Inspired by critical interpersonal communication scholarship and queer autoethnography, this piece depicts interpersonal interactions mute or challenge queer identity. I explore the nexus of interpersonal communication theory, identity work, and queer theory to contextualize coming out and coming into sexual minority status. This piece explores narratives in which the legitimacy of queerness is unaccepted, unassured, and undermined.

Prologue

I have already died.
Died a “death by a thousand cuts.”1
I wasn’t what they wanted.
I wasn’t what they expected.
I wasn’t the norm.
I wasn’t imperfect in the perfect ways prescribed.
But I am not alone on this path
The repetitious journey paradoxically embodied and disembodied of “coming out.”2
So as they poke
and probe
and prod
this body slain by
a thousand unseen cuts,
somehow my cuts begin to heal
scabs and sores still felt,
but I am alive once again
to take the blunt of the cuts
in hope that one day no one else
will die a death by a thousand cuts.

Story 1: Queer Me-Search, a Method

I stand motionless in the shower as I let the hot water cascade down my shoulders. I am in a trance. I have just returned to my parents’ house after my first experience with another man. I regret every moment of it. From that goofy smile on my face as I pulled up next to him in the parking lot, to me telling him to pull over his car so we could kiss for the first time. I scream with disgust as I snap out of my trance and scrub my body, face, and arms with soap as if I could rub off his gay touch. I smack my hand violently against the shower wall and slide to the bottom of the tub. What have I done? Why do I have to be gay?

I thought that something was inherently wrong with me. I excelled in my high school classes, and I seemed to have a great friend group. Why did this one thing about me have to be off? I thought my parents would be accepting of my sexuality, but I still felt I had to fight it and fend it off as if it were a challenge that I could win. Society socializes straight as normal and gay as abnormal.3 I wish there was more representation of queer voices for me to relate my experience to others, but there weren’t enough that I had access to as a gay teen in the Midwest to find any solace in my identity.

When I started my own communication research, I thought it would be too stereotypical or vain to study myself or phenomena that were closely related to my past and present struggles with identity formation. A colleague once said to me, “Oh, I hope you’re not one of those gays who just writes about themselves.” Indeed, there is a decent amount of pushback against the notion of me-search as research, but others argue that it is a valid approach to research motivation.4 I kept thinking about this critical moment in the shower to ground it in communicative concepts. I wanted to know what affected my identity formation as a gay male; thus, I set out to contextualize my experiences with coming out as a gay man with communication studies and research. I poured through literature like the water did over my shoulders in an attempt to better understand my queerness. In my studies, I was able to find ways to contextualize my coming out process. This is a piece about queer privacy, queer face, and queer relationality.

Concepts of interpersonal face had always fascinated me, and I see parallels to the ways women in Moore’s study faced face-threatening actions to my own experiences as a sexual minority.5 These experiences include ones that socialized me to be afraid and in denial of my own sexuality and those that I now face as someone fully aware of and comfortable with my queerness. I felt that I had to know more about this phenomenon to understand growing up and growing into being queer.

I employ autoethnography to better understand my standpoint and experiences regarding this topic. I aim not only to show the attack on queerness in interpersonal interactions, but also to critique this discourse and show example of queer perseverance, growth, and pride. Autoethnography can be critical.6 Autoethnography can also queer.7 Thus, autoethnography can be utilized in this study to critique the cultural notion that coming out must be a performative and repetitious process due to normative societal rules about gender, gender expression, sexuality, and sexual identity.

Story 2: One Check

My partner and I would consider ourselves to be major foodies. Veganism entered our relationship for nine months. We’ve tried nearly every local restaurant in Springfield, Missouri. Consequently, many similar experiences have occurred during our various dining experiences. These comments could be regarded as micro-aggressive, which may occur in daily interactions for queer folk.8

At Cheddar’s, Dylan and I have yet to complete our meal, and the server comes by while our mouths are full. She tosses each of our individual checks on the table and walks away before we can say a word.

