The Price of Coming Out
The book The Price of Salt was first recommended to me as an infatuated 18-year-old girl in high school. Stubbornly in denial, I ignored the recommendation. It wasn’t until 10 years later, when its movie Carol came out, that the story pulled me in so deeply I still find it hard to let go of its words.
For me, falling in love with a woman for the first time was so much more intense than falling for a man. There was no precedent. To paraphrase Carol, she was flung out of space. I’d never read about that kind of love in books or saw women like her in movies. So when it happened to me, when she happened to me, I looked into the world for understanding in art and there was just static noise. I had nothing but the all-consuming weight of everything she made me feel. There was no outlet, and it began to feel like a burden.
When I finally saw Carol, it was the first piece that told parts of me and other women I know so well that it was, at times, utterly overwhelming. It’s a rare and beautiful thing when a single creation changes how you view yourself and your own work. Seeing it for the first time was nothing short of the extraordinary moment when art eviscerated the world around me, silencing me while making me feel all of it.
Because I still remember the moment I saw her signature on that sheet, unable to understand why her name drew me closer. I remember my friends calling me to catch up. I knew I wanted to talk about her but didn’t know why I felt I couldn’t. I remember how the autumn air shifted when I saw her again, unable to look away from a glance that had stopped me. I didn’t know what it was then, I just knew it was changing me, right there in front of the world and no one seemed to notice.
Carol was the first time I saw my experience so authentically and elegantly portrayed on screen, reminding me what it was like the first time I felt all of it… leaving me thinking I’ve been there, I’ve felt those things, I’ve said those words and had those arguments.
But that’s what great storytelling does. It puts you in the middle of its world and makes you feel like it’s all happening to you for the first time - or happening for the first time all over again.
You’re suddenly arguing again about what you feel, even though you don’t even know yourself what those feelings mean. But you defend and you deny that you don’t feel that way, that you’re not that girl, because it’s the only way you keep any sense of normalcy in a room full of the electric chaos she brings. So you swear you’re not in love because love would mean your world will irrevocably change.
And then it does.
You wake up wrapped in sheets that aren’t yours, and there’s a beautiful woman across the room smiling at you. And it’s the way she puts on her heels and does her hair, the way she kisses you and creates that burst of everything through your lips that makes you realize your life will never be the same.
When a thousand indecipherable moments culminate into one, it feels more than an epiphany - it feels transformative and transcendent. I will never know how to translate that into my work, I just know when I find it in others.
And I found that in this story. I felt it when she was first accused and exposed of what she felt, stripping her identity with just a few words.
I remember the denial – my own and theirs - the attempt to rationalize that impenetrable, intangible force that made a mess of our world.
I can tell you what it felt like when my family first asked me about it. I can tell you how their voices changed to whispers in the next room and I can describe the downward curves of their pursed lips. I can tell you about the silence that came after I told a friend. I remember the first time I cried when it was too much to take in and comprehend.
I can’t describe how I became dismantled by the presence of another.
But I do know that those moments still come now, ten years later, whether they’re fleeting or immortal. Whether it’s a woman or a man. Some will be lovers, some will be friends, some will be passing strangers, perpetually reminding me that no matter how much I fight and deny, we’ll never have control over what we feel.
That’s what this book and this movie did, they made all of those silent looks and loud moments infinite again.
But it all worked because Patricia Highsmith wrote an incredible book. Because the talented Rooney Mara & Cate Blanchett had chemistry. Because Todd Haynes directed art onto film. Part of me is glad I never read this book as an 18-year-old. It wouldn’t have hit me the way it did as an adult. I would have denied parts of it back then just like I denied parts of myself.
And that’s why we need more stories like these. Because the girl I was then took over ten years to become comfortable saying it out loud. It took over ten years for me to start putting pieces of the girl I was and the woman she was into my own work.
The more we talk about it, the more we normalize it, the easier it will be for LGBTQ experiencing it all for the first time.
It’s almost National Coming Out Day. I urge you all to embrace it. If you can’t yet, embrace a book or a movie or piece of art that helps. If you haven’t found one yet, I urge you to create it.
Be Brave x