Graphic by Nick Griffin (He/Him)
The day UCLA sent us home, I felt the identity I spent months cultivating, months accepting, recoiled into hiding. The validation I received from queer circles at UCLA, those that accepted who I am and who I wanted to be, all went down the drain as I walked out the door of my freshman dorm and moved back into my childhood room.
Before the pandemic, I grew into who I wanted to be: Judah. Judah isn’t my birth name, but it’s the name I chose for myself. The euphoria I felt introducing myself as “Judah” for the first time to other people was unmatched. It was akin to the first time I kissed my now-boyfriend. I started to dress more androgynously. I got comfortable wearing baggy sweaters and shirts to cover my breasts (I couldn’t bind at the time). I cut my hair to the length I wanted. I was presenting more masculine, toying with the idea of medically transitioning. Being Judah made me feel complete. Judah was the answer to the questions I’d been asking myself the last few years.
Then I was shoved back into the closet on March 13, 2020.
I have a complicated relationship with being “in the closet.”
For years, I’ve been stuck in that miserable place. It was a toxic relationship. The closet was some sort of cradle for me, the baby queer still stumbling around to find their footing. It was a safe place, and yet, it was a constant reminder that I wasn’t living my truth. The pandemic solidified that for me when I was called by my deadname, and referred to as a woman multiple times. I tolerated the misgendering, the assumptions of my sexuality all because I was afraid of having to explain every little complexity of who I am. Or maybe it was because I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, especially the cishet people around me who still made “I identify as a pencil” jokes or “LGBTQIABCDEFGH…” jokes. I felt unsafe and uncomfortable with these people knowing who I am.
A few months before the pandemic, I wrote an article about how alienating being queer felt in a predominantly cishet society. It’s how I felt living in my childhood home: alienated and scared. The closet was there to welcome me back with open arms, whispering in my ear that everything was okay and that I could stay there for as long as I wanted to.
I thought about coming out of the closet for a long time. The pandemic gave me room to think about what “the closet” was, and whether or not the anxiety of “coming out” was needed. Six months was enough time for me to ponder about how I felt being “closeted” and how exactly I could finally get out of the weird, complicated, and ridiculously toxic relationship I had with the closet.
“Coming out of the closet” is a phrase that came about in the 1960s. Many see this as “the essential next step” of our forever evolving identities. If you aren’t cishet, you, as a queer person, would almost be required to come out. Coming out is often a plot point in queer media: the fear, the intimacy, the validation of identity through coming out.
You’re supposed to come out.
(This is no knock to folks that do come out. Coming out is not an easy task and they have all my respect.)
What I’m saying is that there is this double standard when it comes to coming out. Cishet people don’t need to come out. Their identities are the default, the “norm” if you will. No one comes out as “cis” or “straight.” People just assume the default about you.
I wondered if coming out was worth it. Should I announce that I’m Judah? What would that even look like? I have pondered this question for six months while trying to fight off every ounce of doubt I had about my own identity. I was in the middle of one of the worst identity crises I ever had in my life.
I was living a double life. For about an hour every week, I could live as myself through OutWrite meetings and online queer circles. Even so, I still distanced myself from groups that had a core part to play in myself figuring out my identity because I was afraid of being outed. Part of me felt icky for hiding my identity away, and Judah started to feel like an alter-ego. I then had a rather disgusting thought, one that still makes me cringe to this day.
I could live as a cishet woman for the rest of my life, hide Judah away forever, and be stuck in the confines of a closet that cishet people created. The fear of being rejected by my own family in the middle of a pandemic seemed so close yet so distant that I was constantly walking around on eggshells, careful to not slip up when talking about everything I did on campus to my family members.
This fear quickly turned into frustration: the tears, the constant debating of my existence as a queer person, the feeling of being trapped in a place I was forced into by cishet society… I was an animal cornered by cishet standards, trying to fight a force stronger than myself. There were days where all I could think about was me and how I existed in the spaces I occupied.
I also didn’t want to explain myself. It’s not that I was or am ashamed of being the non-binary Chicanx baddie that I am, but it felt pointless. The closet felt like a glass cage, with no windows or doors. I didn’t want to be gawked at, questioned by people that had no investment in my personal life, people that wouldn’t be affected by my identity as a queer person. “Coming out”, for me, started to feel like a chore, a task no longer motivated by my spite to exist but out of necessity.
I had two choices during my six months in “Cishet Hell” : come out or don’t come out. Despite its downsides, the pandemic gave me time to think about how I wanted to express my identity and what “coming out” meant to me as a queer person.
It wasn’t like I was socially distancing myself from my identity. I’m Judah, regardless of it being publicly known or not. I think the hardest thing is to overcome the barrier of acceptance. My parents aren’t exactly understanding of genders outside the gender binary, despite being accepting of sexuality. My grandparents were a no-go, especially my grandmother who occasionally loves to have a conversation about queer folks that end up being queerphobic.
Yet, is their acceptance or denial even worth it? Do I really need the approval of them to exist as Judah? Because the truth of the matter is, I’m still Judah whether they accept me or not.
And that’s when it struck me.
I have been quarantining in a closet that didn’t exist. My complicated and long relationship with the closet has hinged on how others perceived me but not how I felt about my identity. Prior to the pandemic, I came to terms with the fact I owed no one androgyny, masculinity, or femininity. The way I expressed my gender and sexuality was my business and no one else’s. My identity hinged on spite. I existed simply by virtue of wanting to exist even when the world constantly tells me that I don’t. I didn’t need the approval of outsiders that didn’t want to, or care to, understand who I am.
I let my hair grow out. I started incorporating my pronouns while referring to myself in daily conversation. I woke up every morning, looked in the mirror while getting ready, and said “Looking good, Judah.” These tiny acts of gender affirmation went a long way for me. They were effective in getting myself out of the closet because the closet made me lose all notions of myself.
I also came out to my twin, or rather, I introduced myself as Judah. If anyone understood what I was going through, it was them – whose coming out experience wasn’t handled at all with grace.
It’s baby steps, really. Coming out shouldn’t be an obligation. Simply existing is revolutionary in a world that constantly tells you that you need to fit a mold.
So no, I didn’t “come out” of the closet. I took a sledgehammer and destroyed all notions of it, because at the end of the day, I exist. I’m non-binary. I’m pansexual. I’m not a myth, I’m real.