Category Archives: Coming Out

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.

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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.

* * *

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.

xx

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.

xx

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.

* * *

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

Leaving Normal: An Interview

I had an opportunity to sit down for an interview with Mrs. Fever over at Temperature’s Rising.  She’s doing a whole series on coming out and asked if I would participate and lend my butch perspective.

Mrs. Fever has been a Flannel Files follower since back in the day and one of my all-time favorite commenters.  Go check it out.

Bonus: There’s an excerpt from my book at the end of the interview from that time College-age Butch got busted checking out a girl’s ass.  You know you want to read that.

The soundtrack to my life

Grease albumWhen I started writing my book, I noticed a theme.  Besides a love for the ladies (here’s to you Farrah Fawcett and Olivia Newton-John), music played an important role in my life.

The soundtrack to my pre-teen days is the two-record album Grease, perhaps coupled with the theme to Charlie’s Angels“Once upon a time, there were three little girls who went to the police academy …”

My friends and I bowl on a team we name “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Bowlers.”  We are not fans of the Beatles’ classic album but of the Bee Gees remake.

John Mellencamp’s “Warmer Place to Sleep” had been playing on a boom box right before I have my first kiss.

I come out after praying using the words to the AA Serenity Prayer and the lyrics to the Prince song “Controversy.”  Ok, so most people know those lyrics as the Lord’s Prayer, but I was a heathen back then.  And the Purple Man was about as close to religious as I got.

Tell me about it, Middle-age Butch

Tell me about it, Middle-age Butch

I’ve gone through the book and made note of all of the quoted song lyrics and music references.  (I’ve even included the Charlie’s Angels theme song and “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” which is how this baby butch felt about Olivia in her skintight black leather pants and red high heels.  Have mercy.)

So, yeah, the soundtrack to my book.  You can listen to it here via Spotify.

If it puts you in the mood, you can still pre-order a signed copy of Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender.  Follow the instructions here.

You can pre-order a copy from my publisher here.

Or, if you’re the patient type, you can pick up a copy on Friday when the book goes live on Amazon.

* * *

How about you?  What songs would be included on the soundtrack to your life?

* * *

Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender Soundtrack

1. Superman by R.E.M.

2. Black Leather by Joan Jett

3. Controversy by Prince

4. Munsters – Theme Song

5. Lola by The Kinks

6. Like the Way I Do by Melissa Etheridge

7. Charlie’s Angels – Theme Song

8. More Than a Woman – Bee Gees

9. Hopelessly Devoted to You — Olivia Newton-John

10. Look at Me I’m Sandra Dee – Stockard Channing

11. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Theme by They Might Be Giants

12. Don’t Give Up on Us by David Soul

13. Warmer Place to Sleep by John Mellencamp

14. Laverne and Shirley Theme Song

15. A Little Bit Country-A Little Bit Rock ‘N Roll by Donny & Marie

16. Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash

17. Only the Good Die Young by Billy Joel

18. Paradise City by Guns N’ Roses

19. American Pie by Don McLean

20. Seventeen by Winger

21. Talk Dirty to Me by Winger

22. Runaway by Bon Jovi

It all goes back to the past (or does it?)

Whenever my mother and I argue, I’m transported back to the year 2001 when I came out.

My mother told me I shouldn’t live my life openly as a lesbian until my son turned 16.  He was a toddler.

She told me lesbians get AIDS.

She said other things, but those are the two that stick with me, the ones that I carry around in my pockets, even on days when I’m trying to travel light.

We had a disagreement the other day.

xx

Xena, this lesbian misses you.

And there I was.  Back in 2001.  Imagine a younger, thinner Middle-age Butch.  Kissing Jessica Stein was out in theaters.  You could still find reruns of Xena: Warrior Princess on TV.  *Sigh*

There is nothing worse than believing that a parent does not accept you for who you are.  For who you have always been and will always be.  I feel judged for something over which I have no control.  I feel like I will never be good enough no matter how many good deeds I do.

I am 47 years old, and I still want my mother’s approval.

When I was an adult, my mother told me how she used to watch me and my brother play football through the kitchen window.  We used to play pick-up games of tackle football with the neighborhood kids on the stretch of grass in our backyard.

It is a pleasant childhood memory.

Our yard was bordered by a creek that formed a sideline that flowed quietly as we called plays in loud staccato voices.

Everything was measured in seconds.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi …

xx

Everything seemed electric and alive.

When we broke down time like that, we could feel each blade of grass, soft-sharp on the palms of our hands, staining our skin and the knees of our jeans lime green.  Everything felt electric and alive.  The grass, the dirt, the sky, the sun, our young bodies running as fast as our legs could carry us.

My mother says she was “mortified” watching me toss around my male playmates like sacks of flour.

The word “mortified” sticks with me, too.

It means she felt embarrassed, ashamed or humiliated.  In French, the word “mort” means death.

In my mind, my mother would rather be dead than have a daughter like me.  One who as a child could tackle a boy twice as big (wrap them up at the waist).  One who liked boy things.  One who still likes boy things.  One who likes girls.

