Sunday, June 12, 2011

Coming Out

I don't talk about when I came out. That phrase makes it sound as though it were a simple, closed, one-off action, which couldn't be further from the truth. No, I talk about when I started coming out. You start coming out the day you admit to yourself (or to your diary, if you're an embarrassingly pretentious dork like me) that you're not the hetero you and everyone else always assumed you are; I'd venture to guess that you finish coming out the moment you shuffle off this mortal coil, though I suppose it's possible that the afterlife is also a stew of awkward assumptions and pronoun acrobatics.

It's a truism, but coming out really is a life-long process. And it's bloody difficult, especially for those of us with an inadequate grasp of conversational nuance. Every time you meet someone, you over-analyse and second-guess everything. Is ey assuming you're straight, or staying open-minded? If you drop a reference to a girlfriend past or present, does that constitute “rubbing your sexuality in eir face” (a phrase that always makes me giggle)? As a generally out gay person, how far into a new acquaintanceship should you explicitly let the other party know you're gay? Could this apparently reasonable and friendly human being transform into an ugly and violent homophobe at the first mention of Melissa Etheridge?

As a queer radical, I sometimes feel that I ought to be proclaiming my gayness at the top of my lungs every waking moment: I should get my hair buzzcut, my face pierced a few more times, and my neck tattooed “GRRL LOVER”, and I should greet everyone with, “Hi, I'm Anna and I am a big ole queer.” That, I suppose, would be the purest manifestation of my political ideology.

But I am not a pure manifestation of political ideology; I am a human being with multiple identities, a sense of discretion, and not inexhaustible reserves of mental strength. Queer is something I am, but it is not the totality of who I am, nor even the most important aspect. It's perhaps the most marginalized of my identities, which is why I feel the need to weaponize it; but I just don't have the wherewithal to be in such a constant state of frontline warfare with the dominant culture. Of course, I am in a constant state of warfare with the dominant culture, but most of that is mental: and, given how exhausting that is, I simply haven't the energy to bring it in a loud, visible fashion every day of the week.

Moreover, I'm afraid of retaliation. I admit it: when my political ideology clashes with my self-preservation instinct, not getting punched in the face dominates nine times out of ten.

(Plus, my hair is great. I love it and will not sacrifice it at the altar of extreme butchness.)

The people it's easiest to come out to as gay are often the hardest to come out to as Christian. (And vice versa, no doy.) In my experience, the communities least likely to make assumptions about your sexuality are the most likely to make assumptions about your secularity. It's deeply frustrating: if I can have a great conversation about Jesus with you, I'll be afraid to talk about Rachel Maddow with you; if we're having fun discussing queer theory or your palaeontology degree, I'm going to have a hard time bringing God into it.

And yet I know that there are many, perhaps even a majority of, individuals who are open to the idea of a queer theologian-to-be. My fear of coming out as gay, Christian, or a gay Christian is exactly what the kyriarchy wants. The compartmentalization and conflict of your different identities is one of the ways you're kept fighting yourself and your potential allies, instead of the actual oppressive forces.

We're all afraid to be judged, outcast, or even physically harmed for who we are. Sometimes this fear is reasonable, often it's not, but in the minefield of social interaction it can be hard to tell. However, I do know this: if you don't know about my very personal passion for social justice, or about my mad dorkiness, or about my love for the Big Guy upstairs, then you don't know me.

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