We are playing hide-and-seek. The boy is seeking, having counted (rather arbitrarily) to twelve, and I have hidden in the laundry, which is really a cupboard, running the width of the bathroom’s back wall. It’s a kind of room within a room, embedded in turn within a sequence of other rooms. I slipped in, gently closing the double doors behind me. Now I stand here in the dark, the washing machine pressed against my hip, the ironing board against my shoulder. The only light is a thin line around the edge of the doors, a strip of illumination in the gloom. I have been here for some time, and I’m thinking about closets.
We don’t talk about closets so much in Australia, at least as items of furniture. It’s all about cupboards here, or wardrobes — closet seems like more of an American usage. In fact the only time that “closet” is really used here at all is in relation to personal secrecy, and that particular hiddenness which comes of hiding one’s sexuality, or more correctly one’s identity in relation to sexuality. Likewise, the decision to disclose one’s sexual identity, the coming out of the closet, the emergence into an open acknowledgement of difference from conventional norms.
I can hear the boy walking around the upstairs rooms, talking to himself as he looks for me: “Is she in my room? No, not here behind the door, not under the bed. Where could she be?” He goes downstairs, his footfalls thudding, and asks B for clues. She says she hasn’t seen me, she’s sure I’m upstairs. He comes thumping back up.
As I stand there in the dimness, waiting, it strikes me that a closet is a terrible hiding place. I am virtually immobilized, squashed among the laundry equipment, a body stacked in this thin, dark, vertical space. Standing there waiting to be found, I’m aware that when I am eventually discovered there will be nowhere for me to flee. I am trapped in the cupboard just as I am concealed by it. When the door opens and the light floods in, I will be equally exposed and enclosed: my hiding place is equally a kind of display case, perhaps even a vitrine, with me there in it, blinking, doomed.
It’s impossible not to think of all the others who have been forced to hide, afraid, in such painfully inadequate domestic hiding places. Women hiding from violent men, queers hiding from the law, from persecution, from other violent men. The lover hiding, naked, having been caught in flagrante with a person of the wrong sex, trying to hold off the moment of exposure. Even in this harmless game with the boy there is a shadow of that genuine fear, the panic, the coming danger, the terrible consequences.
The boy is losing patience, I can hear him becoming fretful. He’s still talking to himself: “This is a really hard one! I just don’t know where she is!” I give a little cough. He doesn’t hear. I cough again, louder. Now he’s giggling, coming into the bathroom, but still bemused, it hasn’t occurred to him that I might be in the cupboard, that anyone could be in there.
Of course, the realm of the homosexual was once the realm of the non-procreative. To have sex without the hope or expectation of children meant the embrace of non-biblical pleasure, and was itself a subversive act. But when the queers started having children, which we’re now doing in our droves, we took up a different relationship with the future, and also with the privacy and publicity of our own sexuality.
Because when you’re a queer with a child, you have to come out all the time. To the school receptionist, the dentist, the landlord, the locksmith. When you open the front door for the plumber, you’re also opening the closet. And this happens almost every day, to the extent that it becomes banal. Except, it’s never completely so. There is always a calculation and always a risk, even if it’s slight. There is always a sense of subtle exposure, of effort, of the tiresomeness of having to crack open that closet door, yet again. And the child is often the agent of, or reason for, this outing. He marches up to strangers in the playground and announces, in his reedy voice, “I have two mummies!”
Now, as I wait in the silent dark to be found, I am also waiting to come out. To be outed. By my five year old son.
He opens the other side of the cupboard, the part that opens onto the laundry tub. The light floods in but I wait, keeping up the suspense. Finally he opens my side and there it is — the moment of encounter, the meeting of the hunter and the hunted, the uncanny moment of both recognition and estrangement. He screams, genuine terror mixed with hilarity. I leap out and sweep him up in my arms, laughing.