Coming Out Is Not A One-Time Thing, And It’s Exhausting
I recently wrote about why it’s important to believe kids when they find the courage to tell you that they are not the assumed default setting of being straight and/or cisgender. Kids often know who they are—just like adults knew at their age—and we need to support them in their journey of self-discovery without telling them they are too young to know their truth. I also made a point that people rarely come out the moment they realize they can’t live up to society’s heteronormative expectations. There is usually an “oh fuck” moment of realization because our parents didn’t plan on us being queer and we didn’t either. We can’t always predict how folks will handle our announcement, but I can guarantee that coming out is never a one-time thing.
Shortly after our queer spidey sense lets us know we could be in danger, we begin to contemplate who to tell and when. I hope you are cringing at this statement too because no one should ever feel like who they are is reason to lose loved ones, be ridiculed, or abused. And I say “too” because I am queer and have to remind myself that I didn’t do anything wrong. I shouldn’t have to apologize or wait for people to find ways to accept me or wrap their head around what an abomination they think I am. I didn’t choose to be queer and transgender; but I eventually chose to live an authentic life despite all of the people who would rather I stay quiet or cease to exist.
I was seven or eight when I knew I was different, but I didn’t tell anyone I was gay until I was 16. My mother didn’t hear from my lips that I was gay until she forced the words out of me when I was 21. I was identifying as a woman at the time and was dating a woman. I hadn’t told my mother or any other family member because I knew I would have to deal with their disappointment and declarations of prayers to save my soul. Their prayers didn’t work and their disapproval still stings. I had already spent years living in fear, shame, and secrecy and would spend a few more in that state before starting to live an openly queer life in my early 20s. I was still scared, but I wanted to be visible. I wanted to wear my queerness like a badge of honor when I could.
I had a lot of self-worth to create–I still do. And despite the fact that I have been “out” for over 20 years, I have multiple coming out stories and add to them weekly if not daily. I wasn’t just gay; I was struggling for years to identify my gender too. I was assigned female at birth, but that didn’t tell my whole story. When I was old enough to wonder if I was a transgender man, I eventually understood that transitioning to male didn’t seem to give me the answers I needed either. I spent so much time in my head and hiding from what I couldn’t find. I didn’t know how to come out as nonbinary until I had the language. But then coming out meant declaring new pronouns and requesting people’s respect. Coming out as transgender meant changing my labels. It also meant helping loved ones adjust their labels if they felt their relationship to me changed their identity too.
Even when I am just living my boring suburban parenting life I am forced to come out or need to choose which pieces of myself I am willing to give up throughout any given day. Because people make assumptions about my gender based on appearances and their need to place me in a binary gender box, I am constantly misgendered. This means I either need to correct people or pretend I didn’t hear them. I either out myself and tell them I am nonbinary and use they/them pronouns or I let their ignorance hang in the air so that I can just get through the checkout line in the store, off of a customer service call, or finish ordering my cup of coffee.
I want teachers, other parents and their kids, medical providers, and any new-to-me human I need to know on a friendly and professional level to respect who I am. This means I am the one who has to declare pronouns and clarify that my kids have a sperm donor and not a father. My role is constantly of educator and it’s exhausting. Please don’t tell me that my differences put me in this position. Being part of a majority doesn’t mean you get to walk around waiting for others to correct you or educate you. Do some work to make sure all spaces and forms are inclusive for everyone and not just the heteronormative herd who take this privilege for granted.
I like to tell folks that they should assume someone in their space is a version of queer. This means no one has to come out to you. This means you have already eliminated gendered language and have stopped assuming someone’s pronouns. You have let go of the bias that being married means being straight married. You have also reminded yourself that not all kids have a mom and dad. You have already switched the word “different” to “normal” when referring to queer people and families.
The idea of having to make a declaration about who I am in order to be respected means some form of resistance to my queerness has been established. That resistance may be simple mindlessness or complicated layers of bigotry. My queerness and gender identity are always something I am either being asked to reveal or hide and my disclosure depends first on my physical safety then my emotional safety. Coming out is not a linear process and it doesn’t get a lot easier.
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