When I was blowing off steam with W after the incident with my mother, I jokingly said I should transition to a man.  Maybe then my mother wouldn’t be so ashamed of me.

“This is my son,” she could say.  “Isn’t he handsome?”

“This is his wife.”

She could pay for the top surgery, we joked.

I wonder if this would make things better or worse.

I don’t have plans to transition.

xx

This is where the secret meetings of butch lesbians take place.

For right now, I like being me.  I like wearing men’s clothes and baseball caps.  I like wearing neckties and my Timex Weekender watch with its oversized face.  I like watching ballgames and drinking beer.  I like tattoos, army boots, sneakers.  I like girls.  I really like girls.  The way they smell.  Their curves.  Their cleavage.  I like going to Home Depot and quietly nodding at the other butches as if we are members of a secret club.  I like getting my hair cut so short it feels like velvet on the back of my neck.

I wish my mother got it, got me.  At least a little bit, once in awhile.

As I start to lose interest in writing this post, I check my Twitter feed.

Marianne Williamson tweets:

“The past is over.  It can touch me not.”

— A Course in Miracles

Good Lord, don’t you hate it when the universe interferes with your sullenness and self-righteousness?  Curse you, universe!  Curse you, Marianne Williamson!  (Makes angry lesbian fist.)

Maybe my mother isn’t the one who needs to change.  Maybe I do.

 

Happy Birthday, Janet Jackson!

xx

My friend, Janet Jackson (not really my friend)

Last week was my friend Janet Jackson’s birthday. Her name is not really Janet Jackson, but she used to dance in the streets of our college town like Janet Jackson — Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty — did in those videos from her hit album Control. What did you expect? It was the 80s after all.

Typically, Janet Jackson and I mail birthday gifts back and forth. Usually, the gift is emblazoned with the logo of our college alma mater.

That’s where we met. College. Janet Jackson and I lived on the same floor in the same dorm. Bigler Hall, Clarion House, 1985. We lived at opposite ends of the floor, which is symbolic of how we live at opposite ends of the state of Pennsylvania.

Initially, Janet Jackson thought I was weird. Can you imagine that? Closeted college-age butch weird?  (Three things that are really weird about Janet Jackson: 1) She has abnormally short fingers.  2) She gets all blotchy when she drinks beer.  3) She thinks the Liberty Bell is in London.)

At first, Janet Jackson wasn’t charmed by yours truly. In addition to finding me strange (the outrage!), Janet Jackson thought I was annoying. There were many weekends when she banned me from attending parties after-hours collegiate activities with her and her gang of co-eds. (Not only was real Janet Jackson’s blockbuster album called Control, but pretend Janet Jackson had control issues.  Oh, the irony, said the English major.)

But then something happened, and Janet Jackson and I became co-horts, friends even.

We had such adventures.

There was the time that we attended a kegger on top of a mountain. You can read about that here.  Or the time that at the bar when we encouraged people to chug a beer from our friend’s shoe. It was a brown flat, if you must know. Who can forget the time that we organized the “You’re Flying Higher Than a Kite” bar tour or carried buckets of grain punch out the windows of Janet Jackson’s dorm room as the resident assistant busted our party?

But it was always more than just beer and parties and hangovers and crazy stories the following the day that always started with the words “it was really late, and we were really drunk.”

Permed hair = the 80s

Permed hair = the 80s

We had contests concerning whose permed hair was taller (again, it was the 80s) and gave each other silly nicknames. We spoke in running jokes. A word or short phrase — “the cranberries” — would cause us to laugh hysterically.

When we left school, we kept in touch. We both got married and had kids. But we always made time to get together. Janet Jackson and I returned to our alma mater for football games. We took road trips. We saw The Lion King on Broadway, visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, went to a Steelers game.

And then I came out.

I waited for my world to change. I thought my friends would be ok with it all, with me, but I wasn’t sure. How could I have been?

But they were ok. And I was ok. We were ok.

I often wonder about the science of friends. Sometimes we grow apart, sometimes we outgrow them.

xx

Friends are like this.

And sometimes we grow together like different branches on the same giant oak.  We take our own paths, twisting and turning this way and that way as we aim for the bursts of sunlight that shine through the leaves. But at the end of the day, we share common roots.

Dorm meetings and frat parties, painted faces and football games, Sunday brunch at the dining hall, late nights at Roy Rogers … those are our roots.  The roots that Janet Jackson and I share.

Keeping with tradition, I did get Janet Jackson a birthday gift. It will mail out tomorrow — nine days after the fact. Janet Jackson won’t sweat the delay, because we’re those kind of friends.

But here’s another gift from me to Janet Jackson:

Dear Janet Jackson, I hope in 100 years we’ll still be growing together, our knotted, gnarled limbs reaching upward as we sway and creak in the wind.

Oh, and one more thing.

The cranberries.

Outed by God

xx

Have you ever been here?

