When I came out in the 90s, having entered a committed relationship with a woman that would last until she left me sixteen years later, it was still possible for a woman to be ostracized for her sexuality in my community. I am first-generation college from a working-class Catholic family; against most odds, I hold an academic position at a public institution in the Midwest. At the time I came out, AIDS continued to alter and/or end the lives of my gay male friends and mentors. I was no longer married to a man, no longer young, not a mother; where I fit in was not immediately apparent. Then again, not fitting in was a condition familiar to me. It was, in fact, my native state. When I was in school I was called Freckle-Face Faggot Fagan. At first I wondered why anyone would compare me, a sturdy little girl (with a dictionary), to a bundle of sticks. When I came to understand the idiomatic meaning of the expression, I was less puzzled: of course I was “different,” of course I was “queer.”
These were feelings, not thoughts, and though I had plenty of both as a child, I was neither able nor encouraged by the adults in my life to articulate them. To this day, I am uncomfortable when speaking, especially if I’m speaking about myself. The indirect, figurative, imagistic elements of poetry, therefore, became my primary way of interpreting my experiences in the world. I don’t know, to this day, whether inherent queerness made me a poet, or if it was inherent poetness that made me queer, but behind both are, I see now, a powerful identification with the non-mainstream and a natural feminism made infinitely stronger by virtue of having once been in love with a woman. I have since learned to respect my reticence, to understand that its impulse is not to withhold, keep secret, or obfuscate, but to perceive sensitively and incorruptibly, and it has become easier to turn that respect outward, to honor others’ vulnerabilities and preferences.
I am fortunate to be in a monogamous, warm and loving, albeit straight, marriage now. I’ve been called a “hasbian,” which is funny, but also rightly suggestive of failure, so heartbreaking to me. While it is easy to pass as straight—both because I’m married to a cisgender straight man and because I’m a cisgender woman over 50 (which means, in our culture, sexually invisible)—I do not feel un-queer, nor would I ever wish to. I believe my queerness, half the result of wound, half the result of nature, affects every choice I make, especially in my art, my politics, and my teaching. I believe the spectrum of sexuality I’ve experienced is specific to some men, women, and non-binary people who may possess—or develop, out of necessity—above average psychological range and emotional capaciousness. I believe my queerness has encouraged me to fall in love with individuals instead of genders, has challenged me to remain open to difference and alert to injustice, and has led my poems toward the experiment and complexity I hold dear.