Jane Hale (Courtesy Photo)

Jane Hale (Courtesy Photo)

Coming Out: It is Germane, Part 2

It was nothing like an epiphany. Instead, it was a slowly gathering storm.

  • By Jane Hale
  • Friday, June 24, 2022 3:20pm
  • Neighbors

By Jane Hale

This is the second part of a two-part column. Read the first part here.

I keep looking back over the past year for some moment, some epiphany that made me realize I was going to have to come out, open up about the person I perceive myself to be.

But it was nothing like an epiphany. Instead, it was a slowly gathering storm.

Caring for my sister in Florida, I had imagined the spirit of our mother telling me to care for my sister and myself. When your mother’s ghost tells you to do something, you listen.

I loved being there with my sister, but I also wanted to be back home caring for my partner Michelle the same way, with the same kind of maternal tenderness, giving her the support she needed from me.

Once I got back to Juneau I threw myself into being there for her, for us. At the time, with the pandemic still dangling over our heads (along with her own Damoclean work ethic), her professional responsibilities demanded all of her attention, so I took over caring for the house and our dogs so she could focus on her work.

I was suddenly giddy with energy. I painted the whole kitchen, gaily slinging paint on the walls and cabinets — a light teal on the cabinets, and on the walls a bright, vivid yellow. This is one cheerful kitchen.

I’m not suggesting that I associate domesticity with femininity. On the contrary, I see in Michelle a model of what it means to bear considerable civic responsibility. She has a favorite quotation from the late Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: “the leader is the one who leads.” Michelle stepped up to take responsibility when it was needed.

Following her example — and my mother’s admonition — I decided that I would too, wherever needed, whatever the avenue. And maybe it was coincidental, but as I assumed those domestic responsibilities I began experiencing a kind of maternal tenderness toward myself. Caring for others was a way of caring for myself.

I knew this. I knew it in my gut from raising five kids. And I had known it intellectually since the 1980s from the works of ethicist Carol Gilligan. Trashing Freud’s argument that women aren’t capable of a sense of justice, Gilligan argues that women and men tend to view concepts like justice and responsibility differently. Men, she writes, tend to see responsibility for others coming after one has first become responsible for oneself. Women, on the other hand—and this is how I view myself — tend to see responsibility for oneself emerging from one’s primary responsibility for others.

(These are not, of course, stable tendencies. Most of us approach responsibility differently at different times, shuttling back and forth between prioritizing our responsibilities to others and to ourselves.)

My caring for my sister and for my partner gave me a new sense of responsibility toward myself, a sense of both obligation and a desire to be myself openly, to explore a self I still don’t understand, to unveil a self I never imagined being able to reveal.

The time seemed to be getting right. Younger generations have had the courage to open these conversations about gender in a way that was unthinkable 20 years ago.

I wouldn’t have to face some of the obstacles others have confronted in transitioning. I’m retired, so I’d have no workplace issues to deal with. My parents have long since descended into the grave, so their hearts wouldn’t be broken by something they could not or would not understand.

I knew my friends and relatives would be surprised, but I could tell you–to a person–who would be silent and who rally in my support.

My mother-in-law, Sylvia, for example. A great woman, an Alaskan original, she has never bothered much with feminine stereotypes. I knew she’d understand my issues with masculine ones.

I wasn’t able to tell my college pal Kevin before he read the first column. I wish I could’ve seen his jaw drop. We’ve been friends since the mid-1970s, and I knew he’d stay a friend through it all.

My kids are grown and out of the house so I wouldn’t have to deal with school teachers and administrators and childhood friends—or worse, the parents of childhood friends. And my kids all have the most outlandish sense of humor; I knew I could rely on them to keep things real.

And, of course, my twin sister, Judy. I’ve been inspired by her example and her love my whole life. I knew she would continue to inspire me.

Most of all, I knew I could rely on Michelle. She has an incisive curiosity and a wicked acuity that I counted on to help me understand this thing. And, God help her, she loves me. I couldn’t do this without her.

Twelfth-century philosopher Héloïse d’Argenteuil writes about marriage’s “sacred delusion” —the belief that there’s no better partner in the world than one’s own. Such a belief may be delusional, writes Héloïse, but it’s true nevertheless. And she notes that this observation is not strictly speaking philosophy, the pursuit of wisdom. Rather, this is wisdom itself.

And in my case, it’s no delusion.

• Jane Hale spent her first 69 years writing as Jim. She is a longtime Juneau resident. “Coming Out” is a biweekly column. It appears on the Empire’s Neighbors page.

More in Neighbors

Matushka Olga Michael, a Yup’ik woman from Kwethluk. (Photo provided by Maxim Gibson)
Living and Growing: A new Alaskan saint

“God is wonderful in His saints: the God of Israel is He… Continue reading

Dining out in Croatia. (Photo by Patty Schied)
Cooking for Pleasure: Almond cake from a trip to Croatia

I should have probably titled this week’s column: “Eating For Pleasure.” My… Continue reading

Nick Hanson of the NBC show “American Ninja Warrior” kicks off the blanket toss at the 2020 Traditional Games in Juneau. (Lyndsey Brollini / Sealaska Heritage Institute)
Neighbors: Celebration begins Wednesday with mix of traditional and new events

Nearly 1,600 dancers from 36 dance groups scheduled to participate in four-day gathering.

“Curiosities of Alaska” by Junnie Chup, which won first place in Kindred Post’s 2024 statewide postcard art contest. (Photo courtesy of Kindred Post)
Neighbors briefs

Kindred Post announces 2024 statewide postcard art contest winners Kindred Post on… Continue reading

Tanya Renee Ahtowena Rorem at age 17. (Photo provided by Laura Rorem)
Living and Growing: ‘My name is Ahtowena’

My precocious two-year old broke loose from my grip and took off… Continue reading

The Pinkas Synagogue, the second-oldest building in Prague. (World Monuments Fund photo)
Living and Growing: Connecting to family ancestors through names of strangers on a wall in Prague

“Prague never lets you go…this dear little mother has sharp claws.” —… Continue reading

Individual eggplant parmesan rounds ready to serve. (Photo by Patty Schied)
Cooking for Pleasure: Individual eggplant parmesan rounds

These flavorful eggplant parmesans are a great side dish, especially served with… Continue reading

An aspiring knight relies on duct tape for his medieval battle gear during the Master’s Faire on July 16, 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Gimme A Smile: Duct tape — an Alaskan’s best friend

Duct tape is an Alaskan tradition. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix… Continue reading

Fred LaPlante is the pastor at the Juneau Church of the Nazarene. (Photo courtesy of Fred LaPlante)
Living and Growing: Be a blessing

Years ago, I learned a great acronym, B.L.E.S.S. “B” stands for “Begin… Continue reading

Salad ingredients ready to assemble. (Photo by Patty Schied)
Cooking for Pleasure: Mexican corn and bean salad

Several years ago, I ate at a wonderful Mexican restaurant in Los… Continue reading

A new online dictionary features Lingít, X̱aad Kíl, Shm’algyack and English. (Mircea Brown / Courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute)
Neighbors: Sealaska Heritage Institute debuts multilingual online Alaska Native dictionary with audio

Platform includes resources for Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian languages.

Brent Merten is the pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Juneau, a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. (Photo courtesy of Brent Merten)
Living and Growing: Your room is waiting

Thursday, May 9, is a very special day. Although most calendars don’t… Continue reading