Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2017-05-03

Why Authenticity is so Vital: In Celebration of Ellen’s 20th Coming Out Anniversary

“As long as you stay true to exactly who you are, you will be rewarded in ways you cannot possibly imagine.”—Ellen DeGeneres

The 20th anniversary of the coming out episode of Ellen’s sitcom was April 30, 2017. It was the first time a lead character on a TV show came out; it was before Will and Grace, the Logo channel, and Modern Family.

For those of you who don’t remember, it was a BIG DEAL. Media was covering it before it aired and endlessly discussing and debating afterward. There was an all star cast of supporting characters and extras, including gay icons George Michael, k.d. lang and Melissa Etheridge.

I found out from my friend H. Alan Scott that Ellen was celebrating the 20th anniversary of her coming out on her talk show because he was invited to be on it! His story about how he watched the coming out episode is detailed in this piece he wrote for Newsweek and on the below video from the show. (Believe me, I hinted hard that I wanted to be invited as a plus one to go to the taping but sadly he didn’t get a plus one.)

“It’s easy to forget now just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages… Not just for the LGBT community but for all of us to see somebody so full of kindness and light remind us that we have more in common than we realize and push our country in the direction of justice.”—Barack Obama on the occasion of giving Ellen the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

1997 was an interesting year. We didn’t have the internet like we do now. We didn’t have smart devices or social media. You had to call people or email to make plans and if you wanted directions somewhere you pulled out a map.

Ellen joked on her show that since we didn’t have Facebook yet in order to make a big pronouncement about your sexuality you had to get a sitcom.

They called the episode “The Puppy Episode” because when the writers told the executives she needed to be in a relationship by the fourth year of the show an executive at the studio said, “Well get her a puppy, she’s not coming out.” You can watch it on youtube in parts, starting here.

I spy Laura Dern, k.d. lang, Dwight Yoakam, Demi Moore, Gina Gershon, Jenny Shimizu, Billy Bob Thornton.

I feel like for gay people in 1997, it was kind of like the Kennedy assassination—people remember where they were when they watched it.

I remember very viscerally what it was like for me watching Ellen come out. I was 18 years old, in my dorm room at UC Davis. Wearing my bathrobe, alone on the couch I shared with my suitemates watching the cable that I paid for because TV was an escape drug for me at the time. Life was really painful, I was depressed and felt very alone. I knew I was gay but couldn’t be open about it. I was still so convinced that if I acted like everyone else and hid in giant, formless overalls I would somehow appear normal and being gay went against that idea. I also didn’t think I was going to get to own my sexuality because I was fat. Fat was, in my deluded opinion, not attractive and I didn’t think people who weren’t having sex should bother coming out.

I was super wrong. Owning your truth, that’s hot. Owning your body, that’s hot. Being true to who you are? That’s priceless and so liberating.

I don’t have any pictures of my Freshman year at UC Davis available but here’s one from two years later when I was out but still working through my relationship with fashion. Deepy appreciate this rainbow beanie. Pictured here with my very supportive through my coming out process friends Mary and Dianna.

“Your whole calling is about you being what you were meant to be.”—Oprah Winfrey

It’s very lonely being in the closet. When you don’t feel like you can be your authentic self, it’s hard to live freely because you’re always keeping a secret. If you’re out there and you are in the closet now, I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone and you’re okay. When it’s time for you to come out, it will suddenly feel more uncomfortable to be in the closet than the risks you take to come out. But, like Ellen says, the risks to be your true self are totally worth it.

Sitting right next to H. Alan in the audience was documentary filmmaker Alexis Fish, who had a big party for Ellen’s coming out episode. (I wonder if they overlapped at all at my birthday party last December since they were both there.) I couldn’t believe what an amazing experience it was for Alexis and her friends to watch the episode with community. I’m so glad I get to have that community now, and I’m so grateful for social media for enabling community to be even more accessible to folks in the closet these days.

