Coming out is a process for most people, myself included. I tried to write about it and realized that to do so in one post would be possible but not ideal. For me, it was an evolution. A collection of starts, stops, and pauses. I will write it as such.
Read previous installments in the Coming Out series.
After a summer fling in 2002, I started my third year of college on a contact high. I was more secure in my sexuality than ever before and other parts of my life were coming together as well. I had scored a great housing situation, been asked to TA the entry level Women Studies course (an academic coup for me), and been elected President of the feminist club.
At the time, I had everything I wanted except money and a girlfriend.
Though I had casually dated my fair share of people, by age 20 I had never really been in a romantic relationship. Up to then, I had just been playing at intimacy. When it happened, my first “real” relationship began much more organically than my past relationships.
I had noticed Kacey an entire year earlier when she was a freshman moving in across from my best friend, Em. We’d been back at school for only a few days when I first spotted her. I always did have a thing for redheads. Her hair and quirky hippie/grunge/mod outfit immediately caught my attention.
At the beginning of my second year, after subtly checking this girl out a few times, I casually asked Em about her and found out her name. But, Em didn’t really have much information to give. The door to Kacey’s dorm room was shut most of the time. They had spoken before but, according to Em, she was always off with her boyfriend. They had been dating since high school and had been accepted into college together.
I was disappointed but not surprised. After all, I was surrounded by women who were uninterested or unavailable. My interest in Kacey was obviously never going to go anywhere. However, that didn’t stop me from watching her every time that she crossed my path. She was really cute. It felt good to play the ‘what if’ game in my head.
It was in second semester of my sophomore year that I came into closer contact with Kacey during my Women Studies class.
I was excited to see her in the class just because I had been curious about her. But, in the end, I never really took the chance to get to know her there. I was preoccupied with showing off for my favorite professor. At the time, I was trying to bag the TA slot for the next year. It was an intense enough course that staying on top of the conversation was actually a bit stressful. And, after class I always had to run because the feminist club meetings that I led at the time were a half an hour after we let out. For her part, Kacey was one of two freshman in the class and stayed pretty quiet. In a class of about 20 people, we were certainly aware of each other but, as far as I can recall, we never spoke.
When I finally did have the chance to meet Kacey it seemed completely coincidental.
It was the first truly warm day of spring. As I walked past the library, I spotted Em’s roommate, Shannon, laying in the grass next to the pond. I said hello and was sitting with her when Kacey walked by. It hadn’t really occurred to me until then that they would know each other. They were in different circles. However, Shannon had been living across the hall from Kacey for months at that point and she quickly asked Kacey to join us. I was stoked.
She was as attractive as ever. In the sun, her hair was as shiny as a penny. She wore cat’s-eye glasses and had too many clothes on, given the heat of the day. As we sat, her fair skin started to turn pink and she had to take off some layers and move to the shade.
I was really pleased that I had good hair and a cute shirt that day. In a stroke of pure genius, I had decided to “dress up” by spending a few minutes on my hair and throwing some mascara on. In deference to the heat and as an attempt to start my summer tan, I had worn a pretty skimpy outfit instead of my usual carpenter pants and tee shirt. My tank top was lavender and had braided straps made of a thin rope that wove through the fabric of the shirt and tied in the front. The straps looked like friendship bracelets and left my shoulders nearly completely bare.
I was aware that I had really good shoulders. I was not yet aware that Kacey had already noticed them.
Until that point, I had only known Kacey in the abstract. That day, as good as she looked, she became more than just a pretty girl. She was smart, funny, and sort of peculiar in a way that I really liked. We talked for an hour or so about class and then ended up in this intense philosophical conversation about pornography and the ways in which sex work can be empowering and/or exploitative for women. I’m a sucker for philosophical arguments and had a great time duking it out that day. I realized that Kacey and I could actually be friends.
