This is a guest post from Alexander Chee. Chee is the author of the novels Edinburgh and The Queen of the Night, and is an associate professor of English at Dartmouth College. You can follow him on Twitter at @alexanderchee.
When I’m honest with myself, I know that I read my way out of the closet.
There was a restlessness in me that didn’t stop there, though—soon I was shoplifting issues of Honcho and Mandate, until I was old enough to buy them, but by then I had tried to come out—to friends, to my mother, and even, once, to my high school, with a play I wrote. “I was used to imagining what it must be like,” Cherrie Moraga wrote of it, this feeling of having rehearsed, so often, what one wanted from the world, always doing without it. And this was the kind of queer text I was reading by then—the poetry, essays and fiction of lesbian writers of color. I had gone from needing to see my desires reflected to needing to see my consciousness around them reflected. But I think you cannot really come out until you fall in love—until all your desires find a face you want to be yourself in front of—and so, the fall of my first year at Wesleyan, I met the TA for my ceramics class, a handsome, openly gay senior on the crew team, and when the ads went out for novice crew, I signed up.
My TA crush, if he ever noticed me, never let on, but that didn’t stop me from trying to be in his path. I’d had what I could call a boyfriend in high school, except everything we did together was secret, and while we were friends, we were not in love. But while I tried so very hard to be good at ceramics, and tried to at least wave hello casually down at the boat house, I rowed this last way out of the closet into my life, coming out to all of my friends that next fall when I returned.
The gay crew god had left by now. And I was no longer trying to either be or imitate what I desired as a way to signal to it. I was left with my own fate, my own sense of myself—my own chance to make my own series of mistakes, if not in France or Greece, then in New York and San Francisco. And write about all of it. I am very aware, every time I publish, that somewhere, someone is rehearsing, and that could be helping them on their path. If this is you right now, just know you should keep going. Keep reading, desiring, loving. And prepare to find your way.