Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Come out, come out, wherever you are

This was going to be a post about assumptions about sexuality, based on my last couple of days. But then one of my beautiful lesbian friends sent me the always brilliant Richard Boock's rage about homophobia. Richard is sharing his grief and pain about the loss of a friend he clearly loved:
Another closet gay who, condemned to living a lie, eventually found himself in such a desperate and lonely place that he thought suicide the only viable escape. Unable to face the stigma we apply to homosexuality, convinced he was a hypocrite, he died a terrified man.
It's an awful, awful story. As is the list he gives, of people hurt or killed in Aotearoa recently because they were queer. It's a partial list - let's not forget the reason queer people marched earlier this year in Wellington - because there had been several violent attacks on us as we walked the streets.

Coming out is frequently terrifying. And I'm out, everywhere in my life, all the time. At work, at sports, where I live, in my extended family, with medical professionals, with old schoolmates. I blog about being queer, have appeared in a television documentary about being queer, written in queer anthologies, been profiled in articles. Hell, today I came out in the bank, when the woman talking me through my new account assumed I had been married. (Strange, strange day.) "Actually, my ex-partner's a woman."

Sometimes when I come out, people apologise for the assumptions they've made. Politely, just because they've got it wrong, like a work acquaintance yesterday who assumed I was lesbian. Sometimes when people apologise because they have assumed I'm lesbian they say they are sorry for "insulting" me. I usually try to confront this piece of bi-privilege - straight people thinking it's better to be bisexual than lesbian - head on and say "how could it be an insult to be a woman-loving-woman? Lesbian is just not accurate for me." Sometimes this is enough to call out the homophobia, and people apologise again. Sometimes they still don't get it.

Bisexual people have to come out even more often than lesbians and gay men. I have to come out when I'm in a relationship with a woman. Not because I want to be sexual with men at that time - though I have no judgment for bisexual people who negotiate consensual relationships which allow them to explore both-sex attraction all the time - but because I believe being out changes our world for the better. I believe every time we come out, we change a world a little, make a bit more space, create a little more acceptance.

Being in the closet is soul destroying. It makes us lie about who we are, who we love. It makes us feel ashamed of the connections to the people we adore. The occasions when I've wanted to run back into the closet because I've been frightened, mostly I've been talked down by lovers, women who've made sure I felt safe and loved, despite whatever has just happened.

I know many people living closeted lives now. And I know lots of bisexual woman, who pretend they are lesbian so the queer community will accept them, or heterosexual, so they can avoid homophobic violence and abuse. It's tragic and sad and ultimately terribly, terribly lonely.

I agree with Richard Boock, coming out isn't easy. It's a choice, every time you do it. A choice to sit with who you really are, to claim who you really are, to be who you really are, for the world to see. The more the world does see, the safer place it becomes for all of us to live and love.


imjustme said...

I never talk about being left or right in my political views, I never talk about being atheist or religious when such subjects are discussed. Why is coming out so important? Why not just talk about subjects as they arise. People who flaunt their political or religious colours are often unattractive to be around.

LudditeJourno said...

imjustme - coming out is exactly "talking about subjects as they arise" as hopefully the two examples I've given above show. The point of this post is how often "subjects arise" for queer people, and that we have to make a judgment call about talking about something which has social repercussions for us, all the time.
And it's important for all the reasons I've named in this post, and all the reasons Richard Boock listed in his article.
I find flaunting, if that means being honest about what you think and who you are, on the whole, pretty attractive personally :-)

Danielle said...

I agree, being in the closet is extremely soul destroying. But I think that sometimes it's easier to keep a lesbian or heterosexual identity, because it's not just the straights that hate: it's the queer community as well. Bisexuals are basically the scum of the earth for a lot of straight and queer people.

I wouldn't change my bisexuality for the world and I try to constantly be out, but sometimes I get tired. I get tired of the judgements and the snide comments and after awhile people start to look at you weirdly, as if they're thinking "why does she have to be so open and political all the time?" It loses me friends and makes people not want to get into conversations with me because I call them out on their prejudices. So sometimes it's easier to just get through the day and let someone have the wrong impression of you.

