[this is the first part of a series of posts on the development of my personal narrative and my dislike of the idea of "coming out". i don't know how many parts there will be, aside from >1. and apologies for the length, but i think the context at the front end is necessary.]
yesterday, i participated in a queer/queer-ally leadership/mentorship training program on campus (note here, and throughout, i’m just going to use queer as an umbrella term to include all people who aren’t 100% straight, 100% cis-gender, etc. i know that might be slightly problematic for some people, i’ll own that, but it’s just easier for writing purposes). and i had a great time. i wasn’t sure quite what i was getting myself into, in terms of who all was going to be there, etc., but i knew that i was being trained both generally and specifically for two programs…
1. an on-line anonymous mentoring program (faQ) that cornell runs to help people within the cornell community who are dealing with various aspects of queer life, perhaps even making contact with someone for the first time. we’re there mostly to be point-people, and to direct the users to the available resources (the lgbt resource center, counseling services, student orgs, etc.)
2. an outreach-style organization called pegs (peer education in gender and sexuality) that puts on workshops/panels for user groups within cornell (frats, residence halls, departments, etc.).
i think both of these are really great programs, and i’ve been involved with related things before (mostly when i was at ucsd, a little when i was at u of i), but hadn’t gotten very involved in queer-related things at cornell much until recently.
and the whole group of people being trained was awesome. it was something like 30-40(?) people, mostly undergrads (i may have been the only grad student?…which seems unfortunate), and the diversity among us was fantastic. diversity in terms of not just gender and sexuality, but also racial. yes, the dominant ethnicity was still ‘white’ (if that is an ethnicity…), but there was a good representation of poc (people of color) including those of african, latin american, and asian heritages. and honestly, this was the first time i had been in a gathering of queers that was this balanced, and i liked it. and holy shit, these cats (as in all the undergrads there) were also way further along in the queer/feminist theory perspective of things that i ever was at their age. i guess i should expect it from cornell undergrads, but still. that the discussion was constantly being couched in privilege and power was fantastic. but this is a bit of a digression. i just wanted to point out that the demographic that i was interacting with all day yesterday was, well, awesome.
to the heart of the matter:
as part of the training for the pegs program, we have to have a personal story. these stories are our entre into interaction with the ‘user group’…basically we tell them something about what it is/means for us to be queer via a narrative. this is a great idea, and something that many of the outreach orgs i’ve been involved in before have also utilized.
but the issue is that most often these stories are pitched as ‘coming out stories’. thankfully, (seriously, i don’t want to understate how awesome this is), the leader of the training was completely upfront and said ‘these do not at all need to be coming out stories, but many people do that.’ good. very good. because the last thing i want to do is tell a coming out story. because at this point in my life, i am so over/beyond/sick of the notion of coming out. and i want to be able to use this forum to explain to people that not all queer people think that the notion of coming out is a healthy one.
and i was super glad that the person i was workshopping my story with felt a very similar way. i can’t believe that this person is as advanced in their thinking on this topic as they are, given their age, but that is awesome. [side note, i am trying not to gender anyone, especially in terms of pronouns, any more unless i know that person's gender. hence the gender neutral tone.]
but this still needs to be a story, not a rant about how rife with inverted-privilege the notion of coming out is. not that i can’t imbue it with my personal ethos, but it needs to be in story form. and i’m still wrestling with quite how to do this. in future posts on this topic, i’ll develop the narrative better…and would love to get feedback…but i haven’t actually gotten there with myself yet. so for now, i want to brainstorm a few ideas. and i would still def. love to get some thoughts/ideas/etc on how to develop things.
topics/thoughts to include in my personal narrative:
i have a dynamic self-identity and set of behaviors. i have self-identified as (and come out as, at least to one person at some point) the following things in my life: a gay male, a bisexual male, an asexual male, a straight male (both before and AFTER identifying as a gale male), a non-gendered person that is attracted to mostly women, a lesbian…kinda, and (right now at least) a pansexual genderqueer person. this list is not exhaustive. i just want people to realize that my self-identities change. and yes, that might be difficult for them to know where i am, but it’s difficult for ME to know where i am some times. and i hope others understand why that makes the notion of coming out, well, faulty at best…
assuming that everyone’s gender/sexuality are fixed entities is WRONG. and the concept of coming out reinforces that those identities are fixed.
