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!