I’ve had a few interesting conversations about “outness” lately. I grew up in a time when coming out, being out (in the LGBT sense of the word) was a relatively dangerous thing to do. The 70’s were actually a pretty idyllic time for outness (and sexuality) comparatively to the 50’s and 60’s, and I remember lots of different people in my family’s life who weren’t like everyone else, but to me it didn’t matter, to my family so far as I could tell, it didn’t matter.
Coming out in the 60’s and before meant pretty much alienating yourself. I cannot imagine how absolutely terrifying it must have been to admit, expose, share your actual true self with people who were (potentially) repulsed, terrified, disdainful of you. I think it’s the terrified part that would have been hardest for me, knowing that people were scared of you. Scared that you’d what? Rub off on them? Change them? Eat them? Pervert them? Those were real reactions.
The 80’s, with the dawn of AIDS, made things terrifying again. Now, not only did LGBT folks have to deal with the regular terrified, the regular judging, but now they had to deal with people thinking that even drinking after them could Kill. Sicken. God Hates Fags. Horrible stuff. Can you imagine the bravery of Act Up and Queer Nation?? Opening up the heart and soul like that, exposing themselves so that attention would be drawn, respect would be granted. The hate they withstood.
Do Not Ignore Us.
So one of the conversations was about that. The other one was about the damage done to civil rights activists in the south, white ones, who stood up against the bullshit that was Jim Crow, racist congressmen, etc. People lost jobs, friends, business, respect for bucking the culture of racism, and standing up and outing themselves as allies to the Black community.
Finally, I was having a talk about how being out in any way was hard. Allies coming out for the LGBT community can face problems, depending on where they are. Anyone coming out as sexually alternative in any way…well, there is a hell of a lot of judgment thrown their way. People who don’t follow the “normal” relationship rules can easily be seen as predatory, their innocent actions and flirtations woefully misinterpreted, their relationships picked over and mocked, laughed at, disdained. In some cases, they are probably seen even as scary. Or hated. It makes me want to cry sometimes.
We are at a funny place in society about things like sexuality. Is one’s orientation a gene based, unmoveable reality? Or is there choice involved? Is it culturally informed (“women’s sexuality is fluid and men’s is not”)? Does aging and hormone fluctuation affect who you find attractive? Why do relationships work the way they work? Just go read Sex at Dawn, man. Just go read that.
I feel sad that sex and relationship models have to cause so many problems. That people judge and presume negative intent on something that is generally positive.
There are times when I don’t know why anyone would even want to be out, though we cannot move forward any other way. While I have no idea what my friends went through in the 80’s, losing their familes to their own honesty, losing friends to HIV, being totally and utterly rejected for being honest about themselves? Well, I’ve had shadow versions of it over the last few years and it doesn’t feel good at all. I did it anyway. Still, my friends are and were far stronger than I have been, and they’ve taught me I have to be strong, to get strong, and really, you can’t get strong without….well, just being strong.
Above all, humans are group creatures, we want to belong. When we are faced with a choice of being honest with others about who we are, or hiding it so that we can stay connected….well that’s psychic torture really. Maybe it’s just our individualistic society that has been pushing us to “be who we are!” with pride. Maybe it’s a better thing to be out, for at least you’ll really know who cares about you for you. But knowing people are afraid of you, disdain you, judge you…I have a great deal of heartsick respect for those warriors who stood up for things like the right to love, to have family in hospital rooms, respect. Safety. Safety.
I’m not a trailblazer, or a deliverer of important news, a deconstructor of savvy political thought. I’m just blathering for my own sake. I’m certainly not making money at it. Lives are not changed by blather, which sounds far more egotistical than I mean it to be. I think I need to live my life with a different kind of intention, decide how out is too out, how much misinterpretation I can live with, and how much of what I put out is worth the risk.
Out or In? Public or Private?
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