*Cut*

At the bar, Dylan and I say we’d like to close our tab. The server looks puzzled. “Your tabS?” he questions. I sigh.

*Cut*

At Chipotle, the cashier looks at me and says the total. I balk and say, “I think he has a chicken bowl with guac—we’re on the same check.” A smile radiates across her face. Great—it can be one of two things. “Wow, that’s sweet of you for paying for your friend. She pivots to face Dylan. “You’re gonna pay your buddy back by getting the next meal, right?”

*Cut*

At Houlihan’s, we’ve been waiting for a couple of minutes since finishing our meal before the server comes by again. “Two checks, right?” “No,” I reply. “One check.” She cracks a huge smile, making the highlighter on her face shimmer. Great—it can be one of two things. “Oh my god! I LOVEEEE this! Let me get your ONE check.”

*Cut*

Starbucks: Tells me my total without asking Dylan for his order.

*Cut*

McDonald’s: Reports amount owed without asking for Dylan’s order.

*Cut*

The countless number of Chinese restaurants in Springfield, MO: Informs me of the cost without looking at Dylan for his order.

*Cut*

Panera: Tells me I can swipe whenever before taking Dylan’s order.

*Cut*

Chick-fil-a: Well, what did you fucking expect?

*Cut*

Why did it bother me so much when servers would assume that Dylan and I were on separate checks? I was equally bothered when a bartender insisted that I buy my friend Josie her drinks because it was “the chivalrous thing to do to impress a lady.” Each interaction was slowly chipping away at my negative face and want to be authentically me and queer.9 When thinking about autonomy face, the urge not to be imposed upon, I can now understand why I become so frustrated.10 Each inconsiderate comment or action threatens the authenticity of my relationship. I’m still waiting for someone to ask us, “One check?”

Story 3: Hometown Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, Dylan and I went “home.” The year before, we traveled to St. Petersburg, Florida (I clarify Florida, not Russia, because there would have to be a different queer theory piece about that) to visit Dylan’s favorite aunt, Amy. As a result, my mother claimed all of our time for this Thanksgiving. For the first couple of years that I lived in Springfield after moving away from Illinois for my undergraduate degree, my parents seemed to fight with me over the label of “home.”

“Hey, I just got home.” ——“You mean your dorm room?”

“Hey, I’m going home after work.” ——“You mean you’re going to Dylan’s?”

“Sorry I was late to reply—I just got back home.” ——“Oh, back to you guys’ apartment?”

“I’m thinking about heading back home around 4 pm.” ——“Back to Springfield? You are home.”

My parents were afraid for me to go away to college. At that time, I had recently come out, and they feared for my safety as a gay male. Similar to other parents who voice concern for their departing children.11 As such, our relationship and the way we communicated changed. Parent–child communication behaviors can be severely altered once the child departs for college.12 I believe that my “coming out” followed by my insistent departure to college wounded our previously healthy relationship.

I always labeled both Springfield and my hometown of O’Fallon as home, both simultaneously and separately. However, each home is totally different. Nostalgia envelops the concept of home that I have for O’Fallon. I remember the person I was in high school—extremely social and connected yet not living as my authentic self. I think of Springfield, a place where I feel that I am myself despite the conservative political climate, yet I haven’t found a lot of people outside of Dylan to share it with. Of course, now I understand how being gay partially comprises my identity, but I grimace when people insist it totalizes my identity. I’m not just a “gay best friend.”13 In O’Fallon, I was gay, am gay, but never lived as gay. How do I settle these opposing expressions of my identity?

The uncertainties of sexual identity ate away at my self-image at this home. Perhaps, I avoid going home despite my deep love for my family because it is painful to go to a place where I was afraid to be fully myself. The nostalgia stabs me each time I go on drives around my hometown to reminisce about my wonderful times in high school. It whispers, “If you came out in high school, everything would be different, and you wouldn’t have the same memories. You would have been treated differently.” My fears remind me of Glave’s explication of difficulty of confiding in straight friends.14 I never trusted that any of my high school friends would understand or accept my queerness. So I held on to my secret, having barely told anyone from high school that I have a partner despite the fact that I am open about it in my second home of Springfield.

