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Keep Hoping Machine Running ([personal profile] thefourthvine) wrote2015-12-15 02:10 pm

[Rant] You Don't Owe Anyone Your Queer Story

So, today over lunch I decided to read some stuff that wasn't mathematical economics, just to sort of remember there are other words out there.

Annnnnd so I read this Ask Bear column, and then I stewed for a while, and then I wrote this rushed, angry rant before I went back to my mathematical economics.

The letter in that column comes from a questioning 22 year old who is potentially starting down that "hang on, am I -- queer?" path that a lot of us have walked. I've walked it myself! It is scenic and has many twists and turns. The letter writer is in a very traditional and appropriate place for starting on that path: he (I'm assuming) has many questions and is not sure what comes next or what he has to do to be a good possibly queer person.

Bear's response, summarized: you can absolutely be queer, sounds like you might be, and oh, by the way, before you explore that queer identity at all, you'd better come out. To everyone. You have to, to be a good human.

I really wanted to believe Bear didn't tell a questioning 22 year old that he had to come out of the closet before he is allowed to see if he might potentially be queer. But I tweeted my rage (as is the custom of my people), and several Twitter friends got the same read from it, so I just want to remind everyone of something important.

No one can tell you that you have to come out. Not if they're queer, not if they're out, not if they're an activist, not if they are the Fairy Queen of the Queer Isles (my dream job!), never. (The one exception to this: your partner(s) in queerness get a say. But even they don't get to issue a fiat like Bear did in this letter.)

There are three major reasons for this.
  1. Coming out is a dangerous endeavor for many people in this world. And you are the best evaluator of your physical, emotional, and social safety. I think Bear may just have forgotten, since he apparently lives in a polytransqueer wonderland, that coming out can be risky. That his letter writer may have to face familial rejection, social rejection, harassment, homelessness, abuse -- that, in short, a lot of bad things might happen to the LW if he comes out. (Queer folks struggling with this issue, take heart: it is apparently entirely possible to get to a place in your life where you can forget this!) Bear may also have forgotten that those same things may also happen to the dude LW is into, and that they may together choose to be closeted for safety reasons, and that is absolutely fine. (It isn't fine that people have to make that choice, of course, but blaming people for picking the best of a number of bad options is classic oppressor bullshit, and I'm embarrassed to see any of my fellow queers doing it.)

  2. Coming out is a process, and the LW is at the very beginning of it. (People can be at the very beginning at any point in their lives. They can go back to the beginning at any point in their lives. And they can spend as long as they need to there. This is not some sort of board game, folks, where you can just pass go and collect your Queer Person ID.) Bear ordered him to go straight from starting college to taking the Bar Exam, without going through any of the intervening bits. But those bits are important, and they make you ready for the later bits, and only you, the queer person, know how you're doing in the process, or what you're ready for right now.

  3. You don't owe anyone your story. Let me repeat that, slightly louder: you don't owe anyone your story. Bear strongly implies that his questioning letter writer should come out because social justice. And, no, that is not a burden queer folks have to bear; we do not have to build a bridge to our own equality with our bare hands using bricks made out of our lives, our bodies, and our hearts. (Unless, of course, we choose to. Many of us make that choice, in big ways and small. But it's our choice to do that.)

    Many, many of our straight allies say the same thing in other words. For example, they say that gay people who come out are heroes, and gay people who make choices other than absolute and total openness are weak, and that is bullshit, and it's extremely harmful bullshit. You are not required to come out to Make the World Safe for Queers, you are not required to come out to Be a Good Queer, you are not required to come out for any reason at all ever except that you want to and are ready to. Your story is yours. You tell it how you want to, when you want to, if you want to
So, Bear's Letter Writer, if you're out there, here is some alternate advice from a different middle-aged queer who has come out a whole, whole, whole bunch:

Letter Writer, you can do whatever you want to with your guy (provided he consents, of course), with whatever level of disclosure you both agree on. It's important to be honest with him about where you are with respect to coming out, whether that is "I will actually have a panic attack if you touch me in public" or "I am totally okay with our friends knowing, but I cannot face having some kind of formal announcement right now" or "let's tell everyone including our extremely homophobic extended family members and then POST LOTS OF TOPLESS MAKING OUT PHOTOS ON FACEBOOK HA HA HA." (You may be in a different place than any of these, or experiencing a combination of all three. That's normal.) Then it's important to listen to what he says about where he is. If there's a big difference -- if you're at panic attacks and he's at Facebook, say -- then be aware that that is going to be an issue in your relationship, and be prepared to work on it.

