October 11 is National Coming Out Day in the US (it’s the 12th in the UK), and since I’ve been out (and really, really out online) for a long time, today, what I’m thinking about is those times when I’ve not been.
Like two nights ago when I played the pronoun game at an awards banquet thingy when someone took “partner” to mean “husband” and it just seemed too awkward to correct them. It’s hard, I’ve always found, in small talk with strangers, even if you’re comfortable being out, to have to say, “Oh, by the way, you’re wrong.”
I’m lucky enough to run into situations like this rarely, but they always linger with me, long and strange.
And the world is changing so fast; I don’t always even know how to keep up.
When I met my guitar teacher, for example, she asked if I’m married, and I said, “Oh, no, I’m gay,” which actually didn’t make sense as an answer in New York State anymore (unless we’re actively talking about non-assimilation, which is a great convo, but was not the one at hand). Anyway, she’s surely forgotten about it, but I think about it from time to time; how it marks my age; and how my age has marked me.
So, on the odd chance you were one of the few people who didn’t know: I’m queer. Queer is my preferred word because it lets me get the genderqueer stuff and the attraction stuff and the fact that I feel like bisexual is too binary a word for me (but I’m really interested in gender, it’s not an afterthought, so apparently pansexual is wrong too? I don’t know, I’m not great at keeping up with the ever expanding QUILTBAG terminology) and the probability that I really can’t pass all into one neat little syllable.
I’ll also take gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, whatever, because they’re all varying degrees of accurate and I know queer isn’t a comfortable word for everyone. Mostly, it’s like my pronouns — if you’re not using it as an insult, with that nasty little hitch in your voice — we’re good. As ever, in case anyone still needs to know this, don’t use queer for people who don’t self-identify as queer, and please, it’s an adjective, not a noun.
Meanwhile, coming out is a privilege and should be a choice (political figures who actively support anti-gay agendas and who later turn out to be queer, being a common, but not universal, exception to this belief).
Additionally, coming out is complicated. For a lot of us, it involves not a sentence, but paragraphs, about sexual preference, romantic attraction, personal history and gender presentation and identity; and if we pass for whatever reason(s) (which is this whole mess of a thing filled with advantages and disadvantages and all sorts of complicated stuff), it can feel even harder to speak up.
Coming out can also often involve not just speaking personal truth, but often, countering assumptions or offering reassurances (No, mom, you didn’t make me gay). This can be everything from tiring to amusing to heart-breaking to just plain weird.
Of course, coming out also carries real, serious risks — homophobic violence still exists around the world (including even in my precious New York City) and in most US states you can still be fired from your job for no other reason than being or being perceived as being LGBT.
However, in spite of that (and perhaps because of it) if coming out, if being out, is a thing you feel you can do, it’s probably a good thing, not just for yourself, but other people in your community. Secrets are, I think, a dangerous currency, easily stolen.
National Coming Out Day has a lot of purposes. It says we are not silent. It says we are not invisible. But it also says you are not alone.
And that’s true regardless of whether you’re out or not.
This blog welcomes anonymous and pseudonymous comments that are non-abusive in nature. That’s true every day, but that’s especially true today. If you want to make this random little corner of the Internet a place you can be out in today, you are welcome to do so, but if you just want to keep reading along, that’s cool too. Either way, we’re honored to have you.