I am closeted…
Hi, my name is Sarah and I am closeted.
I come out of closets every day. It’s a ritual now. Wake up, do some stretching, snuggle my family, brew weak tea, log onto the internet and come out of closets.
Hi, my name is Sarah and I am polyamorous.
Hi, my name is Sarah and I am asking for help.
Hi, my name is Sarah and I had my heart smashed to shards seven months ago.
But let’s back up a bit.
When I was five years old, I didn’t know the word “polyamorous.” In fact, the term hadn’t been coined quite yet (it was 1985 then, holla!). But on the way to school one day, I told my dear ol’ dad that I was a girl who believed in loving more than one person at once. You see, I had a crush on two boys at the time and I wasn’t gonna choose between them. I was gonna love both gentlemen and be an actress when I grew up and get more My-Little-Ponies and I wanted shrimp for dinner. He thought all that was a wonderful idea, dreamed of the lady-friends he was lying to having similar love-sensibilities and wished me well on my merry way.
At age ten, I still didn’t have the word for who I was. By that point, the word existed, but hadn’t spread much beyond the magical borders of the Bay Area. I explained to my mama that I wanted to grow up loving as many people as I ended up loving, without choosing between them. She squinted at me through her second-marriage eyes, said she thought the phase would pass and continued on her merry way.
When I left my small home town and landed in the big Bay Area as a student at UC Berkeley (GO BEARS!), my best friend gave me a book for my birthday. It was a kick-arse guide called The Ethical Slut.
Inside the Book was the Word.
The Word (Polyamory with a capital P) made a vital and enormous difference in my life. Here’s why: something I have inherently been since I was born turns out to have a name with books full of practical tips on how to be who I am in the world! Hooray!!! Suddenly, I had a tribe, a new vocabulary to share, a starting point for how to be my complete and authentic self. I was out and about, baby, and I was no longer alone. Especially in the Bay Area. Hippies will always have an über-warm place in my heart.
Guess what my family got as gifts from me that Christmas? Yes, I did indeed give my hard-core Republican ex-marine cowboy step-father The Ethical Slut. And not for shock value, I swear, but to read. And he was so brave, reading/skimming the Book and loving me just as much as before. Did I give my little sister a copy, too? You bet. Did I ask my mom to read it? Why, of course. And when Mom read it, I pointed to my chest and said, “Hello. My name is Sarah and I am polyamorous.” She was fine with the idea, asked if I wanted more cranberry sauce and wished me a Merry Christmas.
Sadly, I never got a chance to give a copy to my dad. He died several years before I found the Book with the Word. But I know in my heart that he would have loved it, dog-eared its pages, illegibly scribbled in its margins and bought extra copies for his lady-friends.
And in a flash, I finished college. I met one of the great loves of my life, then met another great love and moved to Paris, France. Boom. Did I speak French, you ask? Not so much. I spoke Spanish; how nice for me as a Californian and irrelevant to me as a Frenchie. In learning a new language, I lost my words for a little while, but I managed. Did the Word translate into my new language? Not quite yet, it turned out (it does now and is la polyamourie).
The true catch, though, for me, was that even after I learned the French Word, I didn’t utter it in my new city.
You see, the people I first met in Paris, fellow graduate students and artists, all heard my Word. But after a while, I shut my mouth and only uttered the Word to myself. For years. Without realizing it, I slowly built a closet around my heart. Me, the outspoken woman. I slowly morphed into a rather quiet lady, feeling very foreign in more ways than one. I felt quite foreign enough already, thank you very much.
Wowzers, now that’s a way to trigger severe depression. For me, Depression = not being my full self. Joy = being my full self. To climb out of depression meant coming out of the closet. Eep.
In my case, my closet walls were not made out of shame, they were forged from alienation. Where had all the hippies gone? But there are lovely, open people here in Paris, as there are nearly everywhere, so what really went awry inside of me? Why did I feel alienated when I didn’t have to be? Well, it felt safer in there, in my closet, at least a bit. But the deep truth was, I felt disconnected from my Word.
And then I fell in love again. And spent years loving this man who had known from the beginning, like all my partners do, that I am Polyamorous. He and I lived in an accidental closet, never consciously deciding to hide away, but feeling safer tucked in together.
And then he broke my heart. He broke it in a way that shattered me, that shocked me, that took away all my words. Not just the Word, but language. For the first time in my chatty writerly life, I had zero words. Zero. I had hemorrhaging heart wounds that didn’t make any sense to the people around me because my husband and I were still happily together, so why would I have a broken heart? Try asking your friends for help about your ex-lover when they don’t know you had a lover in the first place…
My closet walls had blocked out all the light. Not only could I not see the light of the world, but the world couldn’t see my light. So I decided to use that closet as a resting place until I found a word. Even one single word would do. For me, that word turned out to be Twice.
I typed that word into a title page and let each word after it emerge in its own time, creating a tale about heartbreak, recovery and coming out of the closet. Every word that came out of me became a brick taken from my quickly-dismantling closet walls. And out of that dark womb, I created enough connected words to face the light. I did that until I had enough words in my hand to call them a Script. I had built a story. And I could tell it to my friends. And now I’ve fallen in love again so deeply with someone new, which would never have happened if I lived in a closet.
So here I am, once more, pointing to my chest and saying, “Hello. My name is Sarah and I am polyamorous.” Coming out of the closet, over and over again…
Maybe a closet is made of whatever words you need to say in order to be your full self, and coming out is scary when not only will using those words demolish your closet, but your own words might be mistranslated and then you’ll be standing out in the world without walls. Maybe you’ll tell your truth and you won’t be treated with kindness. But maybe letting those walls come down, when you’re ready to risk misinterpretation, can give you your full self back.
Of this I am sure: having words to express who you are, words that other people know your true definitions of, saves lives, grants freedom, makes a daily difference.
Here’s the thing: Everyone walks through this life having to point to their chest, over and over again, day after day, and decide what they’re going to declare about themselves. And everyone, it could be said, has closets, those places where the things they don’t declare are stored, a place that they hope stays safe from the eyes and ears of the world. My hope is that every single one of us has Words to help us figure out who we are, how we want to change and how to tell the world about our hearts.
What if we learn each other’s words, kindly offer each other more cranberry sauce and wish each heart well as we travel on our merry way…
PS Hi, my name is Sarah and I am making a film that’s a polyamorous love story called Twice that you can meet at www.twicethefilm.com.
PPS Hi, my name is Sarah and I want to hear your coming out stories. If you’d like to share your experience, please tweet me at @saraharlen or Facebook me.
PPPS Hi, my name is Sarah and I repeatedly watch Ash Beckham’s TED Talk about coming out.