When my uncle found out, he looked at me with such scornful dismay that I understood what Dr. Frankenstein’s monster must have felt as he stumbled through the world. Maybe I was born this way, or maybe it is the consequence of some oversight in my upbringing … I am a bit of a prude.
I am not proud of it, and I am certainly not self-righteous about it either. Most of the time I try to hide my prudishness as if it were an unsightly blemish on my character. I just don’t like talking about sex.
My wife says I resemble something out of a bygone era; as if by some freakish twist of nature, I was born in the wrong century. I blame my condition on overexposure to Victorian-era British dramas as a child. Maybe through these shows, the idea that such things are simply not talked about — it is not dignified — seeped into my subconscious and was never fully dislodged.
Being a lesbian somewhat helps me hide my prudish nature. Apparently, my preference for women automatically means that my sex life is an open book; no one told me this when they issued me my lesbian card. As one friend put it, “I didn’t even know that lesbian prudes existed.”
This cover, however, eventually backfires when straight people invariably want insider information into the mysterious and magical (obviously) world of lesbian sex. They assume that I cannot be sexually repressed if I sleep with the same gender. They are correct; I am not sexually repressed. Ironically, I would classify myself as more “free to experiment” than most. I just don’t need to tell everyone about it.
In middle school, when we all began to explore this forbidden world of S-E-X, my friends would cluster in a back corner of the schoolyard and whisper whatever ridiculous nuggets of knowledge they had gleaned from the Internet that day. At the time, they approached the topic with the same furtive glee as they approached the stolen whiskey we planned to share after school. It was forbidden, and we were breaking the rules by even talking about it. I reacted at the time much the same way I react now: “Great! Now that you mention it … is it time to change the subject yet?”
Maybe I still react this way because even as full-grown adults, all of whom (hopefully) have had sex, people still approach the subject as if they're being bad just by talking about it. Instead of furtive glee, they approach it with defiant glee, like they are saying, “Guess what? I can talk about sex, and you can’t stop me.” You’re right! I can’t stop you, nor would I wish to. I just don’t want to participate in the conversation. Why is that so bad? Why does that imply a judgment upon you?
I have been trying to increase my tolerance for sex talk with mixed success. I can laugh at bawdy jokes, discuss sex in a theoretical way, and even occasionally drop suggestive hints, but my acquired tolerance is lumpy and uneven. Though I can trade jokes, if you pry for specific details of my sex life, or worse yet, show me anything pornographic, my game face completely breaks. A blush takes over my whole body, and I begin to slowly, almost tenderly, dig myself a hole in which to hide. Invariably this is when the judgment starts. I find it ironic; people are so afraid that prudes will judge them that they, in turn, become the very judgment-monsters they fear.
There is one notable exception — my former boss Shaun. I can talk to Shaun about sex. He approaches sex differently than anyone else. Talking to Shaun about sex is like talking to a museum curator about Monet; it is more a passionate academic pursuit than something slightly naughty. When we check out pictures of chicks, explaining that I prefer an athletic build to a curvy build is like explaining why I prefer neoclassical art to impressionism. There was no awkwardness, no sense of social defiance, just a quasi-academic discussion of taste. Maybe it is not me who is ashamed of sex at all? Maybe you are, and I am just a lightning rod for your discomfort?
So, to honor this week's National Coming Out Day, I am coming out as a prude. I wish I could say that writing this essay was liberating, but it is actually mortifying. That is what makes this a genuine “coming out.” I was terrified to come out as a lesbian, as I am mortified now to come out as a prude.
Publicly LGBTQ personalities may look like they were born comfortable with themselves, but this is rarely the case. We didn’t come out for fun, or because we are proud. Coming out is the first step: It is revealing ourselves to the world with the hope that our honesty will inspire compassion in others and acceptance in ourselves.
After being openly gay for a few years, I no longer feel defiant or ashamed of being a lesbian; I feel comfortable. Just as I cannot tell you where your coming-out journey will take you, I cannot predict what will happen with my own dirty secret. Hopefully I will gain some acceptance of my prudish nature, or maybe I will succeed in changing my ways. Yet I am taking this plunge, because I want you to know that it is always scary to come out, but it is worth it, and you are not alone.
REBECCA HOLLIMAN is a author and editor of BeccaTheBlogger.com and works as a freelance writer in Sacramento.