Your queer journey is belongs to you, Letter Writer. You and those you choose to share it with are the only people who get to say how it goes, and that includes coming out, if you decide to do that. Speaking as a supportive bystander, though, I hope your queer journey is awesome. Good luck!
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[personal profile] devohoneybee 2015-12-15 10:25 pm (UTC)(link)
i <3 this so much.
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[personal profile] roga 2015-12-15 10:37 pm (UTC)(link)
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[personal profile] princessofgeeks 2015-12-15 10:50 pm (UTC)(link)
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[personal profile] hannah 2015-12-15 11:00 pm (UTC)(link)
Glancing through the original article, seeing Bear say there's a human cost to not coming out - the fact that Bear didn't consider the cost to the original letter writer says a lot about his particular value set and life position.
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[personal profile] jadelennox 2015-12-15 11:38 pm (UTC)(link)
Whoa fucking Nellie.

I went to the column before finishing your post, so I could come to it as a blank slate. And I was happily bumbling along reading the post, wondering what ticked you off, when I hit But it brings us to the last bit of your letter – is it okay to be in the closet about this new hot thing until you feel “ready” to let people know? Honestly, Brave Correspondent, I am not sure that it is.

I'm not sure if I've ever really understood what people mean by "mental whiplash" until that moment. If you were filming the inside of my brain, there'd have been record scratch, tires squealing, guitar squeal. I have not WTF'd so hard in a good long time.

There's all the usual "come out when it feels safe" arguments, but combined with the fact that letter writer doesn't know if they're queer this is just awful, awful advice. (And means Bear didn't give the actual good advice, which is how and when to fully disclose the confusing pantsfeelings to the object of said pantsfeelings, and negotiate any experimentation in private with that person.
Edited 2015-12-15 23:41 (UTC)
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[personal profile] genarti 2015-12-16 01:23 am (UTC)(link)
Yeah, same here. I was thinking huh, this actually seems like pretty reasonable advice? and then WHOA WHOA WAIT.

Like, even aside from the COMPLETELY VALID AND SENSIBLE caveats about feeling safe and so forth, come out before you've even decided how you identify? Come out to everyone you know, before you're allowed to pursue the question of whether you are in fact queer? That's horrible, unworkable advice.

And honestly it's dreadfully silencing IMO, because it says that you don't get to be queer unless your life fits within a certain kind of narrative of inner certainty that plenty of people (like me!) did not in fact have. Not to mention that, as [personal profile] jadelennox said, it doesn't even address the question of how to bring it up with the person you're having confusing pantsfeelings about in a personal private way.
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[personal profile] sapote 2015-12-17 12:35 pm (UTC)(link)
THANK YOU this kind of shit kept me closeted for years. Like: Step A: the mildest of crushes. Step B: COMPLETELY, RESOLUTELY QUEER. ONE PERSON PRIDE PARADE. CONFETTI. COMPLETE SURENESS ABOUT DATING SITUATIONS. I was so steeped in the instapride narrative that I took my waffling uncertainty as a sign of failure-of-queerness, instead of what I've realized since is a if-not-universal than at least very relatable experience.

