This repurposed closet is your space to set up reminders of your queerness, creating a way to feel comfortable while you’re out of your element.
By Briana Lawrence
As a woman who frequently travels to different conventions across the country, six hours of driving isn’t that great of a distance to me. Back when I was an 18-year-old college student, however, that was a monumental amount of space between myself and my family. I grew up with my dad in a Chicago suburb, both his side and my mother’s side of the family living in various parts of the city. College was my first major trek away from home, and like most undergrads, I was excited to live life on my own (while still being blessed by the occasional care package). In between unnecessarily early lectures and trying to figure out my major, I got a crush on a girl I met online, had my very first taste of gay panic, sucked it up, admitted my feelings, flung myself out the proverbial closet, and started a long-distance relationship with said crush.
It was a hell of a first semester.
Throughout my university years, I would come to accept myself and grow more comfortable with my sexuality. My roommates knew about my relationship because my partner would visit me monthly. My Livejournal was full of posts about her and we’d chat on AIM instant messenger every night — did I mention this was the early 2000s? At conventions, we’d hold hands, share the same bed, cosplay together, hell, we even started tabling in artist alley together.
Everyone knew about us… except the folks who required that six-hour drive.
When it was time to go home for the holidays, I’d leave any hint of me being queer back on campus. I labeled my partner as just a friend, hid any queer books I bought, and didn’t dare bring up the fact that I wrote queer stories — both fanfic and original. College me was a queer Black girl, but back home I’d been perceived as heterosexual for 18 years, especially since I grew up lining my walls with boy band posters and dated a guy my senior year of high school. Even I believed it to be true until proven otherwise.
So, when I stepped off the bus, I walked back into the closet.
Truthfully, this momentary need to take down the rainbow flag isn’t uncommon within the queer community. Some folks aren’t ready to come out yet. Others live in an unsupportive home. And then there are the ones who are out but mom is encouraging them to make it through this one awkward dinner; grandma won’t be around much longer, after all, so really, is there a point to announce yourself as queer? For me, it was a combination of things. My family wasn’t spouting out hateful nonsense, but there had been just enough moments to make me hesitate. One big moment was being my dad’s refusal disapproval of me potentially being queer when an aunt “playfully posed a question.” after we all watched a movie that had a queer protagonist. Sidenote: relatives of the world, stop doing this. Unless we ask, don’t pose these what-if questions. They aren’t fun and could end up alienating your supposedly favorite niece. Thanks.
With the emergence of National Coming Out Days, Pride Months, and ye olde We’re Here, We’re Queer, Get Used To It mantra, it can feel like a betrayal to the community to put yourself back in the closet. Worst of all, it can feel like a betrayal to yourself when you go from being out and proud to closeted for the sake of a family dinner. But in this case, the closet isn’t a sign of repressing your identity: it’s a survival mechanism; a safe space for those moments where you have to pass the mashed potatoes to your closed-minded uncle.
The holidays are coming. Queer folks are preparing to venture to family get-togethers to eat their cooked meat and dinner roll of choice (King’s Hawaiian rolls, just sayin’). If you find yourself in the same position I was in back in college, I want you to remember that this revisit to the closet is temporary. It’s a place to breathe when you know you have to step into an uncomfortable situation. This repurposed closet is your space to set up reminders of your queerness, creating a way to feel comfortable while you’re out of your element. Fill the closet with supportive hashtags, your social media gays, and the folks you normally talk to—the ones who know who you really are. Fill it with things that make you happy, like the new Pokemon game or that there Star Wars series with the baby Yoda we need a Build-A-Bear plush of.
During my college years, I’d escape to this closet to chat with my network of queer friends and my partner. Eventually, it became a method of reassurance when I finally started coming out to people at home. It took some time, but I reached a point where I didn’t need it anymore. Ultimately, that’s the end goal: to stop keeping your queerness in a singular space. Currently, I’m at the point where I can spend the holidays with chosen family or stay at home and get intimate with Disney+. I have no problem calling out anyone who is loud and wrong because I’ve cultivated enough folks who have my back. For the times where I don’t have the bandwidth for the call out, someone else in my circle does… or I just walk away from the ignorance, not feeling the need to sit through it because “family.” But before I had the strength to decline an invite or go off on someone’s problematic comment, I’d step in and out of the closet until I was ready to stay out for good.
Until you reach that level of contentedness, there’s nothing wrong with ducking back inside for a moment. It doesn’t negate your queerness. You’re not turning your back on the community and you certainly aren’t a coward. You’re still here. You’re still queer. And soon, you won’t care if they’re used to it — because you are.
Briana Lawrence is a freelance writer and self-published author who’s trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series, or the pieces she writes for various websites. When she’s not writing about diversity, she’s speaking about it at different geek-centric conventions across the country, as she’s a black, queer, nerd girl at heart. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of comics, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to JRPGs. You can find her work at www.magnifiquenoir.com