I’ve been in that hollowed out place in the earth this past week or so.

If you’ve ever suffered from depression, you know all too well the place I’m talking about.  It’s filled with shadows and spider webs and bone gray nothingness.  It’s the land of fatigue and apathy and why-the-hell-should-I-bother-anyway?

I just finished up my coming out chapter for my memoir, and my awakening came from a very serious bout of depression.  So, I’ve been slogging through the past.  Thanks, memoir.

Naïve me: Oh, why can’t I be a fiction writer like all of my friends?

Blunt me: Because your ego is the size Dolly Parton’s breasts.  Not just one, but both of ’em.

Girl meets girl

Girl meets girl

Now, most lesbians realize that they’re lesbians in a more organic way.  Girl falls in love with girl.  See Ellen and Portia.  Or, Ellen and Ann Heche.  Ok, skip that example.  But most of the women that I know who came out later in life fell in love with a female friend or a co-worker or a neighbor.  And there they were — head over hiking boot heels — dissecting diagrams on scissoring, becoming vegans, ordering flannel shirts by the dozen, following around a Melissa Etheridge tour, organizing potlucks for community events.

But Middle-Age Butch?  Yes, I was attracted to women over the years.  I sold myself on the concept that I was just admiring the beauty of the female form.  Because, damn, that soft flesh and those curves that seemed to roll for days. And anyway, didn’t all girls prefer the company of other girls?  And didn’t all wives at one time or another daydream about having a threesome with a hot blonde that was really a twosome because their husbands weren’t included in this fantasy?

I never really put it all together until I was in my 30s.  I was depressed.  Out.  Of.  My.  Mind.  What did that look like?  I wanted to hide in a tiny, dark, enclosed space like a closet.  Yes, for real, in a closet or under a desk or in some other place that would shield me from the rest of the world.

I had been dealing with depression for the better part of a decade, so I knew the slippery slope that I was sliding down.

And that’s when I started to pray.

Now mind you, I’m not a religious person.  I wasn’t brought up going to church or indoctrinated in any faith.

I'm a lesbian because of this dude.

I’m a lesbian because of this dude.

So, basically, I just cobbled together what I knew: the Serenity Prayer that I had memorized from tagging along with a friend to AA meetings and the Lord’s Prayer from Prince’s song Controversy.  I asked God to show me who he intended me to be.

I kept this up for several weeks and then one day it hit me like a ton of rainbow bricks or a boat load of flannel shirts or a truckload of Dr. Marten’s or …. I could keep this up all day, folks.  I was a lesbian.  It just popped into my head as if I was Horton and the word “lesbian” had been whispered into my ear by a very intuitive Who.

Me.  A lesbian.  Who would’ve thunk it?

And the rest is history.  But not herstory, because I hate when womyn do that.  D’oh!  (Note to angry feminists: You cannot just change the English language.)

So, the moral of this story is:

Be careful what you pray for.

Or maybe, God’s okay with gay.  In fact, he actually encourages it when you’re …. um, gay.

Rainbows can come from mud puddles?

Or maybe it’s that we all need to get really still sometimes and listen for that small, quiet voice that tells us what we already know.

* * *

So, let’s open this bad boy up.  Coming out … tell your story.

Why my coming out was like the YA novel Divergent

DivergentI just finished reading Divergent, a young adult novel written by Veronica Roth.  It was sort of a cross between The Hunger Games and Harry Potter.

To summarize, Divergent is a novel about a dystopian society in Chicago whose citizens are members of one of five factions: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite.  Each faction is named for a human virtue.  At age 16, students undergo an aptitude test and are told the faction that they are best suited for (think Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter books).  However, the final choice belongs to the students and they reveal their decisions in a big ceremony that reminded me of the reaping ceremony in The Hunger Games.

Here’s the catch: If a student selects a faction that differs from the faction of his or her family, he or she can only have contact with family members once a year on visiting day.  It’s faction over family in this story.

The beginning of the book reminded me of my coming out.

xx

Are you certain I’m Gryffindor and not Sapphos?

When I came out, there was no Sorting Hat, although that would have been cool.

From the look of that flannel shirt and those sturdy shoes, you must belong to the House of Sapphos.  

Or, aptitude test.

You have racked up a perfect score for the faction Lesbian, a tribe of women with a fondness for potlucks, the classic TV series Xena: Warrior  Princess and cats.

But at a certain point, I came out and chose to live my life as an out lesbian.  The lesbian part wasn’t a choice, but I did have a say in whether I would stay in the closet or not.  By choosing to live my life openly, I strayed from the path that my parents wanted me to take.  In some respects, we live in different worlds, different factions.

Back then, their faction would have been called something like Discrete or Shhhh.

There is no yearly visiting day, but more often than not, our visits come on holidays or birthdays or other special occasions.  I’ve learned that I need tall fences and well-marked boundaries to maintain our relationship.

As I look at my paperback cover of Divergent, I notice the book’s tag line for the first time: “One choice can transform you.”

Oh, Veronica Roth, how very true.