Sunday, October 15, 2006

A ramble about coming out and being out

Thursday was “coming out” day, which has had me thinking about coming out, being out and the whole process of coming out, which does not happen all at once, but over a long period of time.

My experience, growing up in a conservative, almost fanatical religious environment is not typical, but not unique either. The closest emotional equivalent I have felt was watching the film Europa Europa about a Jewish orphan, based on a true story, who through accident and happenstance, ends up enrolled in a private school for Hilter Youth, presumed to be the best of Aryan promise. Of course, he is slowly going insane, threatened almost daily with exposure which would be the ruination of him, and the only solution to be as convincing as possible to everyone that he is something he is not.

For myself, from a young age onward, I was aware, more and more as I grew older that I held, not just my life, by my entire family in my hand. My father and mother worked for the religion, my older brother went to their university. It was not a question of “coming out” as much as being found out. And if that happened, the most optimistic option would be that I would be turned out on the street, and that if my family never spoke or contacted me, they might keep their jobs and place at university. Of course, considering the religious viewpoint we all grew up in, not speaking to me would be normal, since it would be revealed I had sold my soul to Satan and was an influence of evil and all that.

I had no need for ex-gay ministries because I worked hard, very hard, and prayed, very very hard to stop feeling the way I felt. I tried to exercise out my demons, to slap them away, to look in the mirror daily and tell myself how disgusting I was, how disgusting God thought I was (Our school was filled with posters saying “God knows your every thought” – cheery stuff). I went away from everyone, going up into the mountains, to wash that “worldly influence” out of me. Didn’t wash, did have some horny dreams however.

Now, most people, thankfully, do not have such a strong environment, some have worse. Some women I know come from families where beating women who “act out” is normal, so bringing home the girlfriend simply isn’t. One woman I know, her father and brothers are from the back hills and are the biggest anti-nonwhite, anti-gay drinkers around. She comes homes with her girlfriend because her father is convinced her girlfriend is in love with one of his sons. He tells his daughter to bring her on the weekend, and she can sleep in her bedroom. What a fucked up tightrope to walk.

The thing about coming out is that you can never “unout” yourself, even the Christians who go through an ex-gay ministry are viewed with such suspicious they seem to need to tell someone constantly how they aren’t gay anymore. Still doesn’t mean they aren’t out, now they are just “was gay, may still be, so better watch carefully.” The problem is, that this is a world which does not treat gay people equally. Coming out means that you are a target; and you quickly become aware of that. That can be minimized by moving somewhere friendly, or taking vacations somewhere friendly, or finding employment somewhere friendly but there will be people out there who do not know you, do not care to know you but will still be unjust, hurtful or at worst violent, just because of who you are attracted to.

All that being said, I think it is better to come out, and be out, than not. Because being out is about starting your life, as who you are. Not being out is about spending that energy making sure that people DON’T find out who you are. And that really is an important difference. Not being out makes you more than a bit twisted inside, even if you can’ t see it, trust me on this. I think now to a closeted law lecturer I know who always selects young, great looking boys/men to give individual tutoring at his house. It’s creepy and sick, but he doesn’t see that because...he’s not out, so it’s not sexual right...right? Yeah. Coming out pushes you in some ways to face things, sometimes things entire societies haven’t faced.

In an America which tries to get everyone in the world to promise to not have sex, coming out is a process of saying, “I have sexual attractions, they are part of who I am, and I AM going to act on them.” Gay and lesbians aren’t going to abstain till marriage; particularly when the same society tells them they can’t marry, or if they do, it doesn’t matter anyway. Which is pretty much the only useful thing North American societal homophobia has taught LGBT people, that in a relationship, it is the person and the relationship itself that matters first, not group approval, not the symbols of togetherness, not the rites of union.

