Coming to Terms with Who I Am: Walt Whitman and My Sexuality

Coming out is such a complicated process. Once you’ve figured out that what you are feeling is valid, you have to muster up the courage to tell someone, who you have already decided you can trust, all the while worrying they will not accept you and you will be left alone. But it should not be that scary, because you are who you are and that should be enough.

In my senior year of high school, I came out as bi. For so long I could not figure out why I felt the way I did. But I decided on a cold March day that I was going to be proud of who I am and tell people that I am bi. However, since I was afraid that my family would find out, I chose to only tell two of my close friends (A and B). First one and then the other, I brought them into our high school theater and before I could say anything, burst into tears. My sobs echoed in the empty space as I dropped the act I had been playing for so long. They both comforted me, telling me that I was valid and that they would respect my wish to keep this on the down-low. And they did, or I thought they did until several weeks later. As I was leaving rehearsal, I received a text notification from another friend (for the sake of this story we will call them C).

C: Hey, random question are you bi?
Me: Um why do you ask?
C: Oh B was talking about it with our group, and I thought ‘There’s no way that’s true.’
Me (now slightly panicked): Um yeah I am.

Immediately, I was blocked. I felt as though my world was caving in. I called A, who began to help me calm down and reassured me. They told me that I am who I am, that being bi is just a part of who I am, and if people cannot respect that, then it is better that they are not in my life.

A’s pep talk after that night came to mind when reading Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” when he states:

“I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content” (Section 20)

He reminds us that we exist as we are and that, regardless of what others may think, we should be content with that. And with how society is moving and changing, this is becoming the norm. Of course, not everyone is necessarily on board and changing their thinking with the times. It is hard when someone you valued invalidates you, especially as someone who constantly worries about what people think of them all the time. But at the end of the day, there is a choice to make. Do I let this one person drag me down and invalidate everything I am and feel? Or do I choose to live my life happy and open, with one less toxic person in it? While I still have a long way to go, I know that by living by the latter, the future is bright.

Who Have You F*cked? An Awkward, but Necessary Conversation

In a pandemic world where we are kept from human interaction, one can call back to another time where something similar occurred: the AIDs epidemic. Of course, AIDs and COVID are not the same but in both cases, there was, or still is, a responsibility to inform people in order to keep them safe/healthy. However, the question remains: who actually does that, and do people listen to the warnings/concerns when they’re presented?

In their article “How to Have Sex in an Epidemic,” Richard Berkowitz and Michael Callen look at how sex has changed due to the AIDs epidemic. They “believe that AIDs patients have an ethical obligation to advise potential partners of their health status [… and they] believe that AIDS patients must allow their partners to make their own choice” (572). This is all well and good, and people should and did do that. But patients, and their partners, are human beings who have desires and don’t always want to go into their sexual histories, especially if it is the first time with a person.

An interesting example of this is in Angels in America by Tony Kushner. The play deals with many topics, one of which being AIDs and how it affects people. To Berkowitz and Callen’s point, there is an interaction between Joe and Louis (Part 2, Act 1 Scene 2) where they sort of discuss the potential dangers of them having sex. Joe knows that Louis’s boyfriend/ex-boyfriend has AIDs and that makes him nervous. There are multiple times where Joe states his discomfort and yet, Louis continues to “persuade” him to go further than he may be comfortable. In fact, Louis barely addresses the fact that he himself has had a sexual relationship with someone with AIDs. He has made his choice (to leave Prior and find new people to have sex with) but he doesn’t give Louis as much of a choice to decide what he’s comfortable with. By not having that conversation, and considering both of their comfort levels, both Louis and Joe are putting each other in danger.

Similarly, in the comic Dykes to Watch Out For, the characters Lois, Mo, and Ginger discuss how much sexual history you should go into with a new partner, even if it is just a one-night stand. It is hard to know, they decide, how much to disclose but it is a conversation that should happen. Unlike the scene between Joe and Louis, later scenes in the comic show Mo and her partner, Harriet, taking the time to have that discussion, ensuring that both feel safe and comfortable to continue.

Sexual histories are something no one wants to go into. But in an epidemic, it is important to consider it, especially when having sex with someone new. Perhaps, the important part of the conversation isn’t merely “Who have you f*cked” but “What are you comfortable with so that this can be a safe and pleasant experience.” Our current lives in a pandemic have reopened that conversation of people’s comfort levels in order to feel safe. Yes, we are human beings with needs, and we shouldn’t ignore them. But one’s own safety and the safety of others should not be ignored. If that happens, one moment of joy can have catastrophic consequences.

Who Are We: Gender and Disability in Media and Society

We live in a society that loves to put people into boxes based off of specific characteristics. Gender is one of those boxes that is used to classify every aspect of who a person is and their role in society. It is part of our identity as people. But what happens when the gender constructs do not work for every person? How does that shape one’s identity and sense of self? Eli Clare looks at gender and disabled individuals in his chapter “Reading Across the Grain.” Clare states that “To be female and disabled is to be seen as not quite a woman; to be male and disabled, as not quite a man… The construct of gender depends not only one the male body and female body, but also upon the nondisabled body” (Clare 130). He looks at how gender and disability are so tightly interwound in shaping the identity of those with disabilities. Clare opens the chapter with descriptions of different advertisements/ articles featuring people with disabilities. The first is just an empty wheelchair and the second a woman dressed in a sexual manner draped over a wheelchair.