Over recent months, I finally started to tell my closest friends from high school that I am gay and that I have been dating Dylan for over three years. Unknowingly, I had been negotiating my queer/cultural identity this whole time.15 In July, I meet Lizzie for breakfast, and I casually discuss my life as a gay male with a partner. She seems unphased—three years I’ve been ignoring her because I was scared she’d end our friendship because I was gay. I had created my own privacy rules about my sexuality that were not overly rational. I was scared that I would lose all the good feelings surrounding our memories together. Nostalgia snickers because of what I didn’t realize. I had already lost too much by cutting her out due to fear.

In August, I message Carson on Facebook to tell him that Dylan and I will be traveling to Colorado over the summer to explore some potential schools for my PhD program. He messages back and says he’d like to meet us for dinner or drinks. After summiting Pike’s Peak (via car of course), Dylan and I meet Carson for dinner at a brewery in downtown Colorado Springs. He is far more curious about our vegan diet than my sexuality. How could summiting a literal mountain be an easier climb for me than talking to my friends from high school about my sexual identity? Carson whispers to me while Dylan goes to the bathroom, “Are you happy? Does he make you happy?” I reply that I am, and Carson replies, “Well I’m really happy that you’ve found the right guy for you! I wish you guys would move here!” I feel like I barely know one of my best friends anymore because I was too busy worrying about if he’d accept me or not. Nostalgia grips at my neck: “He’s already gone from the life you knew,” it laughs.

In September, I tell Annie via Snapchat about my boyfriend Dylan. She seems delighted to hear about my relationship and asks me questions. She says she hopes we can get together the next time both of us are “home.” I lash back at nostalgia: “See, you haven’t taken everyone I knew from my old home from me.” I look forward to seeing Annie in a couple of months to introduce Dylan.

November arrives rapidly, and Dylan and I decide to drive up from Thanksgiving a day early to get dinner with some members of his family before my mother’s full day of mediocre food (sorry mom, you’re British, what did you expect?) and board games (Dylan pretends to abhor them—I love them). I message Annie to let her know that we are in the area, and she mentions that she is going to be at a bar in O’Fallon that evening. O’Fallon isn’t tiny—my graduating class in high school exceeded six hundred students—but there aren’t many places to drink. Annie says she is at a downtown sports bar. I know from Snapchat stories that this sports bar is the place to be in O’Fallon during breaks from schools. It is the epicenter of all activity for college students who are “home” for the holidays. Little did I know that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is referred to as “Black[out] Wednesday,” so the very sober Dylan and I find ourselves battling a barrage of drunk college students to find Annie in this bar. Annie greets us both with a hug. “I love you guys!” she exclaims. Hugging both of us simultaneously, “I love this!” She turns to Dylan, stating, “I always knew!” Gesturing to the whole bar: “We all always knew!”

She always “knew” as if it is a thing to know. Something to be guessed and speculated about. A scientific proof, or perhaps the queerdratic equation. It feels paradoxical and makes me feel uncomfortable. Sure, she is accepting, but it feels as if a central piece of my identity that I have struggled with has been fetishized—almost like people placed bets on the authenticity of my sexuality. Nostalgia sneaks in and grabs me from behind, whispering menacingly into my ear: “Nothing would have been the same if you came out in high school, and you’ve already waited too long to change the present.”

My first home and all the people I shared it with are forever frozen in time as a relic. Each time I visit, nostalgia and angst loom over me. I think of closeted Dominic, overcompensation, and high school heteronormativity. I feel out of place each time I visit and see my old house. The place where my parents stormed into my room to interrogate me about my sexuality. No. This was a home once, but it isn’t my home anymore. I am somewhere between there and now that will never let me fully connect with that home again, so I will have to keep searching for a new home to be myself.

