out and about - who gets to know my identity?
written by Felicity Brown
I never really came out, not properly.
My mother once asked if I was a lesbian and I, perhaps due to fear, perhaps due to being a generally pedantic teenager, chose not to give the full explanation of, “no, but I am bisexual,” and instead just left it at “no.”
At that time I had known I was bi for a few years and was fairly comfortable with the fact, but it never quite felt like anyone else’s business. I suppose that part of the desire to keep it to myself came from a place of privilege – I had only ever dated people who presented as men and so to some extent ‘passing’ as straight was the simpler option.
However, I think it’s important here to note that a sizeable component of my not coming out as a teenager was due to fear. I grew up without much a of a queer community around me, and when I did encounter other LGBTQIA+ people in my later school years they fell much more in the out-and-proud demographic, with bold hair statements and a hand in the drag world – whereas I wore knee socks, ballet flats, and ribbons in my hair. I didn’t feel like I belonged to that group, and I was scared what my group (and family) would think of me. It really was the easier option at the time to convince myself that nobody else needed to know.
It seems obvious to say it but: actively hiding parts of myself was harmful to my mental health. I think the first time I realised this was in my final year of school. Someone in my class (themselves queer) went around and counted how many LGBTQIA+ people were present, and completely dismissed me without question. In that moment I was embarrassed and crushed. At first I was terrified they would out me, and in a split second that changed to resentment for their assumption. I wanted people to know, but I didn’t want it to be said.
The thing is, I do believe that my sexuality is nobody else’s business. The fact that none of my straight friends or family have felt the societal pressure to announce their preferences makes me immediately reject the notion that I should have to – my preferences are for me and for my romantic and/or sexual partners. But at the same time, I do feel the need to be connected to the LGBTQIA+ community as well, to feel solidarity with others who face similar issues and experiences as me.
I remember reading somewhere about the idea that nobody ever only comes out once. That the process of coming out lasts a lifetime – with every new colleague, acquaintance, in-law, friend comes the question: do I want to come out to this person?
The solution for some people is to embrace their queer identity to the extent that nobody they meet could ever be in doubt of it – pride, flamboyance, butchness, androgyny, tattoos, clothing, hair – these are all ways used to non-verbally say: here I am, this is my identity.
And it’s great. I love it. But it really isn’t for me. I do tend towards a slightly androgynous/butch style, but it’s certainly not a full-on lumberjack-lesbian vibe. So when I do encounter people from that corner of the community, I feel the need to openly express why I feel connected to them, why I belong there if I don’t look like them. I guess I feel the need to come out.
I suppose my point from all of this is that although I was afraid to come out as a teenager, and made it an active choice to not publicly mention my sexuality, these days it’s a passive thing. I come out when and where I feel like it’s relevant to do so – if the conversation is about sexuality, or if someone asks me directly. I do it in situations where I feel comfortable and safe to do so, which is increasingly common. I don’t feel like I’m hiding anymore. If someone went around the room counting LGTBQIA+ people and dismissed me I’d have the confidence to correct them (and to call them out for doing something super inappropriate).
What other people see when they look at me doesn’t matter. I know who I am, and I’m not afraid of it anymore.