This was going to be a post about assumptions about sexuality, based on my last couple of days. But then one of my beautiful lesbian friends sent me the always brilliant Richard Boock’s rage about homophobia. Richard is sharing his grief and pain about the loss of a friend he clearly loved:
Another closet gay who, condemned to living a lie, eventually found himself in such a desperate and lonely place that he thought suicide the only viable escape. Unable to face the stigma we apply to homosexuality, convinced he was a hypocrite, he died a terrified man.
It’s an awful, awful story. As is the list he gives, of people hurt or killed in Aotearoa recently because they were queer. It’s a partial list – let’s not forget the reason queer people marched earlier this year in Wellington – because there had been several violent attacks on us as we walked the streets.
Coming out is frequently terrifying. And I’m out, everywhere in my life, all the time. At work, at sports, where I live, in my extended family, with medical professionals, with old schoolmates. I blog about being queer, have appeared in a television documentary about being queer, written in queer anthologies, been profiled in articles. Hell, today I came out in the bank, when the woman talking me through my new account assumed I had been married. (Strange, strange day.) “Actually, my ex-partner’s a woman.”
Sometimes when I come out, people apologise for the assumptions they’ve made. Politely, just because they’ve got it wrong, like a work acquaintance yesterday who assumed I was lesbian. Sometimes when people apologise because they have assumed I’m lesbian they say they are sorry for “insulting” me. I usually try to confront this piece of bi-privilege – straight people thinking it’s better to be bisexual than lesbian – head on and say “how could it be an insult to be a woman-loving-woman? Lesbian is just not accurate for me.” Sometimes this is enough to call out the homophobia, and people apologise again. Sometimes they still don’t get it.
Bisexual people have to come out even more often than lesbians and gay men. I have to come out when I’m in a relationship with a woman. Not because I want to be sexual with men at that time – though I have no judgment for bisexual people who negotiate consensual relationships which allow them to explore both-sex attraction all the time – but because I believe being out changes our world for the better. I believe every time we come out, we change a world a little, make a bit more space, create a little more acceptance.
Being in the closet is soul destroying. It makes us lie about who we are, who we love. It makes us feel ashamed of the connections to the people we adore. The occasions when I’ve wanted to run back into the closet because I’ve been frightened, mostly I’ve been talked down by lovers, women who’ve made sure I felt safe and loved, despite whatever has just happened.
I know many people living closeted lives now. And I know lots of bisexual woman, who pretend they are lesbian so the queer community will accept them, or heterosexual, so they can avoid homophobic violence and abuse. It’s tragic and sad and ultimately terribly, terribly lonely.
I agree with Richard Boock, coming out isn’t easy. It’s a choice, every time you do it. A choice to sit with who you really are, to claim who you really are, to be who you really are, for the world to see. The more the world does see, the safer place it becomes for all of us to live and love.
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