Oprah Winfrey played Ellen’s therapist in the Puppy Episode, which I had completely forgotten about. She was a guest on this special episode of Ellen’s talk show. Needless to say, I immediately texted H. Alan “YOU WERE IN THE SAME ROOM AS ELLEN AND OPRAH.”

Oprah mentioned that she said yes to appearing on the Puppy Episode immediately, and she gets credit for that. There was so much backlash, the world was reeling because of something that today seems so pedestrian. We needed that backlash in order to start a very important conversation.

Laura Dern was in the episode and she didn’t get another acting job for a full year after the episode—because people thought she was gay. “I hurt straight people for this,” Ellen joked.

“It was hard, I lost everything. I got to be stripped down of everything and start all over again. And that was a wonderful gift to be able to start all over again and to realize that I was strong enough to come back.”—Ellen

Laura Dern said it exactly right while on the couch with Oprah and Ellen. “How incredible to be sitting between the two people who have walked us toward our truth in such extraordinary ways… To celebrate the bravery to remind people to be who they are. And whatever the consequence is of doing that, it brings everyone with you when you’re willing to be that true to yourself.”

Why, in our society, is it brave to be yourself? Because of the White Hetero Capitalist Patriarchy, that wants to keep us small, to punish difference and to make people feel ashamed of who they are. Media creates a feeling of insecurity for your benign human differences so that they can sell products to you to help you feel better.

On the talk show episode there were lots of celebrity messages of congratulations. “You widened the circle of understanding, connection and kindness,” Diane Sawyer said to Ellen.

Me and H. Alan doing partner yoga. I love that he’s always game for a silly photo.

There’s a power in being openly who you are. I continue to practice that by talking openly about things most people don’t talk openly about. Part of my impetus for using this openness is to eradicate shame. I truly believe shame leads to stress, which leads to cancer and other disease. It makes me feel so much better and happier to be open about who I am, how I struggle and the tools I use to move through the struggle. I can’t do it alone and I want to help you all know that you don’t have to do it alone, either.

Last summer, my friend Jeff Scult inducted me into One Golden Thread, a whole movement about being connected to other humans with a golden thread bracelet. He said when yours falls off you should pay attention to what you’re thinking about in the moment. I have been working on staying in gratitude as much as possible in order to eradicate the effects of trauma from the past few months.

With Ellen’s coming out on the brain, I was walking through my house thinking about how grateful I was to be out, to be living with my incredible partner Dara, to have our beautiful new home and how cute my closet is going to be when it’s finished. Then I got to our bed and was super grateful for my weirdo cat Biscuit Reynolds. As I leaned in to give him a belly rub he attacked the string from my golden thread and in one movement ripped it off of me.

I have now watched Ellen’s 20th anniversary coming out talk show episode twice and can’t get through it without crying multiple times. I’m so grateful for all she did to make the world a lot easier for the rest of us.

2016-10-11

My Coming Out Story

Happy Coming Out Day! Every year on October 11th the LGBTQ community and our allies celebrate Coming Out Day as a way to commemorate and sanctify an important moment in the lives of queer people. It’s also an important way to help our children, families, friends, co-workers and communities know that you are a safe space for LGBTQ folks to come out to.

bevinchrisamandadamienFor this post I’m using photos I found in my archives from the Femme Family Pride Coming Out as Femme party that Femme Family produced in June 2009 at Stonewall Inn. L-R, Damien, Me, Amanda and Chris.

Coming out is such an intensely personal decision, since being queer is somewhat of a seemingly mutable way of being different. (“Passing” as straight is easier for some than others, and it is often tied to gender presentation.) I thought in honor of the occasion, and the fact that I told this story to my friends Jenna and Rick at my Epic High Holiday Shabbat dinner on Friday, I would share it here!

