Walking in through the front door

When I watched the documentary Gender Trouble : The Butches, one of the comments that stayed with me was the comment about being able to come through the front door. One woman mentioned that she was the kind of person who always had to sneak out the back door to avoid being seen, until one day she decided that she did not need to be hidden and she could walk out the front door. It was a turning point where she decided to no longer be ashamed. What she said was very brief, but it sent my imagination soaring.

I imagined an old-fashioned butch/femme couple. Let’s call them Margaret and Frankie. Margaret lives in the apartment on the second floor of a big house with neighbors downstairs. Her steady girlfriend Frankie comes over to visit all the time, but since Margaret is in the closet, she makes Frankie go around back and come in through the fire exit because she doesn’t want her neighbors to notice what kind of company she keeps. You see, although Margaret looks like any other woman, and no one knows she’s a lesbian until she tells them, Frankie looks very gay. It’s fine when people think Frankie is a man, but when they talk to her for a minute they realize she’s a woman, and that’s when the trouble happens.

Poor Margaret is just trying to protect herself. If she gets “outed” she could lose her job as a secretary and then she wouldn’t be able to make rent. She can’t move back in with her parents who kicked her out so what would happen to her then? She loves Frankie but just doesn’t want to take a chance. Frankie understands. It’s not easy for her either, obviously. She doesn’t get the luxury of being in the closet—her sexual orientation is written all over her whether she likes it or not. The guys at her factory job already know—most of them are over it, except for a couple of assholes who are insecure in their masculinity.

So Frankie comes over and they love each other. Sometimes, they put on a record and dance together in their living room, real slow. Margaret cooks delicious meals and Frankie helps her clean up after. Come morning, when Frankie leaves again, she sneaks out the back door.

This can’t continue forever. Margaret doesn’t want to spend her whole life making her lover come in through the back door. She can’t live this way, she hasn’t done anything wrong, Frankie hasn’t done anything wrong, they shouldn’t have to hide anything. Margaret knows she has to come out. She has to come out to her neighbors and to her coworkers. If anything bad is going to happen, it needs to just happen. No more worrying about “what might happen.” Just let it happen, and deal with it, so she can move on. So she can invite Frankie to move in with her, so they can be a regular couple.

One evening Margaret tells Frankie that she wants her to move in. She says she is ready now to take that step. She cries, because although she wants this, she is scared. Frankie accepts. She dries Margaret’s tears.

Margaret comes out to her neighbors, her coworkers, the rest of her extended family members, the ones who haven’t heard yet. One by one, not all on the same day. Only when she sees them and when the opportunity arises. Frankie moves in. Now they are “the lesbian couple upstairs.” Margaret’s femininity doesn’t hide her anymore, because everyone knows she is with Frankie.

Everything goes well. Frankie comes in through the front door now. She greets the neighbors. The neighbors are a little nervous at first, but they get to know Frankie’s good-natured personality, and they enjoy her company at barbecues. Margaret’s straight coworkers have questions for her. “If your girlfriend looks like a man, why aren’t you with a real man?” but she doesn’t lose her job. Eventually the uncomfortable questions turn into amusing comments “You’re lucky you don’t have to deal with a husband. Just last night, Jerry said to me…” and that’s when Margaret knows she has been accepted. They live happily ever after.

I wondered if I should write a short story around the theme of “coming through the front door.” Maybe I just did, sort of, but I mean a real short story, not just one where I summarize the plot, but one where it’s really turned into fiction. Sensory detail, dialogue, conflict, resolution, character development.

But this story seems old-fashioned to me. It sounds like the 1950s. Although it’s still illegal to be gay in some places in the world, I am somewhere safe. I’ve never had to invent a fake boyfriend, never had to have a “beard” come to an event with me and pretend to be my male lover. I’ve never had to lie about what I did on the weekend for fear of being “outed.” I was only in the closet when I was denying it to myself. I’ve never made a lover come in through the back door. I didn’t need to. So, I don’t want to write this short story. I don’t want to write the past. I’m celebrating the fact that that has never been my life. But I really love this theme, so, dear readers, do you have any stories of coming in through the back door or coming in through the front door, either literal or metaphorical? Please tell them!

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18 thoughts on “Walking in through the front door

  1. I think the story you tell goes on all the time in America. I know people–male and female–who are not much older than me, gay and lesbian, and trying to hide it for various reasons. For one, she lives in a very conservative part of the Midwest. For another, his Mother is still alive and well and while she knows, many of their family do not and are openly judgmental, even hostile, toward anyone not straight. Others I know are still working out their orientation. I know a man who is bi, but whose parents and some of his lifelong “friends” make him feel as if he must choose gay or straight. One person is a superstar in his chosen profession and routinely hired as a guest lecturer due to his expertise, but coming out would alienate a large portion of the organizations that hire him for speaking engagements–because his work relates to children, and many people believe absurd myths about gay men being child predators. I knew he and I were friends instead of mere colleagues the day he hinted to me that he knew I suspected and that I was correct.

