To celebrate National Coming Out Day tomorrow, Sunday 11 Oct, writer/ performer Yang-May Ooi shares an extract from her memoir Bound Feet Blues – A Life Told in Shoes, the book that is inspired by her solo theatre piece of the same name. Bound Feet Blues is as much about Yang-May’s journey to discovering her sexual identity as it is the story of the women in her family.
Here is the extract from the chapter entitled “Biker Boots” from the book, Bound Feet Blues:
Coming out is a rite of passage.
In the world of debutantes and high society, it is an ancient tradition going back generations. When a young woman comes of age, she is invited to a coming out ball to introduce her to society – and in the aristocratic classes in Britain, to present her to the monarch. It is her “debut” into the world as an adult – or, rather, as a fertile virgin of a marriagable age. This custom continues to this day among the elite not just in Britain but also, surprisingly, in the ideally classless societies of Australia and the United States.
The coming out ball is the moment when high society gathers to view the future of their dynasties. Debutantes customarily wear white ball gowns, sometimes with long white Cinderella gloves and sometimes with tiaras or both. If you Google images of “debutante ball coming out”, you will see that the styles of the ball dresses have changed little since Victorian times and often the young women are indistinguishable from each other in their demure, beautiful uniforms. The eligible young bachelors gather round them in white tie and tails and suddenly, we are back in the world of Jane Austen and Downton Abbey and fairy tale princesses.
For a young woman in that society, to come out is to emerge from childhood to womanhood, to put herself on public display as a potential wife and mother. There at the ball, she is gazed upon, looked at, compared to her peers. She must be graceful and charming, glide round the dance floor and float through the night in her pretty white gown, impress the older generation and enchant the young blades.
She is there to be chosen. To be the one who is a class above all those other girls. To find the best and richest husband.
Coming out is a rite of passage.
How do you come out to your friends and family?
For me, I know how lucky I have been to have still been loved and accepted after I came out to my mother and my family. I do not feel brave – simply grateful and appreciative of the people in my life. For many others, coming out means rejection by those closest to them. Coming out means facing violence, abuse, shaming, correction “therapy” and homelessness. And yet, we come out and we keep coming out, in whichever society we may live around the world, despite the sanctions of our religions and punishments of our cultures. We cannot help it. We have been part of families and tribes and clans and nations for generations. We have always been here and we have always been on the margins of the norm, our love unseen, our roles unacknowledged. And yet, regardless of who others want us to be or how our cultures want to shape us, we have to live in our own truth. Coming out is staking a claim for who we are and who we can be. Coming out is a terrifying – and courageous – act of selfhood.
It is saying to the universe, I am here and I matter.
Bound Feet Blues, THE BOOK, is being published by Urbane Publications, in Nov 2015. You can pre-order a copy via their websites at bit.ly/bfbbook
You can buy tickets for Bound Feet Blues THE SHOW via bit.ly/bfbtickets
Tristan Bates Theatre
1A Tower St, Covent Garden WC2H 9NP
Tue 24 Nov – Sat 12 Dec, Tue – Sat at 7.30pm.
Tickets £16 / £12 concessions.
Q&As post-show, 27 Nov & 4 Dec.