OUTNESS IS DIFFERENT FOR EVERYONE
THERE ARE MANY REASONS WHY BEING MORE OUT CAN STRENGTHEN OUR COMMUNITIES AND MAY HELP SOMEONE LIVE A HAPPIER, HEALTHIER LIFE
Especially during the gay liberation movement, coming out was an important political and social act that helped build political momentum for increased gay rights.
However, that doesn’t mean that being out is right in every case with everyone all the time.
In a perfect world, we could all love and have sex with whoever we wanted without needing to declare or hide it from anyone.
But we’re not there yet and there are many factors (including safety, work, family, etc.) that affect how much we tell others about our sexual and romantic lives.
WE KNOW OUR OWN SITUATION BEST
WE LIVE IN A DIVERSE WORLD AND MANY OF US HAVE COMPLEX LIVES, FAMILIES AND HISTORIES. THIS MEANS WE ALL HAVE TO BE CAREFUL AND THOUGHTFUL ABOUT HOW WE TALK ABOUT OUTNESS.
When we don’t support people whose outness is different from our own, we end up excluding people in our communities who need support and compassion as much as any of us.
Pressuring or shaming each other to be more out than we’re comfortable with is not supportive and leaves many of us feeling isolated, shunned, and unwelcome.
Together, we can work toward a world where all of us can live our best lives and contribute to our community.
OUR SEXUALITIES CAN BE MORE COMPLEX THAN THE GAY-STRAIGHT BINARY
OUR SEXUALITIES ARE RICH AND COMPLICATED. HAVING SEX WITH ANOTHER GUY DOESN’T NECESSARILY MEAN THAT SOMEONE IS GAY OR QUEER AT ALL.
Sex with other guys may only be a small or infrequent part of our sexual preferences.
Or maybe we only have sex with other men for work.
Or maybe gender and sex assigned at birth doesn’t matter to us when choosing sexual partners.
Terms like ‘gay and queer’ are all self-identifications. We shouldn’t feel pressured to use a label for ourselves that we don’t feel is accurate. We also need to be careful of making assumptions about who someone is and how they need to live their life. Instead, we should take the time to listen and try to understand them.
BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG
SOME OF US MAY FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH OUR SEXUALITY OR SEXUAL PREFERENCES BUT COME FROM A FAMILY WHOSE CULTURE WILL MAKE IT DIFFICULT FOR OUR PARENTS OR EXTENDED FAMILY TO UNDERSTAND.
Faced with the choice of telling others about our sexuality and perhaps losing the support network of our family, or keeping that support network at the cost of complete honesty, there is no right answer.
Even those of us who are more out have at least one person in our lives who has difficulty understanding or accepting our sexuality.
It’s possible that we have been told that we should come out in order to move the gay rights movement forward, or that we need to be out in order to be proud. But the gay rights movement was really about everyone being able to have freedom to live how we want. When we push other people to do something that puts them in danger, we are taking their freedom away.
THERE IS NO SINGLE EVENT OF ‘COMING OUT’
SOMETHING WE MAY NOT THINK ABOUT IS HOW ‘COMING OUT’ IS NOT A SINGLE EVENT, BUT A CONTINUAL PROCESS OF ‘BEING OUT’.
For many of us, our sexuality is not usually visible to others and general society will see us as ‘straight’ until we say something, do something, or express something that identifies us as not-straight.
Imagine you’ve made an Instagram post announcing your sexuality in public for the first time… you’re still not done.
All of us decide on a daily basis whether to disclose our sexualities or not. This is a decision that can depend on many different things. It depends on how we are feeling, where we are (online and in-person) when it is, and who we’re talking to. All of these things can affect whether we have the energy, space, or safety to talk openly about our sexuality or romantic selves.
To say that coming out is a ‘one time only’ event is simply not true for anyone.
LET’S NOT FORGET THAT ONE OF THE REASONS WHY COMING OUT CAN MAKE US FEEL ANXIOUS IS BECAUSE OUR SAFETY AND SECURITY MAY BE COMPROMISED IF WE TELL OTHERS ABOUT OUR SEXUALITY.
It’s not just our physical safety we have to consider- but also our emotional and mental safety, access to shelter, and other forms of safety.