    It’s sad how many people still have to live in the shadows, or whose families refuse to accept and love them as they are, no matter their sexual orientation. It breaks my heart to see my friends hide. It breaks my heart to know that my status as straight affords me a luxury of acceptance by others that many will never have, and that some members of my family would automatically reject me if I was not straight.

    No, indeed, your story may feel old-fashioned to people with healthy attitudes who accept people as they are, but there is still so much more work to be done before that story no longer holds any truth or resonance.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Go for it– write that story! Don’t worry about seeming “old-fashioned.” Stories like this need to be told, because far too many people were kept silent back in the day and their stories aren’t “out there” for the younger generations to read.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. A synopsis does not a story make. 🙂

    And a great synopsis it is, but there needs to be a big bad threaten their happiness.

    Every story about a butch (and femmes – but we know just how endangered butches are these days) needs to be told and broadcast as widely as possible.

    There are closeted lesbians today even here in our marriage-equality-since-2004 Canada, particularly outside of our cities, who live in fear of their lives (not just metaphorically) and they need to see themselves in the stories we write for each other too.

    Why don’t you/we who are teased by your story ideas, create an anthology of short stories about lesbians, specifically, who identify as butch and femme, ask around, who’d like to contribute. It gets edited, formatted, published as an ebook and in print. What have you/we got to lose? 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The 1950s are trying to stage a comeback.

    I’ve gone through a few back doors in my time, it takes a toll after a while, to be someone’s secret. One woman did admit that she hated having to hide our relationship, it got to be too much for both of us and we parted ways. I wonder sometimes, if things had been different…

    Liked by 4 people

    • I don’t think a relationship can survive in the closet. If two people are in love it will show, it will be obvious, and if they live their lives in any normal way they will get found out. We have to be brave and come out, or our relationships won’t survive.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. As long as lesbians anywhere in the world feel any need to stay hidden, stories like this need to be told. And as others have said, outside of big cities it is still a big issue. I mean I have had other crap be difficult in my life but even without a difficult upbringing I still would have been very cautious coming out around here and I remain very cautious about who I’m open with. I’m also pretty much the only “butch” woman I see any time I go out.

    If the butch/femme theme in your plot seems “‘old fashioned” it may be because it’s too couched in documented butch/femme history. Removed from that time period it might gain freshness for you (though I would read a good historical novel about the 20’s or 40’s or 50’s!) Because I had to create an alternative universe for my book, I ended up throwing out all our terminology – I never even use the word lesbian – and it created a lot of freshness and social commentary because I could construct a whole kind of metaphorical society to make the point about misogyny and lesbian ostracization. And sure, there are notes of one woman being more “visibly gay” and the other being more “het passing” and their difficulties moving through the world like that, because that’s always a story that needs to be told.

    The great thing about writing is that there is always a fresh take on things, always a new way to tell a story, even if it’s just in the approach or the details. If this story has come to you so clearly it must have moved you on some level and therefore needs to be written!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Sorry, but I look just like what I am and I would NEVER go through a back door for anyone. I would not become involved with someone in the closet. If you act like you are doing something shameful by sneaking around and playing games, you demean yourself and every other lesbian who takes a risk every time they leave the house. Most of the time, your fear of other people’s reactions far outweighs the reality. The biggest problem tends to be in your own head. When I came out, I found out everyone already thought I was gay so my big announcement was a bit anticlimactic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s think it’s really good if you would never go through a back door for anyone. I’d never expect anyone to. However, I don’t think that it’s necessarily helpful to tell scared lesbians that they’re demeaning all of us by taking precautions. The problem is the homophobia, not the lesbians who are dealing with it.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. I love this. I’m sure its still like this is large parts of the world. I love the way the story frames LGB rights with such quite dignity. Its not about being ‘transgressive’ or being just plain obnoxious and then screaming about acceptance.

    “Having your loved one use the front door” is just perfect.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Since the country seems to be trying to go back to the 1820s, forget the 1950s, I’m not sure cautionary tales are ever wasted. Set it in the future, perhaps. Back doors are what happens when anybody steps on anybody’s right to live their own lives, whether it’s from being stupid-conservative or stupid-progressive.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I don’t think the story would be old fashioned. You would need to set it in a conservative small town or village, or perhaps religious area, and it would then work. There are lots of places like that in North America and in the Anglosphere, just as there are lots of families where a lesbian daughter/granddaughter/sister/aunt/niece would be a huge deal, and employers and neighbours everywhere whom people know are homophobic or prejudiced.

    Like

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