In lieu of parading down Market Street last weekend, Lower Dens’ Jenna Hunter used the long drive between California tour dates to reflect on her personal experience of first coming out, going back in and then actively trying to not give a shit about wherever she stood in relation to the closet and the appropriate gender pronoun. A lot of Jana’s Tumblr exposition hinges on respect—that which comes from listening more than talking, that which undoes self-righteousness and inserts a humble, giving kind of pride in its place. That Socratic humility is the only thing that can makes enough room for people to heal after the years of shame they experience from existing in our complicated, still-too-ignorant world.
I’m on tour during pride (again!) and we’re driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco and maybe if I’m lucky there’ll still be some confetti in the streets.
A long time ago, I sat in a hot car with my father and told him I was gay. I think I was 18. It was hot in the way that defeats any attempt at air-conditioning, and the heat loosened muscles and made everybody sweat equally, profusely. It made it a little easier I think to finally tell him what he obviously should have guessed at for about a decade and a half. It was the middle of the summer in a part of Texas kind of near Dallas and he had driven me from his shitty apartment complex to my mom’s shitty apartment complex and we were sitting in this heavy heat in his 280ZX just not saying anything for a while. Then I told him, and he sat in the maroon velour and heat for a minute before offering, “For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re gay.” I could and did laugh because this kind of narcissistic anti-reality shit regularly left his mouth and it had long since ceased to hurt my brain or crush my heart. The flat-out denial was actually an effort on his part towards generosity.
It turned out he was right, in a way. I’m not strictly gay. A couple of years ago, I did an interview of some sort with Out Magazine. I was in their annual round-up of somewhat well-known *queers. I was a little surprised when, ahead of the interview, I was asked via my management to clarify for the publication how I identified, like sexually and/or gender-wise. I thought it was weird of them to ask and I also hadn’t bothered to try to publicly identify in a long time cause I’m privileged enough not to have to worry about it too much, plus I didn’t really identify as anything. Identifying seemed like the death of possibility. I don’t remember what I told them. Something extremely open ended.
I’ve had relationships with men and with women and with people who might not identify as either one of those. I feel extremely fortunate in that I truly don’t give a fuck when it comes to the gender of the person I’m dating. It took a long time to be comfortable with that. I wanted badly to fit into the straight, binary world I thought I’d grown up in. We were Catholic. If you’re not sure what I mean, imagine the feeling of being certain you’re just about to crash your car and then substitute that for whatever ever non-Catholics feel when they’re attracted to somebody or craving a second serving of ice cream or remembering being angry at their mother one time years ago. I was a high-school student when a girl grabbed my leg at the late night diner where we smoked cigarettes and drank coffee and played western swing on the jukebox and I was real turned on and then I had that car crash feeling for like weeks. It had been coming (for years) but that was the first totally vivid flush of that feeling and that particular self-awareness. It was isolating as hell and it sucked. Eventually it settled into a life-long bothersome internal conversation about What Am I and Who Am I Attracted To. I wasn’t trying to identify, I was trying to not be confused.
Read more from Jana on her gender identity struggles growing up in a Catholic Texan community and the respect she’s seen in others here.