Does My Love for a Straight Man Change My Queer Identity?
Rachel’s sexuality provides her with a clear sense of self and community—until she falls for Nick and questions everything she thought she knew about herself.
We’re so excited to be kicking off our 2023 Memoir Prize Digital Collection with Rachel’s braided essay about selfhood and love. Rachel in her own words: “I have been writing this piece for as long as Nick and I have been together, since 2015. I sent out versions of it early on, when I thought it was ‘done,’ but they were all rejected. Turns out I had a lot of living left to do to be able to get to a place that served both myself and the writing. I am honored and excited to be a finalist in the Narratively Memoir Prize, and am so pleased my essay found a home here.”
“Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self: in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which one’s nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned. This trust in one’s nakedness is all that gives one the power to change one’s robes.”
—James Baldwin, The Devil Finds Work
I’m 33 years old, walking with nowhere to go. The monastery grounds are lush, adorned with creeping dogwood, hawthorn trees and bee balm. Queers are spread across patches of earth: pacing, breathing, silently repeating metta phrases. “May all beings be happy. May all beings be free.” We gather at the Garrison Institute in the Hudson Valley, holding each other for four days in silent meditation. I’m dressed down, in yoga pants and an old Close Guantánamo T-shirt, relaxed with people who’ve become spiritual family. It’s a refuge I seek every year, a place for me to experience who I am beneath my social identities.
My favorite spot’s down the stone steps, past the vindictive rose bushes, at the bottom of the hill, where forest greets manicured grounds. There’s a dirt path there, widened from years of travel. I take 20 paces forward: stop, turn, repeat.
I’m alongside a mossy upturned tree. Her trunk’s soft on the ground, roots unearthed and gloriously reaching. I try to concentrate on soil under toes, but my mind wanders. I let it. I broke up with my fiancée, Sin, a week before; she’s still in our creaky rent-controlled Park Slope apartment. She won’t move out for several weeks, after the screaming, the dent in the wall and the bloody commas on my knuckles. But this battle hasn’t happened yet. Right now, I’m here in the quiet, waiting for grief that won’t arrive.
Where the sorrow should live I expect emptiness, but there’s burgeoning peace. I’ve been in anticipatory mourning for months now, this the quiet climax. “I’m ready for my person,” I pray as I pace, laying my invocation at the tree’s roots. “I’m ready to meet her and build our life.”
The gong rings in the distance, calling me back to the cavernous womb of the meditation hall. I bow to the tree, sealing my intention, and start up the hill.