You Came Out As Queer; Now Come Out as an Artist

I did not come out of the womb writing, of course.

My earliest memory of writing is dictation. Urgently, fervently telling my mom a story I believed needed to be recorded for the annals of history. My mom listened, hunched over a small green notebook about the size of her hand. A notebook I called, for reasons unknown, “Anya’s French Notebook.” (I did not, and do not, speak French.)

There’s a home video of me, about three years old, wandering around the kitchen, past a pile of stuffed animals, and glancing up at the video camera, or rather, at my mom, holding the camera. She asks, “Would you explain to me what you want me to do? What do you want me to do?” and in response I mumble something incoherent. She goes on: “And what about the animals? What was it about the animals?” Something clicks in my toddler brain, because I answer quite clearly: “I’m going to tell you a story.”

In my childhood bedroom, there is a shoebox I covered with clear duct tape to make it waterproof (interesting technique). Underneath the clear tape is an index card, with looping letters of different colors and designs, forming the word “JOURNALS”. I remember telling my parents and brother that if they ever read any of my journals, I would never forgive them. It wasn’t a threat; it was a fact.

I cannot remember a time when I felt anything but obsessed with, compelled by, and committed to the act of storytelling, of writing. It has always felt so important, so loaded.

And yet, I still have a hard time saying: I am a writer. I am an artist.

After I kissed a girl for the first time, as a sophomore in college, I wasn’t immediately able to say, to myself or to others, I was queer. I could say I wasn’t straight, because I believed I had earned that — I had kissed a girl and liked it, after all. But had I earned queerness? That I wasn’t sure of. I’d never had a girlfriend. I’d never had crushes on girls, until now (or so I thought). I’d never been bullied for being gay.

So I reasoned, I wasn’t really queer, was I? I was waiting for someone to confer my queerness upon me. And that someone wasn’t going to be me.

I expressed these anxieties to an older, wiser queer, who told me I didn’t have to figure it all out all at once. In fact, I might not be able to. Instead, they suggested: What if you allowed yourself to experience the world as though you might be into women?

It seemed like a weird solution, because it wasn’t an answer; it was another question.

But I was plum out of options, and I am nothing if not a good student, so the next day, I woke up ready to complete my assignment and experience the world as though I might be into women.

I walked around campus, asking myself: What if I allow myself to experience the world as though I might be queer?

I viscerally remember the weather that day: It was early fall, the tiniest shiver in the air. I looked up and saw the sun breaking through the clouds, like a way-too-obvious metaphor, but that’s really what it looked like, I promise. I looked around and suddenly saw so many beautiful, interesting, fascinating women around me. I remember going to my Russian literature class, seeing this soft butch and being like, I’M ATTRACTED TO HER! OH MY GOD! The world had just burst open. I had thought it was a novel with a predictable plot, but actually it was a choose-your-own-adventure, or a poem, or something I’d never read before. Anything could happen. It wasn’t uncertainty — it was possibility.

It still took a while before I could say I was queer. I obsessed over what word I should align myself with, seeking vocabulary that encapsulated my exact interiority. I flipped through a lot of different words, some of which are cringy in retrospect. My desire to label was palpable. If I could name it, that meant I understood it.

At some point, and I don’t remember exactly when it was, I began to feel that maybe it is possible to know something without fully understanding it. Perhaps a degree of mystery — even if it’s coming from yourself — does not preclude knowing. At some point, I knew it deep in my bones: I’m queer. Even if I didn’t fully understand it.

And then, I could say it. I’m queer.

Somewhere along the line, I gave myself permission to call myself an artist. I asked myself: What if I moved through the world as though I’m an artist?

It was 2017. Sitting in the black box theater, listening to a panel of playwrights, I wrote in my notebook, in big handwriting spanning four lines: I’m a playwright. 