Coming out is easier said than done, and for me it was really difficult. I am 37 years old, which means I grew up in a pre-Ellen era. I noticed a pretty big cultural shift when Ellen’s character came out as a lesbian on her then sitcom in 1997. It was a watershed moment when, more and more, people were aware that LGBTQ folks were openly living their lives queerly. I feel like most kids who came of age after Ellen came out have a different experience within American culture.

bevinrachelsophieMe, Rachel (check out her work getting Queers, Women and POC into tech sales) and Sophie (check out her incredible body positive pin-up photography business).

I didn’t know gay was a thing that you could be until I was 14 years old. I had literally never understood that any of my mom’s friends were gay, that any celebrities were gay or that people throughout history had been leading queer lives.

I met the first lesbian that came out to me at Girl Scout Camp when I was a Counselor-in-Training. At the time that was a big no-no (even when I became a counselor a few years later it was very understood that lesbianism was don’t ask don’t tell) but we were friends and it came up. I felt a huge paradigm shift knowing that people were gay and it started helping me understand myself better. I wasn’t the kind of kid who grew up knowing I was attracted to other women, mostly I was attracted to gay men. (Hello, Keanu Reeves and George Michael.)

bevinbridgetMe and Bridget, who just launched her amazing business coaching! She’s been a little bird supporting me with branding, web stuff and business for years, so excited for her new venture!

I began questioning my sexuality when I was 15. I had no one to talk to about this so I just kept it as a running wonder in the back of my mind. My mom came out for the second time around then.* It was not a bonding experience for us. My Junior and Senior year of high school was really difficult for our relationship, since mom was going through a divorce and my grumpy selfish step dad was still living with us because we couldn’t afford to sell the house (recession) and mom didn’t want to risk me having to leave our great school district. Not a recipe for anyone to be at their most compassionate emotional self. In my perception at the time my mom was not a safe person for me to discuss my sexuality with because we were not safe people for one another emotionally. My mom is awesome and she has been a great safe space for queer kids for years and years as a teacher but we were very much water and oil in high school.

I know now that a teacher at my school was gay (she’s friends with my mom!) and if only teachers were allowed to be openly gay in the mid-90s, my life would have been a lot easier.

miasiaMiasia is an incredibly talented belly dancer from Washington, DC and whenever I possibly could get her up for a gig in NYC I did just that! You should check out her classes and performances!

I came out to myself for real when I was 16 years old and could actually articulate internally that I was attracted to another woman. I told three very close friends who were not in my day to day life. When I got back to high school for my senior year I shoved all of that internal realization deep inside, in spite of a low-level crush on a girl in high school, and tried to keep fitting in even though I never actually fit in.

katestonewallLaurence and Kate Huh, a really vital archivist photographer of NYC queer life.

I never dated anyone in high school, all dance dates were strictly platonic and even though I had some flirtations with boys here and there nothing ever happened. I knew how to keep my armor up as a trauma response to intense bullying I experienced in late elementary and middle school. To this day I still have to work to let my armor down where sex, attraction and flirtation are concerned.

damienstonewallperformanceOne of my favorite performances of Damien’s is “Femmes Bash Back” based on the Femme trans women of color who began the Stonewall uprising by throwing purses and heels at the cops raiding the Stonewall. Let that fictional Stonewall movie be forever proved wrong, since they rewrote history so some white cisgender gay dude threw the first brick. Stay tuned for Happy Birthday Marsha! It is important that our history be preserved accurately and not white-washed.

In college I met a lot more gay folks, especially gay men, and almost everyone was in the closet for some period and eventually came out. It’s so weird to think about that time because now it’s so normal for people to be openly gay that I forgot that I knew a lot of these folks before they came out formally. Even though I knew in my heart I was attracted to women (I identified as bisexual at the time because I hadn’t realized all my big crushes were on gay dudes) I didn’t think I should come out because I hadn’t dated or even kissed anyone romantically. It was all wrapped up in fat girl body self loathing and not feeling like I deserved access to my sexuality. Why bother coming out if I was inherently unfuckable?

shomidjingOur Femme DJ Shomi Noise.

