October 11, 2010

Coming Out

No, not me. I am, from what the data says, unusually heterosexual, and any queerness I might choose to share doesn't involve just my information. So, no, I'm not talking about me. It is National Coming Out Day, however, and a couple of people are doing it up right.

Jen is, at Blag Hag:

Oh, it was awkward, and it was heartbreaking - but mostly because that's how all crushes are to a 13 year old girl. I was just lucky that I never thought it was sinful or wrong. I wasn't religious, and I was delightfully oblivious to the people who thought my feelings were disgusting.

But it still wasn't easy. There was something overwhelmingly horrible knowing the odds are against you - that, if you're rounding up, maybe 10% of people would also be interested in the same sex. I couldn't get my friend out of my mind, but I knew the odds of her feeling the same way were slim to none. It's terrible liking someone without them liking you back, but it seems just a tad more terrible when you know there's literally nothing you can do about it. No amount of persuasion will change their biology.

Do read the comments at Blag Hag. I love the number of people who are saying they already knew, and only partly because I also thought Jen was already out. There have been plenty of offhand, light references on the blog and on Twitter to finding women attractive, and I'm tickled to see how many people never considered that Jen would somehow have to be "just joking" about it. Some days, I like people.

Elizabeth is reflecting on being out as well, over at Sex in the Public Square:

And this brings me to a reflection on another difficulty of being out. Outness is partly a matter of context. In what circumstances at work does it become appropriate for me to make reference to other lovers? Relatively infrequently. But just recently a colleage to whom I'm not especially out asked me about weekend plans. As it happens I had a date with a woman I care deeply about. I said "I have a date." She asked no further questions, and so the conversation died there. I was ready to explain further, but she did not inquire and quite probably assumed that I either was making reference to going out with a friend or that I was referring to a date with Will.

While coming out is a continual process, ceremonial days like National Coming Out Day are useful because they provide a context for self disclosure. They also provide a ritual moment for reminding others that our lives may not be as clear and simple as they appear on the surface.

For all those who are not at all out, it is important that the rest of us show ourselves openly to help dispel stereotypes and to strengthen the system of mutual support that outness can provide.

It also makes me quite happy that most of the people I know who fall under the broad heading of GLBTQ (where Q = queer of some sort) are already generally out. A friend of a friend referred to today as "Happy 'Yeah we know dude' day." Today was a day for affirmation for most of them, rather than a day of added risk or longing for what it would be unwise to actually do. One person I'm proud to call a friend used the day to come out as bisexual to her Catholic family.

All that is progress, but it isn't enough. I live in a very liberal city, with lots of artists and academics for friends. I hang out with people who make a point of trying to question received wisdom about the social order. Even here, I know of one situation in which two of my friends don't feel comfortable being out. The prominent heterosexuality of the place is such that even identifying the location would out those people.

Then we get outside the city and outside my generation. I see a teenager who can't understand why "so gay" is an insult but still uses it as one, all but guaranteeing that her friends will at least hesitate before coming out to her. I see a woman several years into her retirement, who moved across the country with her "roommate" and whose parents will likely die within the next year or two without ever having discussed her sexuality (if they allow themselves to know about it). Then there are all the people who are not safe or who don't feel safe, just because of their sexuality, practiced--or merely experienced--in private.

Kelley expresses how this feels better than I can at Watching the Wheels:

I do know that I will love this man and stand by him as long as I am able. And I know that whatever the future brings we will work through it together.

Today I’m not telling my parents any of this. I wish that I could. It feels so wrong to be so happy and to not share it with two of the people that mean the most to me in this world. One of my sisters is sure I will be disowned. I don’t know with any degree of confidence that she’s wrong. Today I’m not ready to find out.

But I think it’s worth the risk, to share this part of my life with them. Maybe next year I’ll be ready. And maybe next year my fears will be proven wrong. Maybe I’ll be accepted, my happiness will be accepted. Maybe, but maybe not today.

For them (and for you, because in hiding is a scary, toxic place to be), come out today, if you can. If you can afford to take those risks, for yourself and for others, tell the world who you are. Come on out.


Heather M. Rosa said...

Coming out can be risky, especially for teens. There is a reason that the suicide rate for GLBT teens is 3-4 times the nation average for all teens. Not everyone is accepting, and in some cases even being thought to be GLBE is cause for ostracism and/or bullying, or worse. I feel strongly that nay discussion of coming out should include information on The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention hotline for GLBT teens. One can go directly to their site, or connect via Facebook.



Stephanie Zvan said...

The blog doesn't really have teen readers, but The Trevor Project is always worth a plug.

Heather M. Rosa said...

But I bet your many readers know teenagers who know teenagers...

The more who know, the more likely the news will get to that one who needs it. I just wish none of them did.