It was a question posed by Brian Lehrer, NPR host of The Brian Lehrer [radio] Show and podcast.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of The Stonewall Riots in New York City; widely considered the beginning of the modern Gay Rights Movement.
Brian is commemorating this occasion by broadcasting LGBTQ+ stories of how homophobia impacted them during the decade they came out, as well as how they experienced gay pride. The segment, Pride and Prejudice, will run through Friday, June 28th, each day covering a different decade since Stonewall: 69, 79, 89, 99, 2009, 2019.
I came out in my mid 30’s.
It was 06, two years after the premiere of The L-Word enraged three-quarters of the American lesbian population by failing to cast women who looked like ‘real lesbians’ and instead debuted characters whose appearance and stories made me feel like there might be a place for me if I dared to come out.
History tells me that the groundwork had been laid by previous generations of LGBT+’s. Still, that television show ignited a shift in the acceptance of lesbians and of lesbian life in my world that helped my coming out to land so far on the benign end of the spectrum, that when I look back now, all I feel is privileged and like my story isn’t worth telling.
Well, I am privileged. I’m white, after all. And I didn’t struggle with the fear of losing my heterosexual status in society because I figured anything I might lose from holding a woman’s hand instead of a man’s would be evened up by the black card I had in my wallet and my half of the millions I’d accrued before I divorced what’s-his-name. Which is probably why I almost had a breakdown when he defrauded me of it all. But that’s another story.
Actually, it’s not. It speaks to my privilege. And having lost some of it.
I don’t know if I would have come out had I known it would be sans money. Because when you don’t have a man by your side, the world pushes you the fuck around. And the amount of fighting required on a weekly basis – just to complete normal adulting tasks – really begins to weigh on you. And I can tell you that being able to throw money at problems makes a lot of those problems go away.
All of which is to say, it’s easy to come out when you’re white and rich. There. I said it.
About ten seconds after coming out, I was divorced, broke, in debt, and a lesbian.
Dating another lesbian.
Who was a new graduate.
With a degree in social work.
That cost her 90K in student loans to get.
Being both gay and broke shifted the tectonic plates inside my core in a way that took years to piece back together. For the first time in my life I felt unsafe, uncertain, and unprotected. Which I guess is what life feels like when you’re not drowning in privilege.
What that loss of stability did to me was light a fire inside my gut to rebuild financially. And since I fell in love with the social worker who was 90K in debt and 10 years behind me in her career, the burden to make the money naturally fell on me. For the first time in my life.
I can tell you it was a lot easier to make money when I didn’t need it.
It was only in writing this blog post that I thought of my drive for success as stemming from my need to regain power. The power that came with my hetero privilege.
That need is probably what initially propelled me into the world of media. Which is funny if you only knew how little media pays, at least in the beginning.
But what it doesn’t pay in dollars, it pays in access: Access to people. Access to opportunity. Access to belonging. And that access is power. A lot like the kind I lost.
So maybe mine is a story worth telling. Though not for reasons that are obvious.
Maybe it’s a story about what I ultimately gave up to come out. The price of coming out. And my pursuit to regain that currency. That power.
Were I to follow Brian Lehrer’s post-Stonewall timeline, I’d speak to what it was like for me in 2009. Which I vividly remember since it’s the year I got married to my wife. And marriage wasn’t legal for people like me in America or in the state I lived in.
Instead of legalizing same-sex marriage, New York State - I’m guessing as a concession - agreed to recognize any marriage that was legal in another state, which sent droves of gays and lesbians on road trips to neighboring states to marry – Steph and me among them.
It was a weird period of time in New York, 2009: That we were making progress as a nation – moving towards legalizing same-sex marriage (among other issues) – made me feel less discriminated against and more, I don’t know, advantaged, and yet I lived in a fucking state that required me to travel to a different state to get married.
At the same time, it was kind of an amazing moment to come out because I witnessed society at large begin to question and grapple with its homophobic attitudes - in real time – and change them.
I wrote a dating advice column for a lesbian publication, Go Magazine, which made me something of a B List Celesbian in New York City. Aside from the amazing parties I was invited to and the lines I got to bypass like a douchebag, it scored me an annual place on their float during the Gay Pride Parade.
Ultimately, coming out was a mixed bag for me. Easy in unpredictable ways. Almost killing me in others.
Three months from now, Steph and I will celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. We share a home and a private practice, because like the lesbian stereotype, we can’t spend enough time together.
And while my media career may have originated out of a need to level the power imbalance I felt when I first came out, my impetus to remain in it is now very different.
Today, media provides me with an outlet to realize my life’s mission: To help people live better by loving better. And for that, I suppose I’m grateful - even for the events and people that made me so desperate that I dared to reach for the stars.