.  Not to ancient mythological Greece when Xena roamed the countryside thwarting evildoers with the help of Gabrielle, her trusty sidekick.  But the late 1990s when I was struggling with my sexuality.

The first time I watched Xena: Warrior Princess, I was hooked.  There was something about the show, something I couldn’t explain that left me wanting more Xena all the time.

Let’s be honest.  The Warrior Princess came with an extra helping of cheese.  The bright orange kind that comes in a can and is spread with a knife.

But I was transfixed.

Lucy LawlessWhen I finally admitted that I was attracted to women, I told myself that was it.  I mean, Lucy Lawless is gorgeous.  Why not watch a television show that features a beautiful woman, even if it’s campier than a weenie roast and ghost stories told around a fire?

Here’s the thing that took me a long time to realize.  I never wanted to be with Lucy Lawless.  I wanted to be Lucy Lawless.  Or, more accurately, Xena.

It was her special blend of girl power that I craved.

That I’ve always craved.

Wonder WomanIn the 1970’s, it was Charlie’s Angels and Wonder Woman and Jaime Sommers, TV’s Bionic Woman.

But those women had nothing on Xena.  With her sword and her chakram, her leather, her armor and a hot blonde by her side.  Xena was badass.

I think about the name of the show — Xena: Warrior Princess.

And I think that was always the attraction for me.

Warrior.  Princess.

Not that I’ve ever been a princess or wanted to be one.  (Makes gagging gesture with fingers and open mouth.)

It’s that blend of masculine and feminine that I find so appealing, that magical combination that I live.

There’s always been a lot of Xena: Warrior Princess inside me.

I just never realized it until I started watching the show.

If you’re really into Xena, you can read my Xena sword story here.

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What about you?  Xena fan?  Yea or nay?

How to win friends and more — be yourself

I am leaving for a writers’ retreat tomorrow.

I am excited and nervous.  I am in an almost-constant state of excitement and nervousness these days.

I tell myself not to feel guilty.  That it’s ok to spend money on this adventure.  That I am allowed to take time away for myself.  Old habits are hard to break.  Guilt is hard to outrun.

From the get go, W and I were not one of those couples who asked permission.  We are both adults with free choice and free will and our own spending money.

As I sit here writing this, I feel gratitude for her support.  For supporting this crazy habit called writing, which requires me to carry around tiny notebooks and pens at all times and jot down ideas and phrases at the most inopportune moments.  That has me leaving bits and pieces of my work and my writing tools in our bed, turning that soft place where we sleep into a paper-cut and pen-poking hazard.

I think back to those days when I was still in the closet and had a fear of being alone.  I thought people wouldn’t like me if they knew I liked women.  I thought people wouldn’t like me if they knew the real me.

There’s nothing like publishing a memoir to remove any last, forgotten items from the back of the closet.  A mangled umbrella, a partnerless tube sock.

What I’ve learned is that I actually have more friends now that I am out and open and me.  Butch me who likes women and neckties and suspenders and baseball.  Weird me who likes Wonder Woman and Cream of Wheat and books about dysfunctional people.

I have a newer writer friend who gave me a glitter pen to sign books at my book launch party.  And this awesome “You Rock” rock that I’m taking to my writers’ retreat.

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This is how I like my glitter — in a pen.  And thank you for noticing that I rock.

I have old friends who gave me this awesome metal sculpture stamped: “Rae Theodore, Published Author.”  They tell me they are proud of my achievement.

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Do you see the likeness?

It’s not about material things.  So many people have given me a thumbs up by sending thoughtful e-mails, offering a kind remark or just being present in my life.

So, the moral of the story?  Be yourself, be honest, be kind.  That’s good enough for most folks.  At least the ones who matter.

Oh, and if you’re real lucky, you might find your better half.  The one who makes you believe that you can do it, that you deserve it, that you deserve her.  The one who becomes your biggest fan and thinks everything you do is perfect (all the while admitting her bias).  The one who says you look cute in a bowtie and a necktie and in that baseball cap that you wear backward on the day you don’t feel like showering.

I dedicated my book to W with this: “To my wife, who thinks me a better writer and person than I really am.”

And I think how lucky I am to have found someone who always sees the best version of me, even when I can’t.  Especially when I can’t.

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How does your partner support those things that make you who you are?