What if more comfort with vagueness is exactly what we all need?

As therapists, we have the privilege of walking with people through pivotal moments in their lives. We hold space for questioning, space for curiosity, and space for saying things out loud that many have never been able to speak. We teach the power of duality – of holding seemingly opposing truths simultaneously and how to live within them.

My colleagues and I recently discussed some of our favorite things about being therapists. I love so much about this role but for me the honor of witnessing a coming out journey of a teen or young adult tops my list. Nearly every client I’ve ever treated, no matter what they are dealing with, seeks an objective person to ask them questions, without judgment, about what they are thinking, feeling, and believing, to challenge and teach them how to understand, and practice, dualistic thinking; a person who has no stake in their answers beyond their safety and self-actualization. That’s what I try to offer because that is what every single one of us deserves.

It’s something I wish I had available to me in my adolescence.

Questions I often ask myself:

What if there had been space for “vagueness”?

What if part of identity development for all of us was explicit permission to not define ourselves until we want to?

Until we have language for and experiences with the things we are actually thinking and feeling?

What if “Queer” had been an option for me?

How much more could I have learned about myself?

What shame might I have been able to avoid?

What silence might I have felt solidarity to shatter?

How can we more effectively show-up for people of all ages NOW and provide the support, language, and community to open doors for deeper self-exploration?

I was aware of my queerness from a very early age – it was complicated. I didn’t understand it – mostly because I didn’t understand the spectrum of sexuality, and I didn’t have anyone in my life who could explain it to me. I was a product of my time – the 80’s and 90’s. At that time, I knew that some of what I felt seemed wrong to people – or at least that it made the grown-ups in my life uncomfortable. We had gay members in the family that we loved. I didn’t grow up in hatred – just silence.

I watched the AIDS epidemic unfold on television throughout my childhood and adolescence. I remember when Pedro Zamora was the first out, gay, HIV+ person on television, representing the entire gay universe on The Real World, San Francisco in 1994, the year I turned 16. It felt very personal in a way that I didn’t understand. It also felt terrifying. By that time I had been watching the decimation of the gay community from AIDS for a decade. It was distant from me but it was something I was always aware of.

The older I got, the more intensely I felt a responsibility to be a certain way, the more compelled I felt to separate myself from that conflicted, curious, and confusing part. I liked girls, but I also liked boys, and a lot of gray area in between because mostly I liked people I felt safe with who challenged me in some way emotionally and intellectually to be more and learn more about myself. There wasn’t a name for that in the language that was available when I was an adolescent and no one in my orbit was seeking that language – at least not that I knew of because of course few people talked about these things. And I was very busy trying to acquire approval, adoration, and praise.

What I knew is that between exploring relationships with boys or girls, one felt acceptable. The other didn’t. Many other things got in the way that would take an entire memoir to explain. Needless to say we all come from somewhere and in the absence of explicitness we internalize messaging, make decisions, and often take the path of least resistance when that is an option. I had the privilege of being able to “appear straight” because I fell in love with a man. I left so much of my story out and I let assumptions be made about me. Was this cowardly? Maybe. I own that too. I could just be an “ally” and that felt like it would have to be enough. I’ve done many courageous things in my life – but I couldn’t do the work to feel safe “coming out”, to understand and come to terms with my own internalized shame and fear until the last few year. I am so grateful to the young people who are reframing and renaming and talking so openly – allowing those of us from the before times to better understand ourselves and find the courage to step into the light alongside them. I know I’m not alone in this reality. I also know that I can be a courageous person and not have been brave in this. Until I was. Duality.

This duality plays out in my life everyday. I’ve been married to the only cis/het man I could ever be with for 23 years. We have created a beautiful life and family. I’m grateful to have found this person in the endless sea of possibilities. I can love and appreciate him AND I can feel sad for the parts of me that have felt the need to hide. I can love and be attracted to him AND I can grieve for parts of me that didn’t feel safer to explore more when I was younger. I am grateful everyday that he loves me, that I can be fully myself, and that he doesn’t love me less for it. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to allow all the parts of me to exist openly. I wish for you, and for everyone, a shorter journey with more support.

What feels most important to share as I end this post – is that while I am not in danger the way many LGBTQIA2s+ people are (and I fight everyday in many ways to create a safer world for those most at risk) – I know my story is one that represents so many people’s. If everyone who exists in this area of vagueness, outside of the either/or, felt safe to step into the both/and it would be astounding how many more members of this family there would be. I wish “Queerness” for us all in the exploration of our own becoming. The absence of this middle space is what causes the fear, shame, and hate to grow. I’m committed to holding space for what we have yet to understand.

As you go forth this Pride, I encourage you to consider how you hold duality in your life, your relationships, and in your opportunities for leadership.

Remember the words of my friend and colleague, Rosanne Marmor, LCSW “Can we allow spectrums and the removal of the gender binary? On this gay pride, can we see that boxes need holes poked through so we can all see the light.” (click the quote to read her message for Pride)

A Wish for Us All 
by Erin Mahone
I am a child of the 1900's
I wish "Queer" had been an option for me
It was a slur back then. For many it still is. Language is strange that way.
I wish the now version of "Queer" had been an option
Queer encompasses an expansiveness of becoming that all humans deserve access to
An expansiveness that terrifies many
I wish it for every human whose fear of their own thoughts and feelings causes them to act from that place of shame
The place that justifies hate, violence, and segregation
I wish for us all a gentler place to explore the complexities of our personhood
I wish that every kid whose parents' send them to therapy for being "the problem" would receive the gift of parents who also go to therapy
I was taught never to expect someone to do something I wasn't willing to do myself...I was also told "do as I say, not as I do"
Can they both be true?

I grieve
What if Queer had been an option for everyone who struggled to fit into one box or another?
What if we could be "Questioning" forever?
What would it have been like not to be defined by an either/or but to choose both/and - to even know we were allowed?
I grieve for not knowing
I grieve for all the questions I never asked
I grieve for everyone who came before me who also didn't know they could ask