Not to mention - if the letter writer has Dated Straight before, especially, probably, given that he seems to be a dude, there's a good chance that there are people in his life that he can come out to until he's blue in the face and the best he'll get is a chuckle and "suuuure, honey, we know kids these days experiment with all kinds of crazy stuff. Now let's go back to assuming you're a heterosexual no matter what you say." I kept trying to come out as a teenager/college student and bouncing off that kind of nice liberal patent disbelief when you're not completely sure and confident yourself is, well, really very painful. There are so many options for potentially being oppressed by your loved ones when you're a wee queer youth! Throwing someone at that while they're still a quivering blob of questions is just. Mean? Sigh.
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[personal profile] genarti 2015-12-17 09:31 pm (UTC)(link)
YEAH SAME. In my case it's somewhat different -- I didn't run into that kind of nice liberal disbelief, because I didn't even really consciously realize that I was queer until I was in my 30s. Because I'm asexual, and I had this whole narrative in my head, where if you're queer it's because you fit in this very '90s-pop-culture narrative where you've always known since childhood, and you looked at people of the same sex and thought wow I want to kiss you and then maybe bang you with great certainty, and you came out to everyone if you felt safe in doing so because either way you were totally sure, it was just a matter of taking maaaaybe a month or two in your teenage years to figure out what those feelings meant in terms of which labels fit. And if all that didn't apply, you were obviously straight, right? Obviously!

That's kind of a sidetrack, but it's kind of not, because my whole point is that the whole narrative of going straight to CERTAINTY, PRIDE PARADE, TELL THE WORLD does nobody any favors except as one option among many, many, many others as individual as the people living them. That's true even when it's just ('just') a cultural background, let alone when you're telling an uncertain kid directly that this is the only responsible way to go.
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[personal profile] samjohnsson 2015-12-16 04:14 am (UTC)(link)
Did the same thing, and got the exact same needle scratch. Merry hell, but every therapist - and come to think, every other advice columnist I've ever read - says the exact opposite thing!
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[personal profile] juniperphoenix 2015-12-16 12:20 am (UTC)(link)
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[personal profile] lomedet 2015-12-16 01:05 am (UTC)(link)
I read Bear's column before I read this, and thank you for articulating my own reactions so much more eloquently than I could have. (I just...even Dan Savage talks about assessing safety on a bunch of levels as a key piece of the coming out process.)

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[personal profile] out_there 2015-12-16 01:20 am (UTC)(link)
I really love your reaction here. Because being A Good Queer shouldn't take priority over your own agency, your personal freedom and the right to live the life you choose to. I mean, cheers for queers who do choose to be open and brave about it, but not doing so doesn't make a Terrible, No Good, Cowardly Meanie.
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[personal profile] niqaeli 2015-12-16 01:22 am (UTC)(link)
I am not going to read the article because I am, like, 9000% sure it will my make my head explode.

But I want to say, over the years it has honestly been an ongoing solace to me that you are so adamant about this -- *waves hands* -- topic. That queer people do not owe anyone anything re: their queerness, except their partners and that is still only to a certain extent. That it is absolutely okay to be wherever you are in your Queer Journey and that any given person is probably the best judge of what is physically, mentally, and emotionally safe for them, and that anyone saying otherwise or shaming them for being bad at queerness is full of it and wrong.

Because sometimes, I am just so exhausted by the whole damn thing, and it really is a solace to me to have a fellow queer voice singing this out. It's like -- it's just soothing and restful and, I mean, I've been doing this for, like, fifteen years and I'm pretty secure. But it's still really nice to have a little bedrock spot of reassurance.

So I honestly hope dearly that the letter writer finds this somehow and in fact does end up having an awesome queer journey, whatever their most awesome queer journey ends up happening to look like.
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[personal profile] davidgillon 2015-12-16 01:48 am (UTC)(link)
Dear god. Looking at this from the non-queer angle even I can see the serious risk factors involved.

But what caught my attention from the moment I saw the title here was the disability parallel. A major problem we have as disabled people is the belief the most intimate details of our medical history are public property, and I see a distinct parallel in the position Bear is taking. There are different mechanisms at play, with disability the belief we're public property is a form on infantilising us, with the situation here it is at least focused on the other person and a relationship that doesn't snub their identity. But he gets there by disregarding every right of the letter writer to figure out their own identity before requiring them to announce it. I'm not sure if that's infantilising them, but it's definitely not allowing them the respect he demands they give the other guy.
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[personal profile] lilysea 2015-12-16 01:57 am (UTC)(link)
*agrees with you*

No one should have to come out if doing so risks them being subject to violence, homelessness, or financial hardship, or other adversity.

Coming out is a choice, and people have the right to choose when it is right/safe for them (and that may be never. and that's okay.)

