Azure Jane Lunatic (azurelunatic) wrote,
Azure Jane Lunatic

Fear, loathing, and "coming out"

You say "coming out" like it's a neat little package, sometimes: realize that X or Y person has likely assumed that you are a heterosexual (as it's the societal default, given that it is the mode of sexual orientations, so it's perhaps a 90% safe assumption, and depending on your high school teacher, a 90% might even have been an A), then declare to them, "Hello, I am your old [relationship], [name]! I bet you had no idea, but I am [orientation]!"

And then they react to it, and eventually both of you go on your merry ways, and with any good luck they would not have been one of the people who is inclined to berate/fire/beat/rape/murder you for revealing that you are not straight.

There's a feeling I pick up from the community at large, and the feeling is that no matter how long it takes, if in the end the result of you coming out to someone is that someone accepting it, then coming out is worth it, both on a personal level for you, and for queer society as a whole.

The other part of that feeling is that the big hurdle to be overcome that is preventing people from coming out is their own fears of being rejected building up the act of coming out into a big devastating hurdle: if only people would realize that in the end many people who come out are acknowledged/embraced by the people they come out to, perhaps they would not fear it as much.

(And yes, of course these are gross oversimplifications, but they're oversimplifications that stick like little toxic needles into the hearts of young queer folk.)

It's not the act of saying "Hi, I am Azz, and I am bisexual*" to a workmate that I dread. The words are simple, and I know that particularly these days, for a woman, my risks are relatively low.

The part I dread comes in between the declaration and the acceptance where we go our own directions, where I am likely to be called upon by someone in the full exercise of their heterosexual privilege, demanding of me at least some of the following:

The commonly-understood definition of my orientation (because they have never heard of it before, and/or cannot Google it themselves)
Defense of my orientation's right to exist and/or seek romantic and sexual fulfillment
Whether I meet their preconceptions of my orientation
Exactly how I personally align and/or differ from the commonly-understood definition of my orientation
My personal relationship and sexual history
Whether or not my history complies with the definition of my orientation (either the commonly-understood definition, their own preconceived definition, or some weird combination of both)
Defense of why I identify as my orientation and not another orientation that they feel suits me better
Intimate details of my sexual activity and practices
Education on any other non-majority sexual practices and preferences they may have conflated or associated with my orientation

If, after an extensive and painful session of being quizzed about intimate details that are frankly none of their business, they then deign to accept that the orientation I stated at the beginning of things applies to me, and continue to treat me warmly, or at least continue to treat me the same as they previously had or better, then I am supposed to be grateful that the coming-out "went well", and be grateful that I was given the opportunity to educate them so that they could learn to accept our community.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I have been reading and following the most prominent parts of Racefail '09, and I was ashamed to see that as a white woman, I have been guilty of expecting the People of Color to provide me with a free/neat/tidy education after they had pointed out problematical points -- even though in most cases I did not say anything to ask or demand this. Despite not often opening my big mouth to make the situation worse, I was still failing in my mind and expectations.

Only now, after having repeatedly seen why it is my responsibility as a would-be clueful white woman to do my own damned homework, not their responsibility to give me the answers, do I begin to see why the nearly inevitable question and answer session that near-inescapably accompanies a coming-out is an exercise of heterosexual privilege and heterosexuals not wanting to do their homework.

The ritual of "Coming Out" enjoins youth to become educators and ambassadors, but also sends the message that it is OK for heterosexuals to not do their homework, that the queer community will gladly do the heavy intellectual lifting, that it is okay to anticipate a lengthy debate during which one's instinctive and possibly not thoroughly examined feelings will be expected to not be found conflicting and adhere to logical principles after announcing one's orientation (directly or indirectly).

Oh yes. Indirectly. The stereotypical "Coming Out" is when the queer person becomes tired of hiding their true self, works themselves up to it, addresses an important person in their life, and tells them their orientation. This is not the only way it gets done, oh no. There are a thousand times when you have to come out or choose not to do it, and it gets very old very fast.

Someone says something that assumes you are heterosexual, and you don't feel like letting that assumption pass.
Someone says something that assumes you are heterosexual, and you actually have to correct them because them getting it wrong is going to cause problems.
Someone assumes your sexual orientation, but got the wrong minority orientation.
Someone makes a disparaging comment about your orientation (and you don't believe they know that you are).
Someone asks about details of your personal life that would not cause comment if you were heterosexual, and you can be rude, lie, or come out. ("Is that your sister?" "Are you married?" etc.)

On a personal level for me, coming out to every person I know is too damned exhausting, even though I am okay with 99% or more of the people I have met knowing that a woman approaching me in a potential romantic or sexual sense would not get an immediate veto based solely on the fact that she is a woman. Sometimes it would even be unsafe (that other less-than-one-percent).

For the greater good of queer society as a whole, I am sometimes made to feel guilty that I do not have the resources to devote to coming out to everyone to whom it would be safe to come out to. When I do gird my loins and speak out about my sexuality even when I know there's a painful discussion coming up, I know that while I may not immediately reap the benefits of it, I'm taking one for the team, so it's all going to be OK in the end, provided I don't die of it.

I am not exactly shy about allowing people to know my sexuality. I make references to both ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends. I make mention of bisexuality (mine) in public journal entries. I belong to orientation-specific communities. I state the orientation on Facebook. My car sports a rainbow sticker and a bi pride flag sticker. Generally I do not get flak about these things, so they are not a problem. I do not mind people knowing. I do mind going through the fucking third degree when someone finds out.

It's not OK for queer people to be made to feel that they must pass as heterosexual in order to avoid conflict or be safe.
It's not OK to add to a young queer person's misery by expecting them to be a debater and ambassador on top of their other issues (and blaming them if they don't), unless they feel like doing that.
It's not OK for heterosexuals to expect us to do their homework.
It's not OK for heterosexuals to greet a queer person directly or indirectly revealing their orientation as time to attack or debate their sexuality. Revealing one's sexuality is not always and without exception an invitation to start a discussion.

*Bisexual is an oversimplification in itself. I suspect my true orientation is more in the direction of sapiosexuality, particularly as dumbasses of any gender identity actively repulse me.

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