15 June 2010

Submission for Queer 13 Zine Project

The following piece is my submission for the Queer 13 Zine project. If you would also like to participate, please write Lindsay at icecream.deluxe@gmail.com by June 20, 2010.

When I was thirteen I was in the closet. Literally squashed in a small wardrobe amidst hanging towels, coats, and shoes. It was summer art camp at Goucher College in Towson, MD and I had just returned to the dorm room with my roommate for a shower. My roommate Rebekah was at camp for dance while I was there for ceramics, which unless you are Demi Moore in Ghost, is not as sexy as you might imagine; while Rebekah spent her days learning to express emotion through her body, I was assembling pinch pots and worrying over air holes in clay slabs. So, when Rebekah suggested with smoldering eyes that we shower together, I giggled a bashful acceptance completely unbelieving that anything so fanciful could ever happen. But then as soon as she shut the door, her clothes were off and my lovely roommate stood before me completely naked, all dancer grace even at 13. And that’s when I panicked.

Oh, the eternal awkwardness of 13 made degrees more complicated by my conflicting fascination and shame! Growing up in my family where I played afternoons under the serenely watching eyes of Buddha in my basement and spent every Sunday on my knees before a crucified Christ, where damnation operated on multiple levels and personal sin carried repercussions for both ancestors as well as potential progeny, my every emotion, but especially my sexual emotions, carried a hefty burden of guilt. Guilt thick like the heady musk I was swimming in at 13 with my art camp fantasy standing naked before me. I did what any good Chinese girl would do: I burned scarlet and ran for the closet. There hidden by the cheap paneled walls, pressed under the hangers with Jesus and Buddha looking down from some heavenly above, I shook with fear, with exhilaration, but I could not find the courage to step out.

While there are ballads dedicated to the scornful regret of opportunities missed, I know that only in an alternate universe would someone of my background have been able to make the brave decision to say yes to beauty that summer evening. Now looking back at my awkward 13-year-old-self from the refreshing perspective of nearly twenty years later, I smile at my blundering and at all the pointless years I would spend afterwards worrying away in closets. But I also recognize that in that moment of diving for the art camp closet, I ensured a lovesick karma smote of my regret and of Rebekah’s unfortunate rejection; poor dear left naked and alone, talking to a closed wardrobe. I would spend the next ten years trying to make it up to Rebekah’s bold memory, foolishly falling head over heels in love with nearly every adorable Jewish girl, dancer or not, who crossed my path and having my heart broken again and again until the debt of my rejection was relinquished; Rebekah’s dancing naked memory finally satisfied. What deeply entrenched fractal patterns our first sexual encounters can unfold: unconscious fascination cycling regret and rejection until we finally release ourselves from the burdens of closets and truly choose to live free!

I never returned to art camp and even abandoned any serious pursuit of my art for over a decade afterwards. Such is the power of the closet to hide away our deepest yearnings, our imaginative gifts, our truest selves. Seemingly just a space of convenience, of laminated wood panels and hinged doors, we could lose our souls inside its depths if we let fear control our hearts. Ironically, I intentionally entered the closet while in one of the arguably safest settings a queer 13-year-old could be: among the creatively expressive and weird atmosphere of a summer art camp. At the tender threshold of adolescence, presented with myriad opportunities to declare and embrace my true passions, I chose the comfortable guilt of Jesus’ and Buddha’s company and walked a longer path to attain my inner freedom. I do not regret all that which I learned along the way, only that I gave in to fear so unquestioningly.

To the memory of my queer 13-year-old-self, I send the courage and the faith that closets need not last forever, that freedom is stronger, and that by taking the longer path we still always arrive exactly where we are meant to be, eventually. May this message reach all souls that harbor their feelings in closets across space and time until the very concept of the skeleton closet releases its hold on our collective consciousness and is forever abandoned.