This week for National Coming Out Day I, like many others, wrote about it on Facebook. I wrote about it both for the sake of other Queer people (whether out or not) and also to clarify for everyone:
I’m out, been out for decades, so if you don’t know: I’m Queer, yes with the capital Q because I’m superQueer, LOL. For me, sexuality and gender are both fluid and performative. I am bi/pansexual, polyamorous, Two-Spirit/non-binary, and my pronoun is “they”. I’m also a POC who lives with mental illness, physical disabilities, an STI, and fatness — and all those things interact with my expressions of my sexuality and gender.
All that said, it is a privilege to be able to be out, to either not fear repercussions or to be willing/able to weather those repercussions. No one owes you any information about their sexuality or the complexities of their gender. No one should have to come out. Anyone who does come out should be able to do so when and how they feel so inclined. And even if someone comes out in certain spheres of their lives, it doesn’t mean they are out in other spheres, and that’s ok too. Even if you think it’s “obvious” that someone is queer in some/many ways, it still doesn’t mean they are or that they are required to affirm it to you or anyone else. So don’t out anyone but your own self.
Much love to all my Queer kin, whether you are open, semi-out, or only know it in your own heart. You are loved, and you are needed.
What I didn’t write about was how/why I came out, how that was ever handled/reacted to, or about my relationships. And those are all complex topics.
I came out first when I was 16, to certain friends. I came out very publicly when I was 18. I was what was considered, at the time, “militant” about being out and proud and challenging assumptions/expectations. I had the privilege of having been a semi-independent student my senior year of high school and not needing to care what my parents or other family thought. I had the benefit of having been part of a local LGB youth support group and having a good sized circle of Queer friends. It was not a hardship for me to come out — I wasn’t kicked out of my home like so many others, I wasn’t relying on my parents and staying closeted like some of my friends, and I wasn’t even thinking about other adult concerns like if a job would not hire me because of my sexuality or gender expressions.
When I was 16 was a lightbulb moment in realizing I wasn’t straight. Suddenly everything else made sense — the way I had been in love with my best friend growing up, the shitty friend I had been to a boyfriend in the eighth grade when he told me he was bisexual, the way both Freddie Mercury and Madonna made me feel things. When I started attending the support group with my very best friend (since the first day of the ninth grade, and still today) I met a college student named Jose Carlos. Jose Carlos was the oldest member of our group besides the facilitator, and I was lucky I got to meet him at all because he was right on the cusp of aging out of participation. Jose Carlos carried the beautiful accent from his South American home country, and sculpted the most sensual homoerotic small statues as a student of the local art college. It was through him that I accepted the term “bisexual” to explain myself, and it is his definition that has led me to never personally feel the need to “change” to “pansexual”.
I do not fall in love with someone’s genitals, I fall in love with the person, with their mind, their soul, and yes their body, but their genitals don’t decide for me if I can or cannot love them. (paraphrasing, obviously)
I’ve recently been told by friends they were not sure if they “have the right” to identify as Queer. They are women who have only ever been with men, or men who have only ever been with women, but they know they have broader attractions. They say they had a relationship once when younger, but later married a man and have been together for a long time. They cite that they have children. They say they don’t really understand their gender, they think it is something different, but they’ve always “passed” as cisgender and never thought much about how to be anything else. They think being trans is one thing: having surgeries and changing to “the opposite” gender.
I tell them, their identity is their state of being — it’s not defined by who they have had sex with, who they have had a public relationship with, whether or not they have children. It’s not defined by them being out, and it’s not defined by them meeting any arbitrary rules about “how to be gay” or “gay enough to count.” I explain that gender is so much more complex than that, and trans looks a lot of different ways (and there is no such thing as an “opposite” gender.) It’s also not defined by the assumptions other people make about who they are based on the limited scope of them that is seen. They are complex beings who get to define themselves, for themselves.
I shared, this week only, that I was recently in an abusive relationship with a cis-man for four years, and one of the reasons it was as bad as it was had a lot to do with it being a secret relationship. He didn’t want people to know he was living with an openly Queer and fat person, and I didn’t want to admit that I was being abused by a man because the people I felt I could most rely on to help were the same people who might tell me I wasn’t really one of them, not really Queer. He didn’t want people to think he was queer because he was with me. I didn’t want people to tell me I wasn’t Queer because I was with him.
I also realized, there is a lot of assumption that when I’m dating a man he is cisgender and straight. Sometimes he is. Often he is not. It’s much more common for me to be dating a bisexual man, whether he is out or completely closeted. It’s not a heterosexual relationship if one of us isn’t heterosexual. And often neither of us is. I’m definitely more attracted to men who challenge gender norms, even if they don’t explicitly identify themselves as queering their gender, but I simply haven’t had the opportunity to mutually fall in love with a genderqueer or trans man in 20 years. At the same time, I struggle to meet women to date. Cisgender men are easy to stumble upon and more willing to consider me, women don’t seem to be.
But because I am also GenderQueer — specifically, non-binary, and what I refer to as “multi-gender,” meaning I am more than a man and/or woman — literally ANY relationship I am in is, by definition, a Queer relationship. I can date a cisgender man who identifies as straight, but I’m still Queer and that relationship is Queer. My Queerness does not change based on who I am romantically or sexually involved with. To be in any kind of relationship with me — in all my Queerness — is to be in a Queer relationship. Because I am Queer. It doesn’t make my partner less straight or less of a lesbian or whatever they identify as either, because their identity is their own to define as they so choose.
I don’t know a lot of the theory around queerness. I love that there is new scholarship, and so many new terms and ways to understand a variety of identities. I am grateful to young people who have challenged the transphobia of my generation, who speak more openly about intersex experiences, who have embraced the idea of multiple genders and fluidity of both gender and sexuality. They have helped me to name and claim my own gender and sexuality so much better in the last seven years than in the almost thirty years since I first came out.
I can’t and don’t tell other people how to define themselves, and I don’t believe that “coming out” is a requirement for defining yourself for yourself. I also continue to interrogate conceptions of gender and sexuality in relationship to my cultures, and to navigate them around my disabilities, fatness, and more. All of my relationships have to reckon with those same issues, and to be truthful people aren’t keen on doing all that work to be with me.
I can’t tell you how to name yourself. I can tell you that I’m Queer, and I might live the rest of my life without a relationship, but if I ever have one again, it too will be Queer, and openly so.