ahunter3 (ahunter3) wrote,

Being Out

We use the concept of "out", and of "coming out", to mean several closely related things. For some of us, that means we end up coming out three or more times, for each of the sub-meanings we've compressed into that one term.

There's that moment when you realize for the first time that yeah, "this is how I am", and it shifts how you think of yourself from then on. Prior to that, perhaps one was utterly clueless, or perhaps one was in denial and resistant to the idea. Or had occasionally looked at yourself that way, but hadn't reached any definitive conclusions before.

In my autobiographical book GenderQueer, I recall several times in the years immediately after high school where people -- with varying degrees of patience -- were trying to be supportive while waiting for me to realize what they thought they knew about me, waiting for me to come out to myself.

I came out to myself in this sense of coming out in December of 1979... the word "genderqueer" wasn't in use yet and I didn't know what to call it, but I had this sudden very clear understanding of this as a fundamental and central part of who I am.

So after that is the time when you first say it to others, letting the people who know you know this about you. This is the classic sense of being out of the closet. No longer knowing it but keeping it hidden.

Even here, this version of coming out subdivides: one may come out to one's sister, or one's best friend, or to one's immediate associates, without necessarily being out to one's employer, the neighbors, or Grandma Theresa who wouldn't understand. Or, in contrast, perhaps one makes posts about it in public-facing Facebook entries, where everyone can see.

I came out to my parents first, I think, since I was at home for Christmas break at the time, it was on my mind, and I dropped that on them when it seemed to fit the moment's conversation. Unlike people whose parents rejected them or accepted and continued to love them, I had parents who were mostly bewildered and uncomfortable with the subject matter. Our conventional model of what coming out is like is drawn from gay folks coming out. Most parents in 1979, and definitely today, aren't unfamiliar with the concept of being gay, regardless of what they think about it. That's far less true for being genderqueer. Especially before there was a word for it.

I've been pretty public and open-book about it, as well as other pariah-tagged aspects of my personal history and claimed identities and views, such as being a psychiatric survivor or being an anarchist or a nonestablishment form of theistic / spiritual. I had all of that on a personal web site in the 1990s. I once had an employer ask about my ideas for a project and my email program somehow stripped out all the email body I'd composed and only sent my signature -- which had a link to my web site. Next work day, my employers very cautiously asked what it was I was trying to suggest or propose to them about me being an escaped schizophrenic, a self-declared sissy, radical feminist, non-man male, etc! A couple years later, the person I'd met for dating on OKCupid wanted to know more about me and I referred her to my web site. Yeah, out.

Then there's the act of successfully coming out in such a way that one establishes an identity that everyone you encounter thinks about you in this way, it's your externally-facing identity for people to accept or reject.

This goes beyond merely being unhidden and uncloseted and requires an active public relations campaign. Because otherwise, people will tend to be introduced to you because of other aspects of who you are in life -- your role at work, the fact that you're a registered voter in their political party, your volunteer work with the stage crew of the local theatrical ensemble, or the fact that they're in the process of giving you a speeding ticket.

Embroidering or sewing on rainbow flags and a recognizable symbol or a pin or two, some bumper stickers and so forth, can go a long way to extending out to this kind of level. For some of us, personal presentation can also accomplish a lot of this.

I only have a modicum of this kind of "out presence" despite decades of trying to be a recognized activist about it. There are only recently such things as genderqueer flags and their recognition by the general public is still pretty limited, in addition to which (as I've often said) "genderqueer" is, itself, an umbrella term that doesn't really identify me or my situation anywhere near as fully as I wish to be out about it. It's like saying "et cetera". Vague wave of the hand in the general direction of trans, "and other ways of being gender atypical, whatever those may be". I invented my own symbol, and wore it on my denim jacket by 1981, but it didn't convey anything until I explained it.

So I'm still working on out.


My book, GenderQueer: A Story From a Different Closet, has been published by Sunstone Press. It is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback and ebook, and as ebook only from Apple, Kobo, and directly from Sunstone Press themselves.

My second book, That Guy in Our Women's Studies Class, is also being published by Sunstone Press. It's a sequel to GenderQueer. It's expected to be released in early 2022. Stay tuned for further details.

Links to published reviews and comments are listed on my Home Page


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Tags: backstory, femininity, feminism, gender invert, genderqueer, identity politics

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