Now I know that my identity has nothing to do with anyone other than myself. I know I’m Femme regardless of whether or not I am partnered with a Butch, I know that I am fuckable whether or not I’m presently having sex, I know that I am kinky even when my floggers are collecting dust.

bevionstagestonewallIf my college-aged self could know how I would turn out, coming out of the closet would have been way easier.

At the beginning of my Junior year of college, at 19 years old, I was really thinking about coming out for real in spite of not having kissed a girl, and then just days later I met my first girlfriend. I was her Resident Advisor, she was a resident on my floor, she had Ani DiFranco posters all over her room (a very late ’90s tell). She wasn’t out to her roommates but as we became friends she came out to me and then we held hands while watching Mary Poppins late one night and it became wildly easy for me to come out because I was young and in love and wanted to tell literally everyone I knew about it. Plus saying, “I have a girlfriend!” is way easier than saying “I need to let you know I identify as LGBTQ.” Since being Femme presenting is invisibilizing to many folks, coming out is Groundhog Day repetitive for me. I tend to drop a “My partner/my girlfriend” or when I was single “My ex-girlfriend” as a way to come out rather than just telling people directly. Somehow that is more seamless for me.

arielbevinEarly photo of me and my friend Ariel Speedwagon.

I’ve had a few more coming outs in my life, like when I got to law school and decided to come out as a lesbian instead of bisexual, when I came out as Fat and Femme, and when I shifted to using queer to identify my sexuality because it better encompassed non-binary gender identities. There’s also coming out as a medical marijuana user (as Melissa Etheridge says,”I believe anybody who smokes cannabis is using it medicinally, whether they consider it so or not”), and coming out as non-monogamous which for me just means I like to be a little free to ethically explore connections with people as they pop-up and adhere to agreements with the person I am partnered with.

melissasjMe and my friend Lissa and Sarah Jenny.

I just can’t endorse coming out enough. I was scared, so so so scared before I came out because I thought I was going to lose friendships, loved ones and access to my dreams. For me, living life authentically, and loving myself for all of me, allows me to feel so free and relaxed that I am more able to focus my energy on making the world safe for other people to do the same. I have had SO MANY DREAMS COME TRUE because I am openly 100% of the time my authentic self. I think global peace starts with inner peace, and we need to be committed to doing the self care and self expression we need to feel at peace.

femmefamilyintention

Our logo intentionally had wings hugging the heart. Sophie designed it and Chris designed our flier.

Queer allies: amplify queer voices on your social media. Tell people you are a safe space and show your support for LGBTQ people. Work to learn how to be a better ally. It’s still dangerous in many spaces to be out as a queer person. Queers who live in countries that are more accepting of queers, learn more and more about LGBTQ refugees and borders and how being queer is sometimes the fight for your life. Offer your resources. I’m hoping to amplify more ways to do that in the coming months as I learn more about displaced LGBTQ folks.

Let’s all make the world more survivable for LGBTQ people and work to make “coming out” obsolete. Wouldn’t it be cool if people got to just grow up to be whoever they really are and love whoever they love and do it to whoever they feel attracted to and have consent and all that stuff?

Happy Coming Out Day!

*It turned out that my mom herself had come out of the closet for a few years in the early 80s. She even rode in Dykes on Bikes in the San Francisco Pride Parade in 1980! After a really traumatizing relationship with a horrible woman, my mom went back in the closet when I was four, dated men and married said step father who started out cool and then got awful and selfish and then after her second divorce she dated a woman and came out for good. So complicated, right? I didn’t come out to her until I came out publicly when I was 19.

miasiaonstageI love that in this photo Miasia is holding herself much like the wings of our logo are holding the heart.

metaueretandjesseTaueret and Jesse were both at the Femme Family Coming Out Party but somehow not in my batch of photos so here’s a cute one I found at a party in the same time period when hunting through my archives. TT made that beautiful hair fascinator herself. She was so talented.

 

 

 

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