Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Coming out Day redux

Well last year I spoke (or blogged? Oh gods, did I blog? Am I a blogger? Naaaaah, I’m far too disorganised to be a blogger) about National Coming out Day

Now back then I made a pledge to myself - that I would destroy the last shreds of the closet that bound me. Not to the point of loudly avowing my love of cock at the Westboro Baptist Church Gun and Flamethrower Display, certainly, but in situations where I avoid “social awkwardness” by hiding, glossing over or otherwise diverting from my homosexuality I have been fighting back the cowardice and made sure those closet doors are all the way open.

I am proud of me for that - because it was hard. It’s amazing how deep the instinct to hide, to lie, to deflect is ingrained. Even simple things like someone saying “Is your wife a lawyer?” and responding with “No, my husband/partner is a computer technician” takes an effort of conscious will to bite down on the automatic gender neutral or even female response.

But more than just fighting my own instincts, it’s shocking how much rougher it made my life at times. Obviously I got the odd “You’re GAY?! Curse you abominable excuse for a human being! I shall now judge you with nonsensical insults!” because, duh, you EXPECT them. Hey we’re ALL used to dealing with them and we can be (usually) confident that most people around us think they’re complete arseholes as well.

However there were some more general rough patches that caught me by surprise - it’s eye-opening how much basic homophobia constantly rubs against you - and how much more noticeable it is when you refuse to swim with the tide. Some things that have worn at me.

1) People trying to force me back into the closet.
Like I came out, they know I’m gay, they played nice - now can I go back to pretending to be straight please? It’s like I’m expected to crawl back in and pull the door closed, maybe leave it slightly ajar. Sorry, doesn’t work that way.

Yes, I WILL talk about my partner and relationship when it’s appropriate to do so. If we’re all discussing what we did this weekend and I went to a fancy restaurant with Beloved, I will say so. If conversation turns to families I will not exclude myself. In short, if a straight person would talk about their relationship/significant other at that moment then so will I - and no, I’m not “forcing my gayness” on you or “rubbing my sexuality in your face” what does that even MEAN?!

Being out means being OUT. That means not hiding who we are and who we love. If you want us to do so then you want us to be closeted

2) I’m sensitive, not oversensitive
In that I notice things straight people probably don’t. If you are not gay then NO you probably WON’T see every example of homophobia. Just as if you’re not a person of colour, you will not see every example of racism. Just as if if you’re not a woman you won’t noticed every example of sexism. It’s not directed at you, it doesn’t ping your radar so hard. You aren’t used to seeing it, you don’t feel its effects.

So don’t tell me what is and what isn’t homophobic or what I should or should not be offended by. Don’t cover your prejudice or defend someone else’s prejudice by accusing me of oversensitivity. If you DO say something that offends unintentionally then you SHOULD say “I’m sorry, I’ll not say that again. I apologise for not thinking properly and hurting you.” THAT is what you say when you offend someone carelessly or through ignorance. Saying “I’m sorry you’re offended.” or “I didn’t mean it that way.” Don’t count - you’re trying to excuse your offence there when you should be apologising for it.

3) My existence does not oppress you.
Similarly, my or anyone else reacting negatively to your objections to my existence also does not oppress you. Your sincerely held religious belief doesn’t justify you being an arsehole. I don’t take you to task for disrespecting mother earth, my colleague didn’t call you a sinful gentile eater of unclean filth (well she DID but only because you were an arsehole to us first, because she‘s several kinds of awesome like that). In fact, I think I resent the bigots stealing the language of rights almost as much as I resent the homophobia in the first place

4) My being open about my sexuality does not make stereotypes any less offensive
Consider the following statements:
“Oh, you’re Jewish. I won’t ask to borrow money then!”
“Oh you’re black, I‘ll hide the valuables!”
“Oh you’re a muslim, let me call the bomb disposal squad!”

Chances are you found none of them funny (and if you did, shame on you). In fact, most of us probably cringe even seeing them in print, I know it pained me to type them. Right, so please accord homosexuals the same respect - gay jokes are rarely funny, stereotypes, mincing and diminutive words annoy. I don’t want to hear it, really, from the implication of “limp wrists” or general wimpiness to the not-so-subtle AIDS references (because, y’know that REALLY breaks the ice). Sometimes this is done through innocent mistake - but really, think twice. That joke about fashion and shoe obsession may sound sooooo good to you, but it’s probably going to go down as well as yet another miser joke to a Jewish person. Running to tell your gay friends the news about a possible new AIDS vaccine (when they have shown no interest in any disease or medicine in the past) may have innocent intentions -but by assuming they’re interested (or even personally affected) you’re making a rather insulting assumption and association.

As always, stop and THINK. On all of these things one of the basic points is that homophobia is societal and ingrained and even the most well intentioned of us (even gay people themselves) carry a shadow of prejudice or warping that can be damaging, worrying or hurtful.

However, it hasn’t been all bad. There have been some bonuses:

1) My “more foreground” gayness has resulted in a couple of people scraping their tongues clean and opening their eyes to the casual insults they’ve dealt me for months if not years. They never MEANT to and I didn’t even have to call (most of) them on it, they just became more aware and had “oh shit, have I been saying/doing that?” I’m especially impressed with my Warcraft Guild (considering how bad Internet gaming can be about these things). It really reduces my stress in my life not to have CONSTANT wince moments. I never realised how often a day I just cringe inside.

2) I can actually TALK to people. I can talk about the dinner and a movie, the Saturday lounging on the sofa, even bitching about Beloved (not that I would do such heinousness) with friends who aren’t gay and aren’t in the closest or closest of friends circles. Do you know how HARD it is to have any kind of casual conversation with people when 80% of your life is declared off-limits? It’s a wonderful relief.

More, people feel free to ask questions. It's amazing the ignorance out there. Some of it's insulting but a lot is genuine and it's been a thrill really to correct some really erroneous assumptions even when they were really really weird.

So in all? I’m glad I did it. it’s a struggle, it’s tiring and I’ve failed now and then. But on the whole, it’s been a result