My last A.V. Club column was published on June 5, 2015. Just about three weeks later, the Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality. I didn’t write about it. It was busy time and, in my mind, I let that be the reason I stopped writing the column. I was engaged and planning a wedding, working on selling two television shows and a stand-up special. I shot four movies that summer. I told myself to simplify and stay focused on that work. I had regular outlets—a large fall tour planned, podcast appearances—and writing this column had stopped being fun.
But also: Writing had stopped being fun. Even balanced by a bigger flood of positive feedback from strangers, pals, and other comics who read the things I wrote, the dickheaded responses I got to my column wore me down. I didn’t try to look for them. I didn’t scroll the comments. Hate is quick on its feet; it finds you. And when your job involves publicly listing the places you will be ahead of time, hate must be given “does this person plan to harm me?” attention.
Skimming for harm means seeing the ticker tape that’s followed me my whole career.
“Why does this column exist?”
“Why does this person exist?”
“Why does anyone listen to her?”
“Why does she have a job?”
“Why does she talk about being gay?”
And I wonder: Why does it hurt so much that I exist?
I’m actually pretty familiar with my existence causing pain. The day marriage equality became law nationwide, I happened to have been booked to appear on The Nerdist podcast with Chris Hardwick, Jonah Ray, and Matt Mira. After sharing tears of joy with my then-fiancée, now-wife, Rhea, and an outpouring of calls, texts, and emails from just about everyone I knew, I drove to a studio and sat down with three of the kindest straight dudes and shared the experience of that day with them.
I told them part of my story—that’d I’d been raised in a conservative Catholic family, that I’d never met an openly gay person before coming out, that my coming out caused so much pain, I’d lost friends and family and almost left my college because of a “no gays” policy. Then I offered an ending to that story. I had some friends apologize, and I eventually made new friends. Eventually, every person in my family accepted me, or at least came to terms with my reality. I graduated from that “no gays” college the same week Massachusetts became the first state the legalize same sex marriage. My school had been down the street from City Hall, and I went with my then-girlfriend to watch the first couples emerge, victorious.
Some topics are more podcast-friendly than others, and giving my story a neat beginning and end is not only easier on others but also a nice narrative to repeat to myself. “I didn’t know I was gay. I went to college. I realized I was gay. It was awful. And then it wasn’t.” The past three weeks, however, have made me realize that simplification can also be a disservice.
There is a middle to my story. I didn’t jump out of the closet. It was more like a leak. And during that leak, harm was done that no Supreme Court decision can undo. Hoping to rein in a sexuality I didn’t understand, I turned my brain against my body. I developed an eating disorder I still struggle with today and I drank myself into blackouts. I stopped trusting people and began to compulsively lie to friends and family about my whereabouts. I lost my faith in any sort of god or unifying spirit. I hardly ever got dressed in “normal” clothing, instead opting for costumes. Sometimes, I disappeared for days on end. I mean really: I lost it and my friends thought this was funny, not sad—that I was a wild woman sowing oats—so I coped this way for years.
I had a reputation for being unpredictable and distant, but also the life of the party. Isolation is something predators look for and during that time, I was sexually assaulted by someone I considered a friend. Other people saw it happen but assumed I was being the rowdy party monster they knew me to be. The man who did it stayed in my life and circle of friends. He would have beat the shit out of me when he found out I was gay, save the happenstance of another male friend being around to witness him charging me outside my building, screaming at me, “YOU’RE A FUCKING DYKE?!”
He was over a foot taller than me, and by that point, had spent years memorizing my class schedule, breaking into my dorm rooms and apartments to “leave me gifts,” and regularly tackling me to the ground as a part of our “friendship.” Would he have killed me if that other guy hadn’t been there to stand between us the day he figured out why I had no interest in dating him? I don’t think so. I think he would have swung at me, though. I could see it in his face. Other men have given me that same look since. Not often. But I’ve seen it.
On June 26th, 2015—Marriage Equality Day—15 years into my comedy career and 15 years after realizing I was gay, I felt for the first time that perhaps I could live my life without fearing for it. And with the Electoral College poised to ensure that a man with a self-described history of sexually assaulting women and a veep with a neo-Crusader’s record of targeting LGBT folks and women will win the presidency after 18 months of spitting utterly racist and homophobic shit, I was a bit upset. And, weirdly, somehow surprised.
Weirdly because I’ve been chased my whole adult life by the specter he embodies. My kid life too, if you count the many years I tried to fit into a heteronormative mold without knowing what the fuck was wrong with me. (Answer: Nothing.) The specter that is the same reason I chose my job to begin with: that feeling of being in the unsafe middle of the story, between uplifting endings, where we’ve always been.
Of course this election is about more than queer folks. I speak about my firsthand experience because I hope the emotion and the alienation are relatable, not because I hope to overpower all other experiences. And those questions:
Why does this column exist?
Because people read it, because The A.V. Club hired me to write it, because it’s a viewpoint that has been historically underrepresented, and there’s a market for it among people who feel underrepresented. And also simply because I write it. You don’t like me? No prob. I exist in theaters you never have to enter, movies you never have to watch, a Twitter account you can block or mute, and in a column you can ignore.
Why does this person exist?
I was born.
Why does anyone listen to her?
I speak up.
Why does she have a job?
I work my ass off. Every day. Perhaps you do too.
Why does she talk about being gay?
I talk about being gay because being known is one part of ensuring my own safety and the safety of others like me. I figure, if you’ve read my work, seen me live, watched me on Comedy Central, or heard me on a podcast, maybe you will be the guy who steps between me and the other guy screaming “YOU’RE A DYKE?!” Maybe you’ll save my life. Or maybe I’ll save someone else’s. One of the most difficult parts about being gay is that our parents so often aren’t, which means we don’t usually have any real context for what our futures will look like. Living openly and writing and speaking about my experiences lays a path for those queer folks who don’t know what may be possible. I know first hand that coming out can feel like attending one’s own funeral. I started doing stand-up in an attempt stay alive, keep my community alive, and to be the gay person you know when you go to the ballot box to vote on my rights.
And so: As long as I am able, amid the other work I have, I will be writing this column again.