28 Jun I am Enough from Jena Strong
When I went public again with my blog a few months ago after an intensely private time in my life, I slowly stopped writing about coming out. I wouldn’t say I went back into hiding; maybe even the opposite is true. I resumed writing about other parts of my life as I continued about the business of living, working, parenting. What I’ve learned, so far–and no big surprise here–is that like anything else, coming out of the closet is not a one-time thing, or as simple as saying, “Mom, I’m gay.” It’s not an overnight deal, though last June it felt that way when the fault line I’d built my life on shifted so suddenly, so dramatically, so shatteringly.
When something shatters, something as beautiful as the life I had built with a husband and children in a wonderful community–what can I say here? I often think of the Emily Dickinson line, “After great pain, a formal feeling comes.” But what I experienced in the months following those few days that changed everything was anything but formal. It was manic, confused, overwhelmed, scared, driven. It was utterly disorienting and terrifying to realize that who I am, where I feel most myself, most in alignment with body and spirit, could mean the end of my marriage.
For years, I’ve compared myself to other women. Usually it’s the tall ones who look damn good in boots, who have bigger breasts than me or seem more free-spirited, who I would feel small next to. Literally small in my five-foot frame and A cup, but also smaller as in less than. Less womanly. Less big. I looked at women constantly, but comparing myself and often coming up short was the only frame of reference I consciously knew. I’d look at other women’s bodies and admire this one’s legs or that one’s arms or another’s open smile. But never in a million years did I think I was really checking them out. Sure, I knew I had the thought that having a sexual experience with another woman was something I just wouldn’t get to–that’s how it felt, like I wouldn’t get to–experience in this lifetime, but I thought, oh well, that’s just not meant to be this time around.
The thought was just that, a thought, and it lived in a neat little area far to the right of my head up in the air, in a safe little conceptual, hypothetical, theoretical, intellectual container. It did not originate from my body, from any felt experience or sensation. It just kind of was, the same way the thought that maybe one day I’d publish my poems or renovate the basement was. This thought itself was not a secret; I openly identified myself as loving women, but again, in a hot-shit, kick-ass, Rosie-the-Riveter, raising-strong-girls, life-of-women-friends-and-sisters kind of way. I would tell my husband that he was The Only One, the only man who knew me so intimately, who got to see me fully. Sure, I had floated the question to myself in my early 20s, but again, I had no point of reference for opening to that life, that “part” of myself, and I think now that something in me knew just how threatening it would be to do so. So I didn’t. This was not a calculated decision.
And even though the separation came after a hot, hellish summer, after losing fifteen pounds out of sheer stress and adrenaline, after finally admitting that a force of life energy flowing through me would not be pushed back down, would not be put away, would not be denied, actually coming out is something I feel like I’m only just now really beginning to do. It’s not about the labels, either–just as we don’t really have “parts,” nor can any human being be defined by this or that word. To reduce a sense of wholeness to a single word is impossible. All I know is that I made a choice that did not feel like a choice at all, which was to confront every fear I have, to take what felt like impossible risks and experience grief and loss unlike any I’d known, in order to emerge more fully into the world. It’s less about the public announcement of things and more about the internal opening, of letting myself begin to live from this place of openness and bigness.
If you knew me a year ago or longer, you might think I was pretty open and big before, and that would be true. But I am also a master secret-keeper, a stealth hider, capable of great acts of mystery and deception, conscious and unconscious–as I suspect most humans are. Confronting this at first was so painful. Was it real? All those years of building that life, loving having a life partner who loved me so well, were they a sham? One giant projection? No. Again, none of this was or is simple. Learning how to listen for the truth and also live a responsible life, live what I value most about friendship and commitment and the sacredness of family, accepting myself and knowing that I am not crazy or misguided or acting on any kind of whim–all of this provides fodder for years on the couch. There is indeed the earthly plane of life, of an intact family unit, of shared bank accounts and plans for the future and the daily rhythms that held me in such comfort. And then there is what the father of my children, my husband of eleven years, calls the “cosmic rightness” to all of this, something we’ve both begun to open to, believe in, and trust as we move forward with reconfiguring so many aspects of our lives and ourselves.
As I was coming downstairs tonight after snuggling first with my daughters, I felt the urge to write. But suddenly, I couldn’t think of what to write about. The fun we had tonight watching a video of dogs eating in a busy restaurant? What it’s like right now to be working full-time, single parenting half the time, and trying to smile at uncertainty? How I will piece together the many short bits of writing from the last year and assemble them into a succinct narrative when often I’m so tired all I want is two weeks on a white sand beach with a stack of books and some coconut oil? No, no, and no.
And then I sat down, and this is what came out. I am coming out. I have been coming out perhaps my whole life, or since June 3, 2010, or since I immersed myself in the living waters of the mikveh a few weeks ago ago–on my way to becoming fully unafraid–or walked up and down Broadway again for the first time in years and felt so alive, so aligned, so myself, and yes, so connected to the man I met in 1996 and chose to marry. Since I decided to stop being so frightened of opening my heart to someone else, a woman, even as I’m still grieving the massive detour my life has taken. Since I jumped out of the plane without a parachute. Since I moved out of my home and began a year of house-sitting for other lovely families. Since that August day on the back deck when we told our beautiful daughters that we were growing in a way that meant we would no longer live together. Each of these sentences deserves its own chapter.
I love this one quote I saw on someone’s Facebook page a while back. I can’t remember it word-for-word, but the gist was this: “If you tell me I am brave, I will say that I am well-loved.”
It is scary to write about this here, despite the fact that I’m basically already “out” to everyone who knows and loves me. And that is exactly why I’m doing it. Both blogging and in my work as a life coach, I’ve been comfortable in a role of encouraging others to listen to themselves, to trust life, to dip their toes into alluring but unknown waters. And at some point during my last year of working with individual clients, I began to feel less and less present. I was helping other people grow, but was increasingly aware of my own stuckness, a stuckness that scared the hell out of me since I couldn’t exactly name it but knew intuitively that it had massive implications for Life As I Knew It. If I’m going to be true to my path here, how can I not begin to write about this “part” of myself and my life, too?
I took a picture today that my sister, a photographer, said she wanted to print and hang on the wall. “Print two copies,” I told her–well, texted her actually–followed by reciprocal smiley faces. RAMBLER, big white-on-red letters.
It’s easy to dismiss myself, still, to fall into that habitual apology for taking up room, for speaking up and out, for sharing very personal aspects of my life with the general public here. It’s a habit I believe women are conditioned to internalize, that of saying, “Sorry… I’m rambling. Sorry… does that make sense? Sorry… I’m breathing.” Kind of in the same category as being self-critical. Do these jeans make me look fat?
Yes, I may be rambling and I may be tired, but writing enlivens me and helps me feel more coherent. I hope my sharing from an un-stuck place will still encourage you to ramble, too, without apology. The last few stanzas especially of the Mary Oliver poem, “Starlings in Winter,” say it well:
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard, I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.
About Jena Strong
A mama, sister, wordsmith, lemondrop-drinking sun-worshipper, I’ve lived in Burlington, Vermont for the last eleven years. I’m a lifelong seeker of truth and beauty; a fierce, funny, short, curly, Jewish, Buddhist lesbian; and a proud Barnard alumna with an MFA in poetry. In 1991, the Amherst Regional High School senior class voted me “Most Likely to Make You Look and Wonder,” a superlative I’m happy to be living up to nicely. Since 2007, I’ve been sharing my poems as well as reflections on practice at More Joy, Less Oy (The Blog Formerly Known as Bullseye, Baby!). You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter.