I saw a lovely post yesterday that reminded everyone celebrating Pride to remember that being out is not synonymous with pride nor queerness, and it reminded me of conversations I’ve had over the years about the whole notion of “coming out,” and the how the single most misunderstood thing about “coming out” when I have these conversations with non-queer people is the idea that it’s a singular thing that happens.
It’s not like that. When I bump into books that get that? It’s awesome. So often narratives treat it in that singular way. “I came out,” the character says, wiping their hands and ta-da, they’re done.
Now, “When did you come out?” is a question that comes up (from within and without the queer community) and it’s a valid enough question. I generally answer it to mean when I first started telling people with the intent of letting those closest to me know, to the point where I knew the genie was out of the bottle and people would talk to each other thereafter about it.
Some people take coming out to mean “when did you tell your family?” Some mean “when did you tell the first person?” There are quite a few interpretations, and there’s no one answer, really.
Just like there’s no one “coming out.”
I had to come out to myself. Then I came out to a boy while I sat with him in a rainy cabin. I accidentally came out to some friends when I’d had too much to drink and was terrified about how awfully my family had reacted to learning the truth (I turned out to be correct about that fear, too). At the start of university, I went to a coming-out discussion group, and then told my closest two friends. And then other friends. Eventually, I came out to my boss at the bookstore, when she kept talking to me about a young woman she knew that I might like to meet.
She offered to pray for me. HR got involved. It was awkward.
Fast-forward many years. Over a decade ago, the laws changed on a federal level, and I proposed. We had to come out to the clerk, to get the paperwork. I had to come out to the jeweller, to get the rings made. Then my fella and I started to plan a wedding. I had to come out to the venues we were touring as options. I had to come out to the wedding planner at the venue we selected, then come out to the baker, the DJ, the suit rental place, the photographer, the officiant, and the florist.
The photographer, by the way, quit shortly before the wedding, after phoning my husband to say she “wasn’t okay with it.” She was, for the record, very fucking lucky she got him on the phone and not me.
Every single step of the way to getting married involved coming out to people who then had the power to take this moment and ruin it in some small way if they wanted to. A grimace, a refusal, a rant—all of those things were within the realm of possibility and a risk with every freaking step of the journey.
And it’s not over. It happens all the time. For the rest of our lives.
Name change forms (I took my husband’s name after getting married). Bank accounts. Tax forms. Walking the dog together in the neighbourhood. Meeting new people (like, every single time we meet new people). Going out for dinner, shopping, or on vacation (If I never hear “Are you brothers?” ever again, I will be very happy).
Every interaction with new people includes the potential to be coming out. Every single time. And every time you come out, you’re risking that moment being something anti-queer. Anything from outright hatred and physical threat to a snide comment to that facial expression that says, “Ew.”
And there are times where people confuse “Out” to be carte-blanche. I remember once sitting with a group of people I didn’t know super-well, though I did know a few of them on a professional level. This was at an event, a conference, and I had been speaking, multiple times throughout the day, about queerness and the intersection of queerness and writing—and then, in the bar, after the long day, someone said something homophobic. I just didn’t have it in me to speak up. I was tired, I didn’t know the person speaking from a stranger on the street (and also they were a pretty important guest of the conference), and honestly? I was done. I was tired, and didn’t want to get into a talk about why “queer shouldn’t be the punchline of your travel anecdote.”
And then one of those people who did know me decided to step up and said, “Meanwhile, that’s just ‘Nathan’s daily life.”
All eyes on me. The man started to apologize, awkwardly, tripping over the whole “No, no, it’s totally okay that a guy hit on me!” (which, just seconds ago, had been the punchline).
So I had to speak up, have the conversation about what the guy said, and do a quick queer 101 discussion—but the choice to do so was taken from me in a totally well-meaning move.
(Yeah, so don’t do that. It’s still possible to out someone who is generally out in their life.)
Of course, on the flip side, there’s the magic moment when you see someone else’s queer pin or flag or patch or necklace, or a queer couple holding hands, or the person you come out to grins in the “Oh, me too!” way. Those connections, those smiles, those moments of “Hey, I see you, and you see me.” are magic.)
Anyway. I loved the graphic. It’s spot-on. Totally. But coming out—like so much else—isn’t binary, and it never freaking ends.
It’s okay if that’s too much sometimes, no matter how long it’s been since you started coming out.