Story 4: Snapshots of Me at Pere Marquette

In December 2017, I was officially inducted into the Walker family (Dylan’s dad’s side) via family photos. The day after Christmas, we drive up to Pere Marquette State Park, which is perched scenically above where the Mississippi, Illinois, and Missouri Rivers meet in Grafton, Illinois. I am familiar with the area. It is about an hour away from where I grew up. My mom would plan a trip for my brother, dad, and I to come up to the area to take the ferry across the river, go for a walk in the park, go eagle watching, or go to the nearby waterpark called Raging Rivers. I also vividly recall the time we had a Boy Scout camping trip to this state park when I was in middle school. The same camping trip where one of my fellow scouts removed his underwear and shoved it in my face while another watched and laughed. I gaze up the rocky bluffs toward the campgrounds, and just like the winter wind, the memory chills me:

“Dominic, are you gay yet?”

Underwear gets pushed further into my mouth.

*Snap*

*Snap*

“Dominic, are you gay yet?”

His naked body pushes closer against me.

*Snap*

*Snap*

“Dominic, are you gay yet?”

*Snap*

*Snap*

When I first began truly interrogating my sexuality in high school, I always worried that this experience had indeed turned me gay. I struggled with rationalizing my supposedly homosexual actions with my previously straight sexual orientation like many sexual minorities supposedly do in adolescence.16 My blood boiled and raged like the three great rivers that meet near Pere Marquette each time I thought of the experience. How could my scout “friends” be so cruel as to turn me gay?

But today, the water is calm, and the scenery is picturesque. Snow is gently falling as Dylan drives our car toward the park’s hospitality lodge. I am definitely a much different person arriving today than I was over ten years ago. Honestly, the conditions were ideal for your stereotypical white family photoshoot. We are all in our color-coordinated outfits, and Aunt Amy is pleased because she had arranged this photoshoot as a gift for Dylan’s grandmother’s birthday. Each individual sector of the family gets pictures, and I feel an indescribable sense of clarity and belonging by being included in both the pictures with Dylan’s father, step-mother, brother, and sister, as well as the large family portrait.

There is some extra time left with the photographer, so Amy suggests that Dylan and I take some photos together. I feel very grateful that she’d allow time she paid for to be used for Dylan and me to take some photos. At this point, we had been together almost four years, but the majority of our pictures together were just selfies. Maybe I’m nervous about taking pictures, but I must admit that I’m more nervous about asking strangers to take a picture of a gay couple in public.

The photographer positions Dylan and I together, and she seems shocked that we decided to touch each other. I wrap one of my arms around Dylan, and the photographer remarks, “Wow, you must really like each other.”

*Snap*

*Snap*

I decided to give Dylan a more romantic embrace.

*Snap*

*Snap*

The photographer pauses, and says, “This is the closest that I’ve ever seen two brothers get in a picture, but perhaps we could make a play on that dynamic and try to have you guys separate a bit and act angry at each other like most brothers do? You know, like cross your arms and look a bit more masculine and competitive?” Amy looks a bit uncomfortable and chimes in as if she didn’t hear the photographer, “You two are such a cute couple!” The photographer looks blindsided. It is as if she would have expected Dylan and I to be incestuous brothers than a gay couple. Dylan and I now share a very awkward and timid embrace.

*Snap*

*Snap*

Snap was the sound of the photographer’s camera as the scene became more uncomfortable. I also remember each and every snap as my fellow scout undid the myriad of buttons on his uniform. Somehow, I felt like I couldn’t snap out of my trance when thinking about this memory. Today, the one good photo from that day now sits on Dylan’s desk, the ice glimmering on the raging rivers in the background. Am I gay enough yet?