Years later, Kacey told me that she had come over because she wanted to know me better. She thought I was cool. (Weirdly, for the first time in my life, I actually was kind of cool. I had no idea.) By the end of the conversation, she did know me a bit better. I don’t remember it but, according to her, I actually outed myself when trying to prove a point. Apparently, it was an important moment for Kacey: when I mentioned being bi, I went from cool girl to girl crush.
For my part, I found Kacey to be very attractive but was absolutely sure that that attraction would never go anywhere. She was a romantic interest but not a possibility.
As a young woman who was attracted to other women, I was constantly surrounded by girls whom I found attractive but whom I knew would not be interested in me. The pool of available queer girls felt incredibly small.
Less than 4 percent of America identifies as LGBT. If only half of those people are women then, with just 2,200 students, it follows that there were approximately 45 queer girls at my college. I can tell you that that feels about right. I probably could have named about 15-20 lesbian or bi women (a handful of whom were dating each other). The rest wouldn’t have been out. In 2001, women were still coming out in their mid-twenties in instead of in their teens like today.
That day by the pond was at the very end of the school year. I saw Kacey again but never really got to talk to her. After that, summer happened, April happened, and then it was fall and I was back at school. Other than a smile and a wave from time to time, I didn’t talk to Kacey at all until six months later.
As with most interesting things in college, it all started with a party.
When my friend Anna turned 20 in October, there was a huge bash at her on-campus townhouse. That night, she met her first love, Jared, and Kacey and I began a dance that would last for the next few years.
Kacey was by herself when I saw her at Anna’s. We said hi and were happy to see each other. We chatted a bit to catch up and she eventually mentioned that she’d broken up with her boyfriend. I was thrilled. Not because she had broken up with her boyfriend, but because she seemed to want to share something with me. We were talking as if we were already friends and that was really exciting for me. I liked Kacey’s energy a lot. She had this way of sounding adamant about everything that she was saying.
After a few minutes, it was immediately clear that we were going to hang out for the night. For the next hour or so, we talked and danced and drank. Every time I moved from one room to another, she came with me, and vice versa.
It soon became weird, actually. Something felt off.
Obviously, I knew that I was attracted to Kacey but, in my head, she was a straight girl. Untouchable and uninterested in me. I wanted to get to know her because it seemed like we could become friends and I was intrigued by her. It didn’t even occur to me that there was a possibility of a relationship. But, that night she was different. Something started to change in my mind.
The girl who had sat in the sunshine, her hair shining like a candle, and adamantly argued with me about whether women should have the right to prostitute themselves was nowhere to be found.
Instead, she had ditched the glasses for mascara and heavy eyeliner. Kacey’s hair looked much darker, too (turns out, she had dyed it a much deeper red). Her hippie clothes had been replaced with a soft-goth to go out partying. She looked more mature. A little (faux) dangerous. A lot hotter. And, she was dancing too close and looking at me too long.
I started to flirt with her. It was pretty innocent really. Subconscious. Sort of like when a little kid meets someone new and wants to be liked. I blushed a lot and glanced at her constantly to see if she was paying attention. She definitely was and it made me even more bashful. The alcohol, dimly lit room, and loud music seemed surreal because I was concentrating so hard on her.
It seemed as if we were in a bubble in the middle of a crowd of strangers.
Kacey responded to my cues nearly immediately but, instead of side glances, she turned up the volume and moved on to casual touches and ‘accidentally’ bumping against me as we danced. When she took my hand just to move me a few feet away from other dancers into a dimmer corner of the room I finally started to get it. I had this sudden moment of clarity through the haze of alcohol. It hit me that I was having a momentous moment and I consciously decided that I needed to drink less and investigate more. So, I invited her back to my house.
The five minute walk through the chilly fall air cleared everything up for me. We were both definitely tipsy but it was impossible for me to miss that there was romance afoot. I started to believe that maybe my instincts were right and that she was actually into me. For a moment, I believed that magic was possible.
Unfortunately, that made me incredibly nervous. How could I be sure? She had never mentioned being into girls and she had had a boyfriend for the last four years.
