Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Degrees of Stepping Out

I’m about to take a risk. I’ve submitted an essay to a magazine that has just started up. In it, I step a little bit farther out of the closet, speaking openly about being bisexual. If you knew me personally you'd recognize that being acknowledged as queer makes me feel utterly naked and defenseless in front of the world. Once, at a previous job, I told one co-worker (herself a lesbian) my sexual orientation, only to find that it fast became the subject of rapacious interoffice gossip. When my boss at the time confirmed to me what everyone knew by then, I flushed with embarrassment. I still can think of no greater feeling of complete torment.

What makes this worse is that it will be featured in a new Quaker Young Adult publication, likely confirming for at least some what has been previously rumored or speculated. Many other LGBT Friends know, because I deliberately sought them out to talk about my own struggles, knowing I would be talking to those who understood. Now it will be publicly known among the people with whom I regularly interact and work, and in time, I’m sure the news will filter its way into my own Meeting. Not that it will be much of a surprise, really. Those particularly perceptive and attuned have likely already figured it out themselves, or at least have their suspicions. And me? Well, I am still having mixed feelings.

In my nightmares, the moment I exit the closet resembles a darkly lit set, a spotlight pointed directly at me, TV cameras focused like a laser beam. An announcer intones, You admit that you’re queer? The shame and guilt burn within me as I gaze into the packed studio audience and the flashbulbs of a thousand cameras, and I manage to stammer out, Well, yes...but

This anxiety is mostly about me. Coming out, regardless of identity, seems to be so much easier these days. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t daunting or difficult, but we’re quickly reaching a time where the response to the news from most people might someday be no more than a shrug. Even so, I don’t want to be treated differently now that I’m more out than I was before. This is not to be confused for as out as I could ever possible be. That’s for later. Maybe. Bisexuality to me has always been incredibly confusing. I don’t fit neatly into either the heterosexuality box or the homosexuality one. I never have and never will. But in keeping with my general fears, I’ve incorporated or at least acknowledged publicly very subtle aspects of queer identity. Yet, I’ve also never felt a desire to take on the skin of conventional heterosexuality, finding it offensive at worst, and inauthentic at best.

Most people will be completely accepting and affirming. I don’t worry about that. This is a publication geared towards Liberal Friends. To be sure, there are certain people in more conservative branches of Quakerism to whom I would never reveal my sexual orientation. I can pass for straight quite competently, and ducking back into the closet temporarily has never been difficult for me. I suppose I take a pragmatic approach. The high femme lesbian Friend I know who makes no apologies for who she partners with has been the subject of some awful homophobic remarks. She too could pass, and does, most of the time, until she reveals otherwise. We both benefit in similar ways. But where I would keep silent, she does not. I admire her courage, but I am not ready yet.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever be ready yet.

1 comment:

Martin Kelley said...

Good luck with the reactions. Sometimes the reality is less burdensome than the anxiety. May that be so with you.
Your Friend, Martin