The nuances of sharing our identity

by Jillian Drinnon
The Rural Gay Columnist

Sharing. Sharing, or coming out, is something I think about a lot. How much do I share? When do I share? Who do I trust? I don’t think this is an uncommon phenomenon for the average gay person living in a conservative, small town.

In my teens, I thought about sharing constantly. What not to share was very pressing on my mind. My peer group consisted of the young people in my church group. Some of the attendees were Methodist; others were Mennonite or Southern Baptist. Any and all sects were there, but there were certainly no gay people. Well, no openly gay people.

No matter what I did to try and be close with the Christian farm kids I spent my time with, I had a secret that prevented me from ever being honest with any of them. Even worse, I knew I would be shunned by all of them if they knew of my ungodly sin.

So, I hid. I grew my hair down to my knees, I wore the plainest clothes I could, and I said everything I needed to say so that I could be included. Over time, I had managed to check all the boxes I needed to so that I could pretend to be a perfectly average, straight, girl. The only problem was I lived in a constant state of dread.

I spent about four years wrapped in lies. By the time I was 16, I felt so devoid of an identity and so hollow within myself that I finally decided to call off the charade; this was not because I was brave or ready, but rather because I was exhausted.

When I came out, I thought that would be the end of obsessing over what I shared, but as many queer folks in the South learn, that wasn’t true. Sure, I wasn’t hiding anymore, but now that I was out, I had to navigate social situations to manage my own security. I didn’t want to lie to anyone about “what guy I was dating,” but I had a lot more to think about when my boss was asking me that question rather than my friend. No longer was this a personal problem, but a professional one too.

I wish I had an answer as to how much to share about my gayness. I’d love to say that I am open and proud around every person I meet, but when my sexuality can affect my employment, my relationship with a professor, or the love I receive from my relatives, I don’t have a clear-cut answer. Unfortunately, sometimes being out means I may lose a great deal.

To be totally honest, I actively choose not to say a lot of things about myself in a professional and familial environment. Immediately when I step into a reunion, a family holiday, or a place of employment, my identity, especially my gay one, magically disappears. Why? Well, I don’t know if I am willing to sacrifice certain things to be non-withholding of my sexuality.

There is a chance some people may view my approach to sharing as reductive or potentially harmful to the cause of the LGBTQ+ community, and I understand that. Personally, however, I think everyone has their own comfort level when it comes to sharing, and whatever level that may be, it deserves to be respected.

I may not share everything about myself all the time, but there is nothing more valuable to me than to represent the queer community well.

Copyright The Gayly. 8/25/2019 @ 8:59 p.m. CST.