*Snap*

*Snap*

Story 5: “That’s So Gay”

*Eating in the cafeteria my freshman year of high school*
“They’re out of Bosco Sticks!” someone whines. “That’s so gay!”
*Hanging out at a friend’s house my sophomore year of high school*
“You look hot bro,” one of my high school friends says to another.
“Dude, that’s gay.” I laugh.
“Ah no homo!” he laughs back.
*Driving in my car during my junior year of high school*
“They didn’t use their turn signal” I fume.
“Wow, that’s so gay,” retorts one of my friends.
*Walking in the halls my senior year of high school*
“Heads up, there’s a pop quiz next class.” I caution one of my high school acquaintances.
“Damn, that’s so gay!” she moans back.
*Summer after graduating high school. I recently came out to my parents, and I’m sitting on the couch with my mom*
“Oh, look at your dad cutting the weeds in the backyard again,” my mom remarks.
“Ha ha—that’s so gay,” I exclaim.
*The color drains from my face. My mom looks at me, tears welling in her eyes. She gets up and leaves the room without saying another word. I sit stoically in silence*

“That’s so gay”17 is commonly used to undermine gay identity and autonomy, and my habitual sayings to help me play straight did not cut me this time but my mother.

Story 6: The Poncho

The way we dress and adorn ourselves can signal to others our gender identity and sexual orientation, and I was always afraid to show my sexual identity on my sleeve.18

Nervousness flows through me
As I scroll through the Black Friday sale at Banana Republic.
All ponchos $19.99.
I have never owned this type of poncho
Like this one online.
Just the ponchos considered acceptable for men.
Bright yellow, or clear with a company logo on the back
But nothing like this.
My eyes dart back and forth
Weaving from the hotel computer
To the lobby around me
Back to the screen.
Waiting for someone to catch me.
Weaving like the gray and black fabric
On that poncho I like online.
Swiftly I click
Add to cart
Checkout
Purchase
It’s done.
The package arrives
Quicker than I expected.
Now I must wear
The poncho I liked online.
I present my new garb to Dylan.
“I wouldn’t wear that,
but maybe you’d pull it off”
So I wear it
And I walk down the street
Weaving in and out of passersby
But,
Are they looking at my poncho?
I just want to pull it off…
What was I thinking?
I can be gay
But not that gay.
Now, my identity is on the line.
Nervousness flows through my body
Flows like the fabric of the poncho
The one I liked so much online.
No…
No.
No!
I’ve wanted a poncho
Or a cape
Or long cardigan
Something that I can wrap around my body
Something I can wrap around my body’s insecurities
But now I can’t really hide.
I just always wanted something like that
Something like that poncho
That poncho with the weaving gray and black fabric
That I liked online.

Story 7: The Jacket

My parents told me that others would comment about how I was a different type of child. When adults would be driving, I would lean around the seat to observe if they were going over the speed limit. Rules and order were something I heralded as the ultimate truth as a child. However, I did not follow many normative rules for a male child in elementary school. I always found more comfort in spending time with female classmates, but, paradoxically and ironically, I was one of the first students my age to grow any sort of body hair. Looking back now at these moments, I think about others in the field of communication who have discussed queerness and body hair.19

One day, a male classmate, Tanner, approached me and asked me “Why are you such a hairy boy but you talk like a girl and play with girls?” From then on, I felt that I needed to veil my symbol of masculinity to avoid dissonance. My voice and mannerisms were betraying the supposed sanctity of my prepubescent boy body. For the rest of second grade, I hid a lightweight jacket in my backpack. Once my parents dropped me off, I would adorn myself with the jacket to avoid bringing attention to my hairy arms. Then, the boys made fun of the “girly” turquoise blue on my jacket, so I hid from boys at school instead of hiding my body.

Story 8: PDA (Public Dissatisfactions of Affection)

It’s late. We
have been traveling for
quite some time now.
I want my rest my head
I want to rest it on your shoulder and
touch you,
touch you like the “cute” straight couple standing
right in front of us.
Would they coo at the sight?
The sight of my head on your shoulder?
Coo at us like they do,
like they do for that cute straight couple?
Or no?20
It’s been a fun night and
I want to feel closer to you as
we walk back to the car.
Will I ever feel our hands intertwine?
Can we hold hands?
Or
shall we fear?
Fear like all the others?21
But I want to feel them.
Feel them weave together without
the sweat from my nervousness.
The nervousness present
since our first date,
the first date when I held your hand
in the park.
The park where the little girl yelled,
yelled at us,
“Ew!”
“Ew, boys don’t hold hands!”
And her mom smiled at us,
but she didn’t smile at us the same way,
the same way people coo,
the way that coo at those cute straight couples.
No, they “ew,”
they “ew,” not coo.