i like to think of my self-identities (both descriptors of myself and my actions) as privileged knowledge. as in, this is information that not everyone in the world knows, and so those who do know it have a privilege. this is true of EVERYONE and their self-identities, queer or not. and because this information is about ME, it seems fair/appropriate/necessary that I have as much control over how that information gets used in communications/interactions. that is, if anyone gets to control that privilege, it’s me. not you. never you. unless i say so.
in the case of my current gender-queerness, i have generally relinquished a lot of that privilege and am sharing a lot about myself through diffusive processes (like this blog, and by letting people know that they are free to divulge information about me/my identity to others, and just by being out and open, etc.), because i want to. that’s my right. and i feel like it’s helping me generally avoid “coming out” to people.
because i feel like the notion of “coming out” gives the other person far too much power/privilege over that information. it’s hard for me to exactly articulate this point yet, but what i’m saying is by assuming that queer people will “come out” to you, you are stealing the privilege over their information. no longer do they control it, you do.
you steal this privilege partially by the creation of the ‘normalness vs. otherness’ notion. normal people don’t have to come out as normals, other people have to come out as others. bullshit. to me, i’m normal, and you’re other. why don’t you “come out” to me as straight or cis-gendered? assuming that other people are like you is a fucked up notion that reeks of privilege. get over yourself.
i have had many (MANY) interaction in my life where other people have tried to exercise that privilege over me, and it is perhaps the most dehumanizing that i have ever dealt with. after being chastised for not telling someone something about myself, i always feel far, far worse than after being called a slur by someone on the street, for example. i can shake off slurs like you wouldn’t believe. i’m a pretty tough person in that regard. but, being chastised for not telling someone something that they feel like you should tell them somehow manages to strike me to the core. and i need to overcome that.
and believe me, i’ve been chastised many times for failing to tell other people about myself.
i know i’ve lost friendships because people felt like i didn’t share information about myself with them (as in i didn’t come out to them). and i have gotten into potentially sticky and definitely horrible situations with family members and significant others surrounding current and past identities, and assumed privileges about that knowledge. ['why didn't you tell me you started dating women'? well shit, perhaps because i don't feel the need to tell you that, i kinda figured that DOING IT was enough?]
i’ve started exercising a new approach by not coming out to people about identities, but being clear and open about my actions and behaviors. and i’m finding that it gives me a shit ton of control over that information/interaction and often keeps the privilege where it should be when we’re talking about me…as in with me.
for example, i now often drop into conversation aspects of my gender non-conformity, when appropriate, obviously. like, talking about experiencing nausea like morning sickness a few times last week to people that didn’t even know i was taking estrogen. by starting with ‘shit, i felt like ass yesterday morning, probably (but not definitively) due to the estrogen shot i got the other day’. this makes it clear to the person/people that i’m talking with that i’m open about myself and my experiences without necessarily reinforcing that i am different from them in a ‘fundamental’ way that i feel like i must share. no, we are different from each other, but i’m not going to lead with that. and i want the other people to realize that they’re different from me as equally as i’m different from them.
and the final point i want to make sure i mention is that when someone comes out as X, it instantaneously causes the other person to assume infinite-many things about them. it causes the recipient of the knowledge to stereotype. i don’t care who you are, you stereotype, it’s a fundamental human behavior. and being stereotypes is one of the last things that anyone should have happen to them in a situation where they’re sharing privileged information.
ok, this is enough for now. i need to somehow figure out how to wrap my thoughts/ethos into a story about coming out [as various things], and then realizing that coming is v. problematic, and trying to figure out the best alternative to disseminating information.
i think the story might start as… when i was in high school, i came out as a gay man… i came out to my family, my friends, my school, everyone. this was not easy at the time because i was an athlete, etc. etc. but i overcame those difficulties to tell the world that i was gay and to live openly as a gay man. fast-forward to me in grad school, and i do not identify as either gay nor as a man. and this is the start of why i feel like coming out is, well, problematic to say the least.