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This Is Gay Girl, Signing Off

Penny Patterson Reflects on the Next Stage of Coming Out


Thursday, March 11, 2010

I’ve always been one for the process: The car ride is just as much fun as the destination; learning is the best part about school, not doing well on final exams or term papers. I even enjoy the process of writing more than the sense of completion when I submit something to an editor. From a philosophical standpoint, I view the process as an avenue for discovery and growth, and although resolution and results are important, the nitty-gritty of who we are as individuals is what’s revealed on the road to get where we’re going.

Gay Girl/Straight World

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about coming out, it’s that it is a process in every sense of the word. It’s a noun, as in, it’s a series of steps toward a goal, but it’s also a verb, meaning it’s the actual work of talking to people about sexuality.

My personal coming out process has been bumpy, to say the least. In April, it’ll be three years since I told my parents I’m gay, and in many ways, I feel like we haven’t progressed at all—I haven’t ever brought around my girlfriend, and we still don’t really talk about my relationship. But there are glimmers of hope when my mom asks thoughtful questions about my girlfriend’s health after a late-night trip to the ER last summer, or when my dad inquires if I’ve told other family members about my “lifestyle.” Of course I don’t appreciate that specific language—whittling down my committed, five-year relationship to a “lifestyle”—but at least he’s taking baby steps toward trying to understand me. After all, Mom and Dad are going through their own coming out process, too, and if it took me years to have the courage to be honest with them, I should be patient as they work to understand things themselves.

Throughout this journey, I’ve learned that while my folks quite stubbornly see things in black and white, I heartily prefer to exist in the grayer areas of life. I’m certainly not a fan of real-life drama, but I don’t shun complicated issues because they can be messy and difficult. I now believe that one of the best parts of being an adult isn’t eating chocolate cake for breakfast and staying up past midnight, choices I longed to make as a kid, but rather getting to create my own family. And, perhaps above all else, I’ve learned that a sarcastic wit and a resilient sense of humor are invaluable tools for survival.

My family of coworkers at The Independent has always been one of the best aspects of my job. They make up an incredibly funny, intelligent, and interesting group of people, and they were immeasurably supportive in the initial weeks after I came out to my parents. In fact, walking away from them will be the hardest part of leaving The Indy.

That’s right, folks; I’m hanging up my hat. Although I’ll always be a gay girl in a straight world, I won’t be columnizing about it anymore. I’ll continue to live and work in Santa Barbara, which will afford me the opportunity to remain connected and occasionally write about news and events (pride season, the film festival, marriage equality, that elusive gay club in town, etc.).

I’m really excited about starting this next chapter in my work life, and I look forward to the new challenges and rewards it will provide. But I’m also incredibly nervous because it’ll be completely uncharted territory—where will I get my morning coffee, what will my new coworkers be like, where will I park every day? And, as a gay person, I’ll have to navigate the coming out process again.

Granted, it’s not a requirement that I come out to everyone I meet, but if I want to field any sort of personal question honestly, I’ll eventually find myself talking about my relationship. I’m confident that things will go well, but it’s a reminder of the adage I often spout: The coming out process is never over, it’s a lifelong journey. It’s something I’ve always known, but now it’s something I’ll be living, acutely, in the next few months.

Maybe I’ll streamline the process by taping this column to the front of my office door. That should clear things up right away.

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