Story 9: Second-Class Mail

As a new year began, Dylan and I decided to move to the outskirts of Springfield so our dogs could have a yard. We leased a house in a quaint older neighborhood, where most of the residents owned their homes. We didn’t speak with our neighbors often, as many of them were retired couples, and our schedules varied. I was careful about displaying affection when Dylan and I were outside, and it seemed to be working because our next-door neighbor asked me if my brother and I could help her move an armchair.

Summertime approached quickly that year, so Dylan and I relished in the opportunity to take the dogs on some walks. One day shortly after we began this routine, I went across the street to see if the mail had arrived and was surprised to find a lone paperback book in the mailbox. I looked down and froze when reading, realizing what the book was: essentially an ode against homosexuality. I couldn’t stop looking at the box, stuck in trance as I ran my hands against seams across the front cover—indicating that the book was used like a prized possession, something someone had very much intended to pass along to us. Dylan yelled over at me, asking why I was standing in the middle of the road, and I slowly shuffled back to the driveway. I was reminded once again that I was not a creator of my own identity and the connotations that come along with that, but rather a subject of discourse, and I was simply a lessee.22

For a few days, we proudly displayed our new antiquated book on a magazine shelf on our living room end table. But from that day on, it started really getting to me. It was no longer an outlandish story but a simple reality. One that I could and likely will face again in some form as a clearly gay man. I paused and glanced back at the cover. The authors eyes staring into my queered soul: jet black, yet gleefully mocking me. It was the first time I had ever felt blatantly targeted for my sexuality. I thought, It couldn’t be a confidence, right? The first attack on my “status face” as a gay man as if I were something lesser, immoral, or abnormal in society.23 I stared back into her dark eyes on the cover and snatched the book off the shelf. That night, we threw the book into the firepit and made s’mores as the pages damning my queerness turned into ash.

Story 10: My Coming-Out Story (Forever in Progress)

“Dominic, I know you don’t want to hear my advice right now, but your parents and I are wanting what’s best for you. I have my doctorate, and I know that two men together can never achieve full happiness. It can make your brain go bad because it’s searching for more.”

I stared blankly at this “family therapist” my parents had brought me to in an effort to “repair our relationship after lying to them about coming out. Didn’t they get it? I didn’t tell them I was gay because I was too busy trying to hide it from myself, but now I had a boyfriend, and all the emotions just kind of happened. I began to drift off in thought wondering how I got into this situation:

Dylan and I met online when I was a senior in high school, and he was a sophomore in college. This was pre-Tinder, so the app that we met on was called “Hot or Not.” Romantic, right? I happened to be in Springfield for a college visit when Dylan and I ended up on each other’s’ radars. Dylan wanted to meet up that day while I was on campus, but I was too nervous to meet him. I had never personally met a guy I was interested in before, which caught Dylan off guard because he had been out for a while and was a treasurer of his university’s allies club (similar to a gay–straight alliance).

We talked for about a month long distance and decided to meet up shortly after that. Dylan drove to O’Fallon from Springfield, and I met him in a McDonald’s parking lot. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was 40 minutes away from my suburb, so I told my parents I was hanging out with three of my friends. Shortly into hanging out with them, I faked a stomach ache to leave and drove across the river to meet Dylan. Our first meeting went well. I felt rebellious and satisfied as we sat and talked on the steps of the church near his dad’s house.

We continued to talk for another month long distance until Dylan took a week of vacation to come visit me again. We spent a lot of time together, and the week was going well, but I kept having to evade my parents’ suspicions about my whereabouts. I was in bed one night after getting back home, when my parents came busting through my door at 1 am. My mom was crying, and my dad looked really angry. Somehow they had found out that I had been hanging out with Dylan. How? Facebook suggested him as a friend to one of my parents, and they found a photo trail and evidence of us together on his public profile.