“A manual wheelchair sits half in shadow, it’s large right wheel in a pool of light. The chair is empty, turned 20 degrees away from the camera. The footrests tilt out” (Clare 119).

This first image does not even include a person, yet it says so much about those with disabilities. By not having a person, the image is reducing disabled people to just their disability. They are not seen as people, but a condition. What’s more, by placing the wheelchair in semidarkness the image is emphasizing that disabilities should be hidden from society’s eyes and not talked about.

“A white woman dressed in black–lace bustier, fishnet stockings, stiletto heels–looks straight at the camera. She gives us a red lipstick smile, blond hair piled on top of her head, diamond earrings dangling from both ears. She sits sideways across the left wheel of a manual wheelchair, which is turned so its back faces us” (Clare 119).

As Clare states “To be female and disabled is to be seen as not quite a woman,” which is to say that those with disabilities are almost genderless. This image makes the effort to portray a disabled woman not as such but as the most feminine woman they possibly can, to the point of over sexualizing. By not having her seated in her chair normally and having it face away while she faces towards the camera, there is an effort to erase her disability in an attempt to make her fit the “normal” construct of femininity.

By taking advertisements and breaking them down to their bare bones, Clare is able to show how society attempts to erase disability to make those individuals fit into the traditional genders. If that is not possible, disabled people are just reduced to their disability, no longer worthy of a gender. This mentality shapes how disabled people see themselves and their identity in society. Yes, disability is part of identity, but there is more to a person then their condition.

Walking to a Better Future: Survivance in “Pedagogy”

Throughout the years, indigenous and queer people have had to try and survive both in terms of actually living and in terms of representation in a world that does not want them. In Qwo-Li Driskill’s poem “Pedagogy” this sense of survival and trying to move forward is evident in the language used, specifically in the opening of the poem. Driskill opens with two quotes whose central theme is walking, one by Deborah Miranda, an Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen poet, and the other by Chrystos, a Menominee and two-spirit poet. These two quotes are connected through their common theme of walking.

“… I am still learning how to

walk in this world

without getting caught.”

Chrystos’ quote uses walking as how we move through our everyday lives. Specifically, this quote can be representative of what it means to be Indigenous, queer, or any other minority in a society where minorities are not always accepted. They’ve had to hid parts of who they are and learn how to get through live “without getting caught” or face sometimes deadly consequences. It is about survival and getting to the point where they no longer have to hid their full identity.

“We walk

alongside power, or

through it—carrying

our illnesses, fearing all

giving has gone to


Miranda begin her passage with the image of walking next to or through power. Walking implies moving forward and leaving the past behind to start fresh. By being beside power, it could mean that they, whoever “we” refers to, is getting closer to being equal to those with power. But what is interesting about this is that the second part of the quote brings in the image of “carrying our illnesses” that part of the past cannot be left behind and travels with individuals even as they move forward. Indigenous and queer people carry with them a long and painful history. They’ve had to carry that burden to get them to a place of power today, however I would not say that they hold equal power yet. They have sacrificed so much, so there is that underlying fear that “all giving has gone to the grave,” that all the sacrifices have led to very little improvement. But That fear has not stopped the walking, as shown by the present tense of the word, meaning that they are still there, not just as an image of survival but survivance.

Driskill chose to begin their poem, not with their own words but with the words of two Indigenous and two spirit activists and poets. Both speak of walk as how people move through life and toward the future. By beginning with these quotes before then leading into a poem that focuses on survival, Driskill is able to show two different perspectives on the future. One looks to merely surviving by hiding. The other acknowledges the difficult past but looks to not just survival but survivance, where the group is thriving.

Dialogue: A Conversation with Yourself

Adrienne Rich’s poem “Dialogue” explores sex and gender in an interesting way through the use of pronouns. Over the course of two stanzas, Rich uses the pronouns “she”, “I”, “our”, and “we” while telling the story of a conversation. While it is not entirely clear if this conversation in between two different people or one person reflecting to themselves, it is my argument that is it the latter. Perhaps this could be commentary on the trans experience, with the narrator being a trans male, trans female, or nonbinary individual looking back on who they once were. The “she” and “I” pronouns exist separately until they are brought together when Rich writes “we look at each other,” as if the two halves of this person’s identity are coming together to reflect.

The second half of the poem is exclusively in italics and only uses the “I” pronoun. It begins with “she” saying “I do not know if sex is an illusion.” While sex and gender are different, they are rather similar and are used interchangeably. If Rich is using sex in place of gender, this statement could be commentary on society’s concept of men and women and how it tries to put people in boxes. If this is from the point of view from a trans person, then it could be their old self questioning their place in the boxes society provides. The rest of the italic section is this narrator who they once were in the past and what they did. The use of “I” in combination with the italics makes the second stanza appear to be an internal monologue of the narrator. The narrator’s inner thoughts with the image of them talking to who they were before allows for the reader to see the changes that can occur with someone when they are allowed to be their true self.