By Penny Guisinger
“Over and over he slipped into the gulf between what he knew and how he was known.” —Mark Doty, “Charlie Howard’s Descent”
Black or white. Open or shut. Up or down. Chocolate or vanilla. Shirts or skins. When things are this way or that, they are easy to understand. Lights are either on, or they’re off. Through my twenties and into my thirties, I operated this way: believing that being a Democrat was the same thing as not being a Republican, and that saying that I was not a man was just another way of announcing myself as a woman. Gay or straight. You’re one or the other, and if you’re gay you’re either keeping it a secret or you’re not. You’re in or you’re out. If you’re in, you’re closeted, and if you’re out, you may as well slap a pink triangle on your forehead. But age and life have a way of braiding notions together like rope, then gnawing on the weak spots. I’m not one for sports analogies, but it’s fair to say that I’ve carried the ball for both teams now, and have learned that the distance between the closet and the rest of the room is wider than the average threshold. That space—that airless, definitionless realm—that we walk across on our way out is its own country with its own regime. It takes prisoners.
PENNY GUISINGER lives and writes on the easternmost tip of the United States. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in About Place Journal and Under the Gum Tree, and her reviews appear regularly in The Quoddy Tides and The Review Review. Her essay “Coming Out” was named as a finalist in the 2013 Fourth Genre essay contest. Penny is the founding organizer of Iota: The Conference of Short Prose. She is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.