If we live with our family who we know will not be understanding, if we work in a homophobic environment, if we live in an area that is less accepting, if our community or culture has certain ideas about sexuality, then coming out might actually put us in danger.
Before making any decisions it’s helpful to consider what can be gained, what risks might exist, and what are some ways that we can get the support we need.
It’s okay to ask for support from a trusted friend or professional – but it still might feel scary.
If it is simply not safe to come out to certain people, that is okay! We can all belong to a community in ways that help us feel safe and supported.
For those of us who have told others about our sexuality, we probably still remember the stress leading up to coming out. It can feel like having no one to turn to support us, not being sure who we could trust, worried we might be seen at the wrong place at the wrong time by the wrong person, and feeling nervous about what people’s reaction might be.
We can create a culture of safety for each other by recognizing that our situations are all unique.
Instead of telling each other that coming out is the best option, we might ask: How can I support you?
IN MANY CULTURES ‘OUTNESS’ AND SEXUALITY ARE MORE DYNAMIC
IN MANY CULTURES, WE’RE NOT EXPECTED TO TELL PEOPLE ABOUT OUR SEXUAL AND ROMANTIC SELVES EVEN IF WE’RE LIVING AN OPENLY QUEER LIFE
For example, ‘coming out of the closet’ is not used in the Fillipino language. The metaphor that’s used is magladlad ng kapa which translates to ‘unfurling one’s cape’.
For many of us who live in a Fillipino community, magladlad is very different from ‘coming out of the closet.’ We do not tell others we are queer; instead, we act and express ourselves in ways that demonstrate our queerness.
In many cases, it is understood that we may furl and unfurl our capes depending on the situation. Unlike ‘coming out’, magladlad is not seen as a permanent action. In this way, the customs and norms around magladlad reflect the complicated nature of outness.
In many cultures, having sex with people of the same gender may not make you ‘gay’.
Many of us who come from cultures that are non-Western may have sex and share intimacy with people of the same gender-binary but not identify as queer or GBT2 (gay, bi, trans, Two-Spirit).
For some of us, this form of intimacy is a form of bonding that does not fit into Western labels.
For those of us in these situations who are queer, we may still be private about our sex and romantic lives in order to follow customs that we feel bind our families or communities together. We may even have relationships with people who our communities expect us to, including marrying or having children with people of the opposite gender-binary.
Whether we choose to do that or not is up to us, and it’s helpful to keep in mind that the idea that we should all be ‘out and proud’ is not applicable or possible for everyone, or at every point of our lives.
COLONIZATION, SEXUALITY, AND OUTNESS
IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THAT WHAT WE THINK OF AS CULTURAL DIFFERENCES TODAY MAY BE THE RESULT OF CENTURIES OF COLONIZATION.
Here in Canada, many Indigenous peoples have rich gender roles and sexualities beyond straight, cis men and women; roles that were respected and important in many Indigenous societies— roles and sexualities that processes of colonization worked hard to erase. These include ongoing acts of land theft and genocide, the Indian Act of 1876, and Residential Schools, to name only a few.
Not only that, the language used to describe these diverse identities were also attacked by processes of colonization, and now Indigenous people have to work harder to reclaim that language.
A prominent example of how Indigenous people resist this ongoing colonization is the vitalization of the Two-Spirit Indigenous identity as one that is based on gender roles in numerous Indigenous societies.
Indigenous communities and individuals are still resisting and working to revitalize these traditional roles and ideas around how sexuality and gender fit into Indigenous cultures.
We can support local queer people better by acknowledging that homophobia and transphobia were part of European conquest and colonization. This is true in other parts of the world as well.
We cheer when India strikes down its law against sodomy and that ‘finally’ this ‘backward’ law is no longer on the books, but don’t notice that it was the British who enacted it during their rule. We may think of the Philippines today as a country where the conservative Catholic church plays an influential role in politics and social expectations, including in oppressing the LGBT2QIS+ community. Yet we may not know about the expansive concepts of gender and sexuality that existed in the Philippines before the arrival of the Spanish. People in the Philippines and their ways of expressing gender and sexuality were systematically oppressed for the following four hundred years of colonial rule.
If we are fighting for the rights of queer people, we need to remember that colonization may have created the oppression we are fighting against. We need to pay attention to the times where we feel like certain cultural groups are “backwards” or “conservative” and notice whether colonization is the actual problem.
