May 5, 2012

On Georgia O'Keeffe and the flowers that dare not speak their names: A coming out story

Oh hello there gender blenders,

As I drafted this during snatches of down time at my desk job, the floor under my cubicle shudders intermittently like there are small earthquakes happening every few minutes. The first time the shaking happened I was sure it was the real thing and was about to hit the deck when I noticed no one else had any reaction whatsoever. But I have suspicions that everyone who works here is secretly a robot. Work is one of the only places where I am still in the closet--a lie of omission. Art postcards are pinned to the most visible wall of my cubicle, two of which depict Georgia O'Keeffe paintings. No one asks me about them.

Black Iris by Georgia O'Keeffe, 1926
In third grade I saw my first O'Keeffe painting--a print on the wall of the classroom where some of us had our experimental "enrichment" class. It was an iris, and as are many of O'Keeffe's flower paintings, rather suggestive--a distinction I didn't consciously identify at the time. My fascination with it felt dangerous in such a delicious way that I kept it to and for myself. 

When the irises in our garden came up that spring I remember examining the blooms when I was sure no one was around, a curiosity that soon extended to other flowers. The duality of female and male parts being encapsulated in the same flower was enthralling to me, as was the folding back of the petals. I already understood the concept of pollination and appointed myself the human equivalent of a bee. 

This is my coming out story, even though I didn't begin to consciously question until college. It is my earliest memory of queer identity.

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