There’s a particular moment in Spider-man: Across the Spider-verse that speaks volumes (spoilers ahead). Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy are sharing an intimate moment at dusk on top of a building. As they perch (upside down) over the skyline of Manhattan, Gwen has a revelation. “In every other universe, Gwen Stacy falls for Spider-Man. And in every other universe, it doesn’t end well.”1 If this isn’t foreshadowing of a queer storyline for her character (as many are speculating), I quit Marvel. Regardless, what’s important about this moment is that it challenges the norm. Spider-Man and Spider-Woman are supposed to fall in love, and yet Gwen has enough self-awareness to know that she’s on a different path.
While I wish my Spidey-Senses had kicked in when I was Gwen’s age, I’m just thankful to finally feel them. In case you missed it, I came out (publicly) during Pride month (I felt the love, thank you). To clarify – I’ve been queer since forever, out and proud (publicly) since 2023. It took me many years of learning/unlearning comphet 2 to feel worthy of inhabiting space within the LGBTQIA+ community. Despite diverging from normative paths in other areas of life, I was too deeply entrenched in societal pressures to embrace the full spectrum of love and opportunity that had been in front of me all along. In hindsight…it’s crystal clear.
Coming to this realization (and coming out) in my forties has been a complex cocktail of emotions. I was filled with joy and love when I shared it with my husband and children – they’ve been my biggest cheerleaders. 3 Gratitude has been most prominent–this journey wouldn’t even be possible without all the beautiful humans that have fearlessly stood in their truth all along (especially Black and trans folks). I am so incredibly grateful to them for living their lives out loud, in full color. While I wish we lived in a world where “coming out” wasn’t a necessity, we’re not there (yet). It hasn’t been all rainbows and unicorns. There have been moments of sadness and confusion, the loss of a 17+ year friendship, and a further pull away from my already distant relationship with my family.
Which brings me back to Spider-Man.
Specifically Miles Morales, who struggles with the desire to share his true identity with his parents. It’s an all too familiar scenario for queer folks, and one that I have personal experience with. When I shared my authentic self with mine, my mother cringed at the word queer and said it (and by default, I) was disgusting. My father said he loved me despite my newly discovered identity, which is an incredibly harmful statement made under the guise of unconditional love. 4 The irony, of course, being–it only proved just how conditional their love was.
I’d like to think that in another universe 5, my narrative was different.
Miles agonizes over the decision to tell his parents, and in the end – he does. It doesn’t quite turn out the way he envisioned, which you understand if you’ve seen the movie (I don’t want to ruin everything for you if you haven’t). When Gwen Stacy reveals her Spider-Woman identity to her father (a police officer), he pulls a gun on her and she runs away. Both her and Miles run to a place that accepts (and respects) them for who they are. They find comfort in community, validation in their identities, and space to create alternate (supportive) realities for themselves.
Every human deserves respect and support, and there are still entirely too many people in the queer community who are not afforded those basic human rights. As someone who is white, cis-gendered, and often assumed to be straight (femme erasure is real), I acknowledge my privilege in this world. LGBTQIA+ youth are most at risk, and need to know they are not alone. I encourage you to learn about The Trevor Project (many of you will already be aware) and donate if you’re able.
To quote another amazing film that deals in multiverses…“The universe is so much bigger than you realize.” 6 Being queer isn’t trendy. Queer folks have been here all along, but now that we can see ourselves as main characters in Blockbuster movies (in addition to so much more), we take further comfort in being our authentic selves. Once I focused on reading queer authors, watching queer movies, making more queer friends, and filling my social media feeds with LGBTQ+ content, I marveled (pun intended) at how expansive life could be.
Coming out has been a huge step in accepting my self-worth, giving myself permission to evolve beyond my circumstances, and honoring queer joy.
Much like the multiverse–this journey is not linear, and coming out isn’t binary.
In my universe, it ends well. Just not how it’s been scripted.
2 Compulsory heterosexuality. Studying it was a game-changer for me.
3 Yes, I have a husband. You can be queer and be married to a man.
4 Parents of any generation can be bigots, but homophobia seems to run rampant amongst boomers, or in the case of my parents–the silent generation.
Susan Zehnacker is a multi-hyphenate creative and writer living in Philadelphia. With a unique perspective, Susan weaves together personal experiences with literary flair, infusing her stories with a delightful French twist – hence the name, Fleurishing.