by Chris Jarvis
In one form or another, I have been ‘out’ for about eight or nine years. Obviously the concept of being ‘out’ is far more nuanced than a simple one stage event, act or process. The reality is of course much, much more complicated. Each time you meet a new person, each time you move to a new town, each time you start a new job that process has to start again, from the beginning.
Coming out is never an enjoyable experience for me, no matter how many times I have to do it. Throughout my life, there have been few things that have terrified me more than coming out to new people. I am not yet actively or consciously come out to my parents, despite now being 23. So much of the time it seems much easier to sit in silence and not rock the boat rather being upfront with the truth, even if that truth forms an important, albeit not defining, part of my identity. Why would I choose to risk potential isolation and victimisation when things could sit so much more comfortably in ignorance?
an undeniable feeling of guilt that you are ‘letting the side down’ by failing to wear your ‘otherness’ with pride
Fortunately in this regard, I can make a pretty good job of passing. I’m in a long term seemingly heterosexual relationship. I don’t shave regularly (partially through laziness), I dress stereotypically ‘male’ and my mannerisms are not easily defined as ‘effeminate’. In this sense, I have relative ease in appearing in the ‘norm’ of heterosexuality and masculinity. I understand the privilege this gifts to me in that I am able to transcend the inherent difficulties of being out as either a gender or sexual minority, should I choose to.
Within this is a dual problem, though. The first is the unavoidable pretence that comes through such a course of action — having to ignore being referred to as straight and the erasure of all the nuances of my sexual identity; having to stay silent when described as ‘male’ as if that word bares any resemblance to my gender or self, outside of the mostly irrelevant question of anatomy. But simultaneously, you cannot ignore the guilt that emerges with this. On the one hand you have the internalised shame that comes with the territory of timidity surrounding outing yourself — the hypothetical views of the people you fear coming out to become the perceptions you begin to have of yourself. On the other you have an undeniable feeling of guilt that you are ‘letting the side down’ by failing to wear your ‘otherness’ with pride, by failing to confront directly the forces of oppression. Some conundrum.
Biphobia both within straight and LGBT spaces is pervasive.
But this latter feeling is something frequently experienced in so many aspects of sexual identity. Biphobia both within straight and LGBT spaces is pervasive. In both it manifests as an almost complete erasure. In the straight community, you are attention seeking and greedy. In the LGBT community, you are unwilling or unable to admit your true sexuality — homosexuality — so deep set is your internalised shame. In essence, constructed notions of what queer identities are have a pernicious effect on people’s own willingness to embrace the true nature of their sexual and gender identities, enforcing norms of what it means to be queer.
An extension of this is particularly acute, when considering a number of behaviours and characteristics that are deemed to be the typical within contemporary queer communities. Polyamory, excessive drinking, intense recreational drug use, promiscuity. Obviously, these are all perfectly fine, and societal constructs or anachronistic and ineffective laws that delegitimise, demonise or criminalise such lifestyles are abhorrent. But these are just not for me. Monogamy, abstinence from drugs and low level alcohol consumption or otherwise teetotalism are no less queer than their opposites, and the countless LGBT people who live their lives in such a way are just as worthy of being part of the acronym.
As long as we continue to reduce queer identities to the number of people someone has slept with and to dancing late into the night to ‘the Divas’ we will remain in a position where parts of the community are excluded from the way we conceptualise and actualise queerness, rejecting the deviations from this. Ironically, the very deviancy that the LGBT community was built upon has reinforced a new set of ideals which are expected to be conformed to.