The magic didn’t make it into my living room. When we got there, my roommates were home but on their way out. The light was too bright and we ended up having to make introductions. I don’t know if Kacey noticed but I took one look at Em and knew that she was on to me. She employed the best friend eyebrow twitch, head tilt, knowing look combo kung foo. I felt like I was in the spotlight and I wondered if the other roommates knew what was going on, too.
My nerves got to me and by the time they left, Kacey seemed to feel uncomfortable, too. When the others cleared out, there was no subtle reason to dim the lights. I forgot to put on music to help the situation feel more comfortable and, when we sat down, we didn’t sit close enough together to keep the vibe going.
My game was way off point.
We talked for another twenty minutes or so while I wondered what to do. Then, I noticed that she was tired and that I was more buzzed than I thought. I realized that nothing was going to happen that night and started to wonder if I had been making the whole thing up. We said goodbye and had an awkward hug. It was absolutely crushing. Like I’d lost something important but couldn’t remember what.
My only saving grace is that we made plans to hang out again.
I spent the next two weeks agonizing over whether or not she was interested. It was unbearable. We hung out a few more times and there were moments when I was sure that she wanted me. All of our meetings ended up with the same awkward goodbye and me seconding guessing myself. I just couldn’t screw up the courage to make a move. Em was so tired of listening to me agonize about it that she was ready to kill me.
One day I realized that it had been almost a week since I’d seen her and I knew that I was blowing it. I decided to give it a real shot and asked her if she wanted to go to Annapolis with me to have dinner. I hoped against hope that she would understand that it was a date. Annapolis was about an hour and a half away and it was adorable.
It screamed date.
And it was. We drove to Annapolis, had dinner, walked around, got ice cream, walked around some more, and finally started making the drive back. I spent the entire night feeling like an idiot for getting such jitters and put off making a move at every step on the way. We had a great time but it was ridiculous. When we finally got back to my townhouse, the roommates immediately made themselves scarce. It would have been funny if I hadn’t felt like I wanted to throw up. Weeks of ‘will we’ or ‘won’t we’ had tied my stomach in knots.
In the end, Kacey practically tackled me on the couch. We ended our first kiss by laughing into each other’s mouths and then talking about how dumb we both had been.
It was such a relief to know that the game was over.
It only took a few days for Kacey to answer most of my questions about her own coming out journey. She had always been a little attracted to girls but never thought that she would act on it. Yes, I was her first try at it. No, no one knew yet.
It turns out that she had been watching me for nearly as long as I had been watching her. Kacey had noticed me way before we started taking Women Studies together. She had come over to the pond that last spring not to speak to Shannon but because Shannon was her in to get to me. That night at Anna’s party? She barely knew Anna. She had been there because she knew that I would be there.
Her roommate was aware that Kacey was trying to get with me but that was it. No one else at our school had any idea that she might be interested in girls. She hadn’t told her friends back home, her long time (now ex) boyfriend who went to college with us, or her parents. They were very conservative Catholics.
When Kacey asked if my family knew, I had to tell her that I had been stalling with most of them. She couldn’t believe that I was so open on campus and so closeted at home. She said it didn’t seem like my style.
Honestly, I couldn’t believe it either…
By age 20, I was minoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies and planning on writing my senior thesis on lesbian adolescents. I had my first serious girlfriend and was out to all of my friends (both at school and at home), my professors, and my employer. My mom and one of my brothers knew.
I had stuck my head out of the closet a year and a half before. It began to dawn on me that I simply couldn’t stall any longer. It had become ridiculous to hide it from the rest of my family. What if someone found out before I could tell them?
At some point the circumstances had changed. I was no longer just keeping a secret; I was outright lying.
The time had come and it was perfect. I would be home in a week for Thanksgiving and would arrive at my dad’s house twenty-four hours before anyone else. It was the best opportunity that I would get and it was time to throw the closet doors wide open for good.
Coming soon Coming Out, Part X: Thanksgiving