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Always coming out

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Today, Oct. 11, is National Coming Out Day, and I figured it would make a good excuse to write something I've been thinking about writing for a while.

There are all sorts of things one can come out about—I think most of us have things that we keep hidden in various contexts. Often there are good reasons to keep those things hidden in a given context (they're irrelevant to the context; they're illegal; revealing them would cause you or someone else serious harm; etc); but sometimes the biggest reason we hide things is fear. And while that's a compelling reason, and sometimes justified, I think most of the time it's not a very good reason.

I've used this journal and the about-me part of this site to obliquely come out about a variety of things that I don't normally bring up except among close friends: pacifism, anarchism, liking folk (and filk) music, etc. I've mentioned here that I write erotica, something I've been ambivalent about making publicly known. I've said a fair number of things about myself that most of my family doesn't know, though I don't think I've said anything that I would really object to their knowing—I avoid saying such things here, because although I don't think any of them read this journal regularly, there's nothing to keep them from doing so.

I've even hinted, usually subtly and in passing, about my sexual orientation (bisexual) and the fact that I'm polyamorous. But I think this is the first time I've directly stated either of those things in a public place.

Why come out? There are a lot of possible reasons. In areas of sexuality, my reasons are mostly political: I've observed that it's often harder for people to hold a stigma against a group once they meet and interact with a member of that group. (Not impossible to retain that stigma, of course; happens all the time. But harder.) The more people who come out about their sexuality, the safer and easier it is for others to do so. I think it's clear that the country's been steadily shifting toward greater acceptance of homosexuality for the past ten or twenty years; we've still got a long way to go, of course, but just the fact that popular and successful movies and TV shows prominently feature gay characters (sometimes even non-stereotyped ones!) is a pretty clear indicator that things are changing. And I think that change has been greatly assisted by the courageous people who've come out despite the potential dangers of doing so.

(And I have to stop momentarily to address one of the standard questions/arguments from well-meaning but bewildered straight people: "Why make such a tsimmes about your sexuality? I don't care who you sleep with, as long as it's in private, and as long as you don't flaunt it—but why are you telling me about it?" If I had time, I'd dig up the lyrics to a cute Tom Wilson Weinberg song from Ten Percent Revue called "Flaunting It"; but in the absence of that, I'll note that straight sexuality is flaunted all the time, everywhere in our society, whether or not it's "relevant" to a given context. Straight people have pictures of their spouses (and kids, strong evidence of heterosexual activity if not inclination) on their desks. They make comments about the attractiveness of people of the other gender. Huge amounts of advertising, not to mention popular songs and all other forms of entertainment, focus heavily on attractions between men and women; most such assume that the audience is 100% straight. The idea that "flaunting" homosexuality is a bad thing relies on the fundamental assumption that homosexuality itself is a bad thing; if it weren't, it wouldn't be flaunting, it would be ordinary public displays of affection. (Some people object to those regardless of orientation, but I think that's a separate issue.))

(Okay, that last nested parenthesis requires me to digress a moment longer, to point to a recent Miss Manners column in which someone writes to say that a gay brother has been smooching his boyfriend in front of the kids. Miss Manners replies that the writer should tell the brother not to do this, and adds, "Miss Manners further recommends that you make it clear that you are an equal opportunity spoil sport—that such displays are offensive regardless of the gender of the lovers and the age of the spectators." I was really annoyed by her response when I first read it a week ago, but now I suspect that it's intended as a barb against homophobia, a subtle way of pointing out to the letter-writer that they're being hypocritical.)

