I’ve come out twice in my life, the first time as queer, and second time as a jewelry-maker. The second time was (is) much harder. Nobody except my mother really batted an eye about the whole queer thing. It’s 2010, and Ellen Degeneres is America’s Sweetheart, the heir apparent to the Oprah Empire (and then there’s Oprah herself. Dude, she’s gay, ok? You’re going to find out sooner or later, so I’ll just tell you now). Anyhow, I digress. Being queer, amongst the sophisticated types, is really a non-starter in the controversy arena. And then, there was the fact that I basically took the “you are either with me or against me” line, followed by “if you’re against me I will take your a** down,” so people in my vicinity quickly sorted themselves out into the fine with it, and the gone. Even my mother came around eventually. Not because she really “approves” per se, but because my partner is just that dang charming. I mean, who can resist her? I certainly can’t.
OK, so, coming out as gay, that went fine. But the coming out as a jewelry-maker? Oh, that’s another story entirely. Because prior to making and selling jewelry, I was an academic. An academic at a pretty prestigious university. And academics don’t make pretty little things. And they certainly don’t sell them. It’s kind of like academics don’t go to church. Same idea. Academics, at least in the social science and humanities realms, are just way, way too sophisticated for that kind of thing. Academics stand back. Academics observe. Academics critique. Academics most certainly don’t set out a little table at the Saturday Market next to the kettle korn vendor and sell earrings made of paper and chat up the customers, including the ones who smell strange.
I didn’t actually know this truth until I set out my little table at the saturday market in the midwestern university town in which I used to live, and then noticed the reactions of my university colleagues who had come down to pick up their organic vegetables for the week and inadvertantly stumbled upon me. Only one reaction actually—shame. Shame for me. Shame expressed in averted eyes and uneasy laughter and hasty retreats. Shame that I had allowed myself to sink so very low from the elevated realms of the mind.
I was first surprised, then angry, then hurt, then, finally, bemused. “Oh, I see,” I thought, “academics don’t make cute jewelry and sell it in parking lots. OK. I get it.” But then, after that came the question–why not? And then the question, why do I?
After awhile, I began to see the picture. Academics’ bread and butter is in the observing and analyzing of what others do. The people of a culture live, and anthropologists observe that. Musicians make music, and ethnomusicologists study it. Artists make art, and art historians analyze it. As for myself, I used to really like that. It’s a fine thing to do, and a really, really cushy job. But it’s a job that stopped working for me at some point. I just don’t want to live that one step removed from life any more. I’m kind of over the ironic distance. I feel compelled to make pretty things and see if I can get people to agree they’re pretty enough to pay money for them.
As in all coming out, it was coming out to myself that was (and is) the hardest. What happened? How did I end up this way? I’m not sure. I know I had some significant trauma in my life, and suddenly life just seemed too short to live it at one step removed. But what I do know: I really want to get my hands dirty and be out in the parking lot, talking to the kids, making change. Turns out, I’m really not an academic any more. I’m a jewelry maker. Maybe one day I’ll be an ‘artist.’ But I’m staying in the closet on that one for now.