I continued to zone out as the therapist droned on about his accolades. Why were my parents doing this? They are “liberal” and we had a pretty good relationship. I had my phone taken away, my car keys, my freedom, any sense that my queerness was okay, and all that I could think about now was that I…

“Hello? Dominic? I think it’s time to bring your parents in to talk.”

I nod. Perhaps more vigorously to try and shake off my shame and the scent of mold gripping my nostrils from the old house-rotting building that housed this office. Perhaps similar to the mold that was rotting my gay brain.

“Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Pecoraro. I wanted to call you in immediately. I was just talking to Dominic about something, well, concerning.”

He proceeds to inform me (supposedly a second time) and my parents that Dylan had a history of going after younger men, and that he had a pending charge for statutory rape. When I tried to interrupt, he cut me off, and told my parents it would be best to take me home to process this heavy information. I am flabbergasted. I started to worry. Who was lying to me? Was Dylan actually a covert pedophile? My parents used this information along with other stats about the dangers of being gay in their plea for me not to go away for college and to live at home and go to community college. I was eighteen, and I made my own decision to leave for college.

It’s been nearly five years since my parents took me to that therapist, and I just recently confronted them about the experience. My parents were shocked to hear what the therapist had said to me. Why were they surprised? Were the documents I garnished during my first semester in college showing Dylan’s clean record not enough to undermine anything that therapist ever said? All of us felt we had failed each other in some way, but we can’t go back. I felt I had failed my first performance of coming out, and that will always be on my record.

Epilogue

As I still stand
Scarred by a thousand cuts
I recall the pain that I’ve felt.
The things that have been said.
“Two checks?”
“Ew, boyfriend?”
“Your roommate?”
“Dominic are you gay yet?”
*Snap* Out of it.
Yes, yes, I am gay
And I’ve always been.
I wasn’t what I wanted
But I’m here anyway
So I will stand
And I’ll parade with my scars
And I’ll hold his fucking hand
Because I want to
As I walk the path
Memorializing those who died
A death by a thousand cuts.

* * *

The various interpersonal interactions that I endured as I grew up queer made me afraid of my identity, and I set up privacy rules to block people from learning about my hidden self. When I finally felt more comfortable about my sexuality, I started coming out to my family and peers, and I experienced the co-ownership and the resulting boundary turbulence in sharing my queerness. Additionally, I experienced constant invalidation of my queer identity in my public, personal, and professional life. At times, others totalize me as a gay male, which made me feel like other important aspects of my personality and identity didn’t matter. I was labeled as the gay friend or gay coworker because that’s all I was seen as—gay. Other times, I felt my identity as a gay male wasn’t acknowledged at all, which threatened not only my sense of identity but the legitimacy of my relationship to my partner. This created a painful and strenuous tension between being seen as only gay and not being seen as gay at all. These interpersonal interactions deeply affected by sense of belonging in my interpersonal relationships and affected the way I constructed privacy rules to safeguard by authentic self.

* * *

So the next time I get asked, “Two checks, right?” or “Is that your roommate or brother?” or “OMG are you gay, LOVE?” I’ll work my hardest to communicate the authenticity and normalcy of my identity. No more cuts.

The author thanks Jake Simmons, Shawn T. Wahl, and Carrissa S. Hoelscher for their insightful feedback on his thesis from which this manuscript came into fruition. Additionally, the author thanks Tony E. Adams for his invaluable comments on the manuscript. The author also thanks the two anonymous JoAE reviewers in providing meaningful suggestions and critiques.

Notes

1

Nadal, Kevin L., Marie-Anne Issa, Jayleen Leon, Vanessa Meterko, Michelle Wideman, and Yinglee Wong. “Sexual Orientation Microaggressions: ‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’ for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth.” Journal of LGBT Youth 8, no. 3 (2011): 234–259.

2

Adams, Tony E. Narrating the Closet: An Autoethnography of Same-Sex Attraction (New York: Routledge, 2016).

3

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