Onward:

In some ways, I think it's even more important for bi people to come out than for gay people (using "gay" in this entry as convenient shorthand to encompass both "gay male" and "lesbian"), because it's easier for bi people to pass as straight. And because there are as many misconceptions about bi people as about gay people, but those misconceptions come from both ends of the orientation spectrum. Back in college, before I even came out to myself, I once commented that, well, sure there were a few guys that I thought were kinda cute, but since everyone's at least a little bi, my interests lay in the bi range that's called "straight." I eventually realized that the only reason to say that was to keep from having to label myself bi; and the only reason to avoid that was that I thought it would be a bad thing. And once I started letting go of the notion that being bi was bad, and paying more attention to what I actually felt, I discovered that there were rather more than a few guys I found attractive.

This isn't the time or place to do an extended discussion of what constitutes bisexuality, or to dispel the myths. If you have questions about bisexuality, or if you think that there's no such thing as a bisexual, or if you think that bisexuals are really gay and just haven't admitted it yet, I recommend stopping by the soc.bi FAQ for some good clear discussion on the matter. Feel free to ask me questions too, if you like.

I suspect that I'm preaching to the choir, though, and I suspect that most of the people who read this journal will be neither surprised nor upset to hear any of the above, so I'll move on to a couple other things.

One other reason to come out is that it's nice not to have to keep secrets, nice to not have to remember who you've told what to. Especially if you're as bad as I am at remembering who you've told what to.

Does this mean I'll be coming out to everyone? Probably not. (Nor will I come out publicly about everything about me; there are still plenty of things I'm not willing to discuss in public.)

I probably won't even come out in some contexts about some things that are less scary to bring up than sexuality. For example, I'm not out at work as a journaler or a magazine editor; it's not so much that I would mind if people there knew, but I'm not yet sure how much I want my co-workers to know about my life outside of work. At work, I've mentioned both of those activities, but only here and there in passing, and I think only a few of my co-workers know about either of them. Anyone who Googles my name will of course find this journal, but as far as I can tell, nobody at work has done that yet. But as with family, I don't say anything here that I would be upset about co-workers knowing, because any of them could happen across this site at any time. Once in a while I even point one of them to it.

There are contexts in which I suspect people assume I'm gay. (Though on the other hand, going by stereotypes, I'm not really stylish enough to be gay.) There are things that could be seen as clues: the earring; the "celebrate diversity" bumpersticker; a certain air of fussiness and a certain lack of traditional Manly traits; the fact that I never talk (except among friends) about being involved with anyone; it all adds up. In those contexts, I find I have a hard time coming out as bi; I feel like I would be disappointing people somehow. And coming out as bi is simply harder to do clearly-but-indirectly than coming out as gay, unless you happen to also be poly and have SOs of both genders: if I refer to Mary Anne in such a context as my sweetie, the assumption becomes that I'm straight (and, of course, monogamous, the unmarked state). I could then proceed to make comments about the yumminess of various male actors, but I've heard strongly straight-identifying guys refer to other guys as handsome, beautiful, attractive, gorgeous, etc. And bisexuality is so far from being on most people's radar that I suspect many people would just be confused.

Last weekend, a couple of family members said things like, "I hear you have a girlfriend!" I wasn't up for explaining to those I'm not out to, so I just said yes and left it at that. But I felt like I was lying—true as far as it goes, but allows them to make many unwarranted assumptions that I know they're making. Sigh. Maybe some day I'll talk with them more about this stuff.

I could wear a button. This morning I dug through my bag of pins (it's been a long time since I attended a con covered in buttons, but I used to do that all the time) and found the "Bisexual Pride" one with the overlapping pink and blue triangles. I'm not sure I have the courage to wear it—when I do, I always feel like everyone's staring at me—but for now I've attached it to my cube wall, so anyone who wanders by can see it. Of course, it's too small to be really eye-catching, and the words are unreadable from more than a few feet away; I imagine I'll have to answer people's questions about it. Sigh. Talking about it, that's the really embarrassing thing; I don't mind so much if people know, it's the having to tell them that's uncomfortable.

So putting up that button and this entry comprise my NCOD present to myself. But coming out is a process, not an event; there'll always be more to do. I'm going to try to keep learning how to keep doing it.

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