No one is Letting The Team Down by not coming out.
Edited 2015-12-16 01:58 (UTC)

[personal profile] scissorphishe 2015-12-16 02:14 am (UTC)(link)
THANK YOU. I am so tired of the narrative that says coming out is always the only acceptable choice anyone can ever make. Sometimes it's the stereotypically liberating gaysplosion of happiness and sometimes it fucking sucks and sometimes it's just meh and not that interesting and sometimes you're not even sure how you feel about it, and there ought to be room for queer people to fall anywhere in the vast and complicated universe of outness.

[personal profile] elucreh 2015-12-16 04:11 am (UTC)(link)
I love you
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[personal profile] chemm80 2015-12-16 04:34 am (UTC)(link)
Hear, hear.
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[personal profile] stasia 2015-12-16 08:36 am (UTC)(link)
I, uh, left a comment there, and the page is still showing no comments, so he's screening comments. (Actually, I've just gone and read some of his other posts and he shows no comments on anything, so maybe he just doesn't really allow commenting.)

This is terrible advice, which yes, everyone else here has said. I'm distressed that the poor letter writer will think that this is good advice. Yikes.
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[personal profile] gwyn 2015-12-16 09:08 pm (UTC)(link)
Same--I'm really worried about that poor kid now, and knowing that there aren't any comments, so the kid can get some alternate, actually useful real-world advice, causes me agita. I just want to wrap the letter writer in a big hug and say "you figure out you first".
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[personal profile] genarti 2015-12-17 02:19 pm (UTC)(link)
Seriously. I hope the comments show up soon, because geez.
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[personal profile] maharetr 2015-12-16 10:58 am (UTC)(link)
How will this boy feel about being a secret? Are you prepared to be bros in public and sweethearts in private? How will it feel to him when you drop his hand or turn away from him when someone you know happens by? How long would this proposed experiment last, anyhow – a week? A month? When would you feel certain enough that he was a real thing to be prepared to tell people about him?

HOW ABOUT ASKING HIM THAT? Because maybe he's deep in the closet too because Reasons and is A-OK with those things. Jesus.

Um. Preaching, converted, etc. Just... ugggh.
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[personal profile] kass 2015-12-16 12:24 pm (UTC)(link)
You are so awesome.
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[personal profile] tyger 2015-12-16 12:31 pm (UTC)(link)

Also, it's also perfectly okay to be visibly queer but also not come out? Like, there are a whole bunch of queer people at my work, and no one's come out to me. It's just, you know. Something you pick up. Like, the adorable middle-aged married ladies, you do not need to be told they are married. They're just, you know. There. Working. Getting paid. Being the kind of couple that eats lunch together every day. Etc. And the other queer people, who aren't working in the same place as their partner, they still, you know. Talk about them. Like people do, when they're asked what they did on the weekend or whatever.

So, you know, if you don't want to do the whole movie-esque "coming out" thing, or have an Official Announcement at all, you don't have to! If you want to that's fine! But don't let some asshole tell you you have to for ~equality~ or to be a real queer or whatever. That's bullshit. I'm pretty sure the only real way of being queer is to not be cis-straight-romantic, I mean. Duh?

Which is a longwinded way of saying I AGREE!! TAKE NO SHIT!! DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU!!!!

From, a ttly queer asexual who's never bothered coming out as such because ugh who can be bothered having that conversation? Not me, that's for sure.
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[personal profile] juliet 2015-12-17 03:08 pm (UTC)(link)
To be fair, I read Bear's advice as having 'being visibly queer' equivalent to 'coming out' -- so saying "hey this is my boyfriend" / "oh me and my girlfriend went to this great restaurant" / blah blah (pro)nouns as appropriate, not necessarily Big Official News stuff. (Similarly to you & others on this thread, I've identified as bi/queer for getting on a couple of decades now & only done the "so hey I'm bi" thing explicitly with a) my parents & b) people who are assuming I'm straight in an annoying way.)

However that still doesn't actually make the 'you *have* to be open about it!' advice good.
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[personal profile] stultiloquentia 2015-12-17 12:14 am (UTC)(link)
I usually lurk, but I must pipe up to say thanks for writing this down so eloquently.