I'm not saying that this is right or moral, but it's just something that you do when you're tired and you can't face coming out to one more person and getting THAT look again.

imjustme said...

One of the things I admired about Helen Clark was that she just rose above all that comment. I have no idea of her orientation, nor do I care.
Danielle kind of amplifies my point.

Hugh said...

"I have no idea of her orientation, nor do I care."

Her marriage didn't offer any pointers?

LudditeJourno said...

Thanks Danielle, for sharing that. I know what you mean about getting tired and wanting to get through the day. Arohanui to the max, LJ

Scar said...

"Being in the closet is soul destroying."

As a trans woman who does not disclose, I cannot agree with this statement.
Being 'in the closet' means that my life is much, much better and I am much more comfortable with my interactions with people.

And I am most certainly NOT lying about anything!

LudditeJourno said...

Scar, this is a post about coming out as it relates to attraction, not gender/sex identity. I hoped I'd made that clear with the language I used. I take your point that there may well be different issues to consider for trans people in choosing whether or not to disclose.

imjustme said...

Hugh said:

"Her marriage didn't offer any pointers?"

When Helen Clark was starting to make her mark in politics she was advised by Jim Anderton (I think then Labour Party President) that to be "acceptable" in the eyes of the voting public she needed to be "married". Unbelievable now, but that was 30 years ago. Apparently Helen cried all through the proceedings. Whilst the marriage may, or may not, offer any pointers to anything else, Helen Clark has showed tremendous loyalty to her husband in the face of relentless attack, and fiercely defends him when those attacks are upon him.

Hugh said...

Yeah, I read that Brian Edwards biography too. It was pretty clear that Clark would have preferred to remain in an unmarried but committed heterosexual relationship - the issue was about 'living in sin'.

But you know what, screw this. I hate the fact that I'm having to 'defend' Clark against allegations of lesbianism like it was some kind of crime.

I actually suspect you're simply one of those psychotic anti-Clark trolls who is just trying to push scurrilous bullshit about Clark. The sad thing is, she's not even Labour leader anymore, so your crap doesn't even have the thin justification of a political agenda. Crawl back into your hole or at least start trolling Phil Goff. Or something.

anthea said...

Hugh, I appreciate the point you're making, but can you not use psychotic as a term of abuse please. Thanks.

imjustme said...

Hugh, Clark rose above the scurrilous gossip and rumour that surrounded her, and admirably so. No human being should have to suffer the insult and innuendo about their private lives that she did. I have no idea,or interest, as to what might have been true or not true about any of it. But Clark has my admiration for the dignified way she dealt with it all. Remarkable strength of character.

Hugh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hugh said...

Sorry Anthea, you're right, that was uncalled for. As you can probably see I was angry, but that's obviously not an excuse.

The post isn't editable, but in retrospect I would use a word like "Ahab-like" instead.

imjustme said...


LudditeJourno said...

I hate that speculation about whether or not Helen Clark was queer can be described as "suffering" and "insult." This is homophobic crap, quite honestly, and while I appreciate many people speculated to undermine her, the day we stop treating it as insulting NOT assuming someone is straight is a healthy day for us all.
One of my straight friends once replied to a man in the street who called her a "dirty dyke" with an indignant "I'm not dirty". That's what I'm talking about.

imjustme said...

Luddite-Journo, I apologise for giving that offence. Unfortunately, there is probably a larger audience who are negatively biased against your viewpoint. I believe that those who raised those matters were covering for a weak political arguement, just as they were when making reference to physical attributes, or childish use of different letters in her name - Klark, Klarkula. Equally childish is Wussel, Gweens. None of these things have any place in mature political discussion, and I raised the private life issues in that connection. I have seen recently on a Green blog Paula Bennett described as "unctuous, saw-toothed" amongst other words to undermine not her policies, but her personally. Why is Auckland Central described as "Battle of the Babes", without giving offence apparently? Women are subjected to this barrage of unhelpful description more often than are men, but if you are looking for reasons as to why more women are either not standing or even getting involved in politics, then I suggest you look no further. Rather than expressing pride in unhelpful labels ( and I absolutely intend no offence!), the authors of those jibes could be called for what they are.