Coming out is your choice, though if you live in backwoods, or religious or other certain environments it may not be a choice, not till you finish the prison sentence and get the heck out of there and somewhere where you will meet people like you, only at ease with themselves, at ease with being sexual beings. I have been missing my gay friends back home, particularly L, whose first statement would usually be, “It’s Friday night and I’m out of the valleys, who wants to go to the gay bar?” and while standing next to his partner at mardi gras would be asking, “A guy in ass-less chaps? Where? Where?” I think he likes guys, don’t you? Coming out doesn’t solve problems; it often creates them. But coming out is living life, openly, messy, full up falling in love and getting heartbroken, having people who respect turn on you because part of their mind hasn’t grow up to include you has a equal human, but also someone come up later and say how much they appreciated, how much they needed seeing you as an out person. And sometimes, if you are lucky, it is about seeing people change to understand and respect the real you; something that will never happen if you are not out. I forget to mention that there are really cool LGBT people out here; waiting to meet you, to get to know you. This is not to say that we all don’t have our issues too, still there are a lot of friends and people who want to know the whole you. But it’s your choice.


kathz said...

a very good post and I hope it helps some readers. I've never had such a decision to make. The nearest I've done is to be open about my working-class background, which shocks some people. And once, when a couple of students called me a lesbian (because they assumed that went with the term "feminist") I decided not to deny it in case they assumed I was denying I was a lesbian because I saw the term as an insult. (I'd like to have turned that into a more detailed discussion but it was a complicated situation in many ways).

Congratulations on your courage and the happiness it has brought you.

GayProf said...

I am constantly amazed that anybody comes out given the hostility of society. Indeed, so many people get caught in a cycle of shame and hiding.

biggest anti-white, anti-gay drinkers around

Anti-white? What ethnicity were they, out of curiosity?

elizabeth said...

Wow. That was beautifully written. Almost made me want to jump up in triumph and shout "I'm gay!".

If I was gay, at least I would BE something. I don't really have anything or any group to belong to. I envy that - strange as it sounds. Don't get me wrong - I know it isn't easy. But I'm proud that I know people who know WHO they are - sexuality included.

funchilde said...

touching, thought provoking post. one of the reasons i don't like it when people compare being gay to being african american is that i can't EVER hide, even if I wanted to. because my ethnic difference is evident immediately i have the luxury of letting whomever deal with it (immediately) and we can move on. There is no dance of denial or dubious discussion to determine where i stand. and its wonderful.

Sober @ Sundown said...

Coming out has been a life long process for me. I am out to most, but there are a few that still haven't figured it out. When the time is right I will tell them. Personally, I think my preference is very evident......

Elizabeth McClung said...

Kathz: yes, the best way people find to discredit someones viewpoint is to label them into a group which isn't worth listening to - ironically, this has included a section of feminism as well

Gayprof - changed typo - though in Britian, what would be considered "white" in North America is not always so in Britian who has Welsh, Irish, Scottish, Traveller as ethinicities, as well as the local consideration of calling everyone from the Indian subcontinant "Paki's" while officially calling them "Asian" - what, I asked, do you then call people from South East Asia. The answer: Chinese.

Elizabeth: well, you still can be a hockey supporter?

Funchilde: I think all minorities require the support of the empowered for justice. I can't really comment on the comparative nature, except to note that the phrase "passing" isn't one invented by LGBT.

Sober: I've found a sort of willing illusion in some people to face what seems obvious - I am constantly surprised when very very obvious dykes shock people by declaring they are lesbian.

belledame222 said...

great post, thank you for this.

and yes to the "there are none so blind as those who will not see." i mean, i think even now there are probably still some people going "Liberace? Really? ...Noooo. He was such a nice man! He loved his mother!"

or, you know: kd lang? Shock! George Michael? You're JOKING. Elton John? Get outta town!! -Boy George,- I shit you not, a lot of people really didn't want to know, not -really,- even the kind of flippant-blase "oh yeah girls and blokes, but i'd rather have a nice bag of crisps" (before of course the relationship with Jon came out, away before), even that, people were all like, "Whoa. Well i guess he's an artistic type, they're all wild and crazy like that..."