I’d like to play with some thoughts here, and although I’m sure others have before me, this is mainly a reflection on my own experience, which, I believe, others share in some form or another.
Some large part of society is founded on sexual desire. Men and women desire each other and procreate; children, even in broken homes, see this model and are socialized into it, and it mostly suits them. Obviously many feminist and queer theorists have raised a fuss about this, but it is still a fact—especially in Christian homes, in which I grew up.
One of my friends once told me that he knew he wanted to get married in kindergarten, or when he was five, or at a very early age. I think of every time I've heard a gay person say “ever since I was young, I’ve felt different.” And, I think this sense of difference can be attributed to an interaction with the cultural map of desiring. For if my friend could decide that he authentically wanted a heterosexual marriage when he was in kindergarten, that his desires aligned with the social norms, then I imagine that a gay child could decide that his desires did not authentically line up with social norms, but without the language to express it. Thus, an unnamed difference—for there were no alternative norms, for some, with which to align.
The misalignment of cultural maps onto individual experience is not just a gay thing, for no cultural map can account for complete individuality. But it is particularly acute in the queer experience, in which marginality is absurd and haphazard, seemingly springing from nowhere, with no lineage—its community is formed entirely voluntarily of self-realization, and is not joined accidentally. Additionally, there is an abundance of rationalizations that diminish the “gayness” of, in my estimation, a legitimately “gay” desiring, like “bro-culture,” the disqualifying “no-homo,” and stuff that looks like “homosociality.” And, while gay functioned as an insult (“gaaaay!”) and as an ‘otherized’ category of people, but these delimited desires prevailed, I can imagine that one can dissociate from the label “gay” and towards a sexualized homosociality, at best. The cultural maps that adequately account for an individual's desire remained confusing and disorienting.
Yet, this is the crux, and it seems bathetically simple to me: if society tells you to have a girlfriend, or to participate in heterosexual desiring, and you have no language or desire for your own "homosexual" desiring (especially when it’s labelled as sinful, as I grew up in the church), then you get used to living as a culturally-constructed ghost of the self. As for me, this means that things that should be legitimate experiences—love, romance, and desire, upon which so much cultural experience built, like a large teenage self-conception—became like words floating in the air, and I was caught up in the words alone. For example, I dated a girl in high school for two reasons: first, that, before I graduated, I should check off “dating” from a list of social norms expected of people in high school; second, that she liked me, and I could just go along with it, nervous merely from social expectation, empty of any attraction, except that she was a fun friend. The tide of sociality sweeps those who have no grounding in the self.
There are two solutions to the disorientation between the inner self and social expectation. The first is to turn to some form of religious institution to mitigate the tension, for these are the institutions that provide broader meanings and can make sense of your own situation. There is much more nuance to the religious factor, but religion is expressive, intimate, and social in a way that the secular is, often, not. The second solution is to become some form of artist: my family contained musicians and I usually left school early (by taking an early class) to play with audio and music, put on headphones, and escape. Eventually, I took up photography too. There is an unspoken third one: suicide, but this is no solution, although it is a fact of the social margins. It underscores the seriousness and felt-reality of this disorientation.
Although there are more factors that play into the matter of the margins, and more ways of expressing the self than just through sexuality, there is a distinct dissociation here—if it is that—between the individual, “authentic” self and the socially-constructed self. And, because sexuality is strangely total (from most people I’ve talked and listened to, even if sexuality is a “minor” thing, it is a deep and acute distinction that grows to encompass such a breadth of emotional life that negligence of it is debilitating. Maybe, then, it is only a “minor” thing because you’ve been avoiding it for so long, and have navigated your way around it while feigning ignorance), an individual may find small enclaves of repose—music, photography, religious experience—while creating a habit of lying under the guise of a heterosexual ideal-type (that is—not just one who does a heterosexual sex act, but the type of person who would be doing those acts). For this individual, there are few points of contact with the ground of things—with the immediacy of the experience—while the rest of living is as a ghost, caught up in the abstraction of social expectation, while an underlying "self" (more essential than not) withers away.
Now, the coming out declaration is a rebellion against this lie; an understanding that socially-constructed values do not fit the self ultimately puts the one who comes out in a position to question the order of things. It is a repositioning, to begin to search out the depth of this lie and slowly eradicate it; to begin to embody the life that once merely existed in a ghost; to break down the limits of desiring; and to reevaluate one’s place in society. It is an existence discovering authenticity where it was once absent, but I believe wholeheartedly that authenticity alone turns into a form of solipsism; so it is an existence discovering authenticity in order to best give from an abundant generosity, to love well, and to mean it.
This stuff should be obvious. And I've believed it all for a long time; it's nothing new. But to realize the extent of this--to finally know in my body the sociological knowledge surrounding sexuality, to finally have enough words and reasonings to stop being dismissed by my own family--demanded that I write this down, to make my thoughts, if not completely coherent, at least available. Additionally, one of my friends did not realize the strength of social norms, for he benefitted from them, and so I thought it was important to begin to put language to my thoughts here, if only to give others some language.