WE DO NOT NEED TO CHOOSE BETWEEN IMPORTANT PARTS OF OUR COMMUNITIES
MANY OF US BELONG TO SEVERAL DIFFERENT COMMUNITIES THAT PROVIDE US UNIQUE SUPPORT, BUT WHOSE VALUES AND EXPECTATIONS DO NOT ALWAYS ALIGN.
We may feel comfort on the dance floor of a gay club, and at a religious or cultural event, and both can be important parts of our identity without needing to cancel each other out.
We may find support among our queer friends when family members make homophobic comments or pressure us to live a straight lifestyle that we don’t feel comfortable with. And we may still turn to those family members for support when we face prejudice for our country of origin, skin colour, economic class, or any part of our identity that can be targets of oppression. Sometimes this can even come from GBT2Q and other guys who sleep with guys.
That may mean we have to make ‘compromises’ in choosing carefully where, when and how we talk about our sexuality, and that’s okay.
We have to respect that people are making the choice that is best for them, even if our choices would be different. We need to be supportive of each other so that community members don’t feel like they have to choose one important part of our lives over another.
OUTNESS & POWER
OUR LIVES AND RELATIONSHIPS WITH OUTNESS ARE UNIQUE, COMPLICATED, AND SHAPED BY SYSTEMS OF POWER
A young person of colour living in a big city may have a complicated relationship with outness that’s very different from a middle-aged man who is white and comes from a small town. Not worse, not better, different.
It’s often the case that a certain image of a person comes to mind when we think of the word “gay”. Usually, he is white, muscular, out of the closet, young, masculine and has lots of sex. We forget that sometimes these factors make a person more powerful, or make them think they are more powerful. And not everyone is responsible with that power.
The colour of our skin, the amount of fat that we do or do not have, and whether we have a disability are all things that contribute to how much power we feel that we have amongst other gay men. It’s not actually true though, we are all different! We have different stories, and different lives and the intersectionality of our identities makes us strong, not weak.
We can all work to recognize and embrace difference, no matter who we are.
Many of us found support about our gender and sexuality from other people who have had similar experiences. Particularly helpful is finding people who have multiple shared experiences! But what if while looking for support, we find more judgment instead?
That is what many of us who are less out experience from people who should be our strongest supporters.
Some of us who live mostly or completely out sometimes forget that being completely out to everyone may not be a choice that everyone has the power or wants to make.
We judge each other and our choices unfairly, applying our personal experiences, values, and assumptions to people whose lives we may not understand.
ARE WE DOING OUR PART TO MAKE OUR COMMUNITIES SUPPORTIVE?
WHEN WE SEE A GUY WITH A ‘DISCREET’ ONLINE PROFILE, TRY NOT TO JUDGE OR ASSUME THEIR MOTIVATIONS
That doesn’t mean we have to chat with every faceless profile that sends us a message. We can ask for faces from people who’ve messaged us or ignore them altogether. However, we should be careful to think or assert that everyone should be as ‘out’ online as we are. For some of us, being out online isn’t safe. We can be true to our boundaries without making others feel unwanted or unwelcome.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, some of us may be forced to spend more time with family members or roommates that don’t know about our sexuality or romantic lives. They may keep asking us questions like “when are you going to get a girlfriend?” or make statements that are too personal, or may make us feel unsafe.
This can add a lot of stress to an already stressful situation. Let’s keep that in mind when we interact with others on the apps, and find ways that we can support each other.
When meeting someone at a gay bar, avoid talking about outness assuming the person is as out, or at the same place in the outness spectrum as we are. When discussing outness, avoid statements that assume the person you are talking to is as out as you are. For example, instead of asking “At what age did you come out?” we may ask “Are you out to…?”.
Be mindful of the language we use when talking about other people’s outness or your own. Don’t make fun of people who are less out, whether those specific people are in earshot or not. Making fun perpetuates stigma and furthers the idea that less out is less good.
Be open to different ideas about sexuality and outness! Embrace our communities’ diverse backgrounds, intersections, and cultures. Listen and be respectful. Ask questions but be prepared if the person doesn’t want to talk about it. We’ll learn something about the person you’re talking to and the tapestries that make up our communities.