By Grace Huang Ditsworth (They/Them)
Project manager in ITS
As a mixed-race queer person, I’ve spent my life “coming out” over and over again from a young age. To me, coming out is not a singular moment. Instead, it’s a familiar split in the road that I come to many times a day. Coming out is a process of wayfinding—of aligning myself to myself and directing others to find and recognize me.
Right now, I identify as mixed-race (Hakka Chinese and White), pansexual/queer and nonbinary/agender, among other emerging and evolving identities. I started bumping up against normative social structures when I was young due to being visibly mixed-race. I felt both inside and outside of elementary school in Tempe, Arizona (protected and loved by friends; made fun of for bringing pungent fish to school; told to translate into English when speaking Chinese with my mom) and inside and outside at my grandparents’ farm in NanZhuang, Taiwan (admired for my pale skin and good Chinese “for a white person;” teased for my soft city-kid hands).
As a light-skinned person with an ethnically ambiguous appearance, people have always asked invasive questions about me and my family to try to position us into their own narrative of who we are in the world. I’ve received privilege and praise that I didn’t want or deserve; other times I’ve been misread and misunderstood until I asserted my identity. Multiple aspects of how I identify now are invisible unless I’m with a partner or out myself. Even when I do assert myself, I’m never sure what to say about who I am. There’s always something that I could be leaving out, maybe the one thing that could make me understood. There is always more that I could say.
When I think about “coming out,” I don’t think of one particular moment in time when things changed for me. Rather, my life has involved a series of “sliding door moments” (as psychologist John Gottman calls them) when I chose to move into greater authenticity and intimacy in my relationships, or when I decided it was not the safe or right path at the time.
Some “sliding door moments” I remember well:
- Choosing not to tell my grandparents about who I was dating (I waited to come out about my sexual orientation to family until after they passed away.)
- Accepting a job at the Queer Resource Center at my college campus (I knew the word “queer” would be on my resume forever after and was scared of becoming unhireable.)
- Shaking my head “no” but not elaborating when my aunt asked me if I had a boyfriend (I had a girlfriend at the time.)
- Inviting my partner to spend Thanksgiving with my family (I called my family ahead of time to inform them of my partner’s gender identity and race; I was afraid they might be confronted with anti-Black and anti-trans attitudes if I didn’t.)
- Choosing to disclose my own pronouns in my e-mail signature line at work and in public meetings
The journey to being more publicly open has been about more than just living authentically for myself. Being publicly out in several ways lets me show up for others with similar lived experiences who are younger or less privileged. It means I can be available as a resource and an example of an older, thriving queer adult—something I wish I could have had when I was younger.
Growing up, I didn’t know any queer or trans elders. I know this isn’t just because of the political and religious environment I grew up in, but is in large part because we have lost so many of our queer elders due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, violence, lack of systemic support and suicide. There are simply fewer of our queer elders alive today than there should be. Media made me scared, too—when I was growing up in the ‘90s and ‘00s, most of the queer stories I could access on screen involved people being harassed, beaten, killed, getting sick or dying by suicide (e.g. The Laramie Project, Boys Don’t Cry, Lost and Delirious). I internalized what I saw and believed that it was not going to be possible for me to survive, let alone thrive, if I was open about who I was. I believed that I would be rejected and ostracized. I am grateful to say that this hasn’t been my experience, but it took a long while and many risky splits in the road before I began to feel confident about being who I am openly.
Every time I choose to come out again, I see that split path in front of me: one scenario in which I choose to shield my identity and lived experience, and one in which I choose to share it. I wonder sometimes if there are versions of me living in alternate universes who occupy those splits that I didn’t choose. I wonder if they’re happy.
It feels beautiful and scary to acknowledge that we are always changing. I’m 32 years old now, and I came out to some loved ones just a few weeks ago about another tender new shift in my identity. I anticipate that I will always be coming out, over and over again, to myself and to others. Coming out feels like being an unnamed planet in a shifting galaxy, pointing to nearby stars to help others find their way to me, telling them: Here I am.
Grace Huang Ditsworth (they/them) is an IT project manager at NAU. Grace grew up a “Third Culture Kid,” moving around internationally due to their family’s work with the State Department, then spent a long stretch of their youth in Tempe and their young adulthood in southern California. They serve as a board member for the state action network Unitarian Universalist Arizona (UUJAZ) and as lead coordinator for the Our Whole Lives Lifespan Sexuality Education Program in Flagstaff.