I was participating in the 24 Hour Plays: Nationals, a four-day theater extravaganza culminating in the creation of six new plays — written, acted and performed in the span of 24 hours. Playwright Kristoffer Diaz had just said that if you think about your play for ten minutes everyday — you could be in the shower, on the subway, whatever — you’re a writer. I remember talking about that moment with Jess — my partner; we had just met; we were both playwrights; we had no idea we’d be living together six years later; this is how I know four days is enough to change your life — because when I heard it I remember thinking, oh my god, maybe I really am a writer!

I think that was the moment I allowed myself to believe I might be an artist.

But then, maybe it wasn’t.  Maybe it was when I finished writing a play — not my first play — and felt a surge of emotion, realizing with shock that what I felt was pride. Maybe it was when I got to the subway station after a playwriting class in midtown Manhattan — exhausted, excited, open. Maybe it was when an actor told me they wanted to keep working on my play with me. Maybe it was getting an MFA, simple as that!

The truth is, I don’t know exactly when it happened. But then, when does anything happen? I didn’t become queer — I just realized it. I didn’t become an artist — I just realized it.

My favorite playwriting professor, Deb Margolin (an absolute legend), used to say there are only five original things you can say, and they’ve all already been said. The only original thing left is the desire to speak.

If you experience the world in such a way that you feel compelled to try to express it back, you’re an artist. Maybe when you see buildings and trees, you see shapes that could become dishes or patterns. Maybe when you overhear people talking, certain phrases stick to your brain like glue. Maybe when you walk by a stream or an ambulance, you hear a timbre. You can ignore your artistry for as long as you like. You can try to pretend it’s not there. You might even succeed. But if you have the desire, deep down, you know it’s there. The only original thing left is the desire to speak.

No one can claim your queerness for you — only you can claim it for yourself. No one can claim your artistry for you – only you can claim it for yourself. So why not try it?

What if you allowed yourself to move through the world as though you’re an artist?

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Anya Richkind

Anya is a writer, a Pisces, and a huge fan of Survivor. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner Jess and their kittens, Buckett and Tubbs. She writes a substack called Questions I Have in which she explores questions big, small, medium, and more. Check it out here:

Anya has written 37 articles for us.


  1. Wow, I cannot even explain the chords this struck with me. I’m a writer who has put writing on the back burner for the last few years while I pursue another slightly more stable job. I’ve thought of my writing more like a hobby for the last few years, then recently I stumbled across an opportunity with my writing and I have been finding it SO HARD to call myself a writer or an artist. So cool to hear that experience articulated so well. Thanks for sharing this!

    P.S. My sister (also a playwright) studied with Deb Margolin, and I’ve heard her use that five original things reference more than once! So fun to see it here on Autostraddle!

    • I’m so glad to hear the piece resonated!! Thank you so much for sharing!

      And wow, small world!! Deb truly is such a legend. If you feel like sharing, I’d love to know what your sister’s name is — wonder if we crossed paths!! (No worries if not, though!)

  2. No one can claim your queerness for you — only you can claim it for yourself. No one can claim your artistry for you – only you can claim it for yourself. So why not try it?

    What if you allowed yourself to move through the world as though you’re an artist?

    I relate to this so much. My first (and only, thus far) solo exhibit of my sculptures felt like a coming out party as an artist. In some ways, it felt way more vulnerable than when I came out as bi+. And many years after that exhibit, I still find myself fluctuating – some days / years / decades I feel more comfortable calling myself an artist than others.

    I keep reminding myself that I didn’t ask for permission to come out, I just did it. Hell, I didn’t ask for permission to be bi, I just am. And I don’t have to ask for permission to be an artist either. I can just be. There are lot of gatekeepers hanging around the art world but I don’t need to act as my own gatekeeper.

  3. This really resonates, thank you for writing it. I am bi, and have come out in some parts of my life but not others. As someone who came into my queerness in my early 30s, the imposter syndrome has been lurking. Identifying as bi also feels challenging. I love the alignment with art, it feels much the same, this spectre of external permission. I went to art school, have had my artwork included in exhibitions, have had writing published in print… and yet, I still wince to get the words ‘artist’ and ‘writer’ out when referring to self. I will be more mindful of moving through the world like an artist (don’t we anyway? we can’t help it. But we don’t honour it).

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