Talking About Talking About Being Gay

I’ve started to worry that I talk about being gay too much. Like there’s something unseemly about it, like it’s some embarrassing relic from an older time–a time I didn’t even live through–when one had to talk about such things to make them visible. A time when legalized same-sex marriage was an idea so fantastical as to be laughable, not a plain reality in all 50 states.

All around me I see queer people–gay men, lesbians, bi and pan folks–who do not talk about queerness and being queer all the time. If they think about it all the time, they have the propriety not to say so. Often, I don’t even realize that people I know fairly well are queer until I’ve known them for ages, not because they aren’t out in the ways that matter to them, but because they don’t seem to feel the need to talk about it all the time like I do.

I feel extremely silly and immature about the fact that I constantly talk about being gay. It’d be easy to write off my embarrassment about this as internalized homophobia, but it’s also pretty obvious that other queer people don’t do it so much. I fear their judgment much more than I fear the judgment of straight people. I fear that they think I’m passing through some pathetic stage they’re long done with, a stage in which you have to talk about something all the time because it’s new to you.

Of course, it both is and isn’t new. I was bisexual for ten years. But for the first five of them, I didn’t tell a single person. I wrote it in my diary exactly once. Even after I finally started coming out, it took years before I met other queer people, so there was really nothing to say, and nobody to say it to. If it’s true that there’s some queer developmental stage that I haven’t finished going through yet, can you really blame me? Blame it on Ohio.

And when I realized I was no longer bisexual, that was new, too. People are even less aware of the fact that orientation is fluid than of the fact that bisexual people are real. I felt that I needed to talk about it. I needed people to know I wasn’t bisexual anymore. I needed them to understand what that meant. needed to understand what that meant. (I still don’t.)

But I also realize that I’m probably mistaken to assume that the only reason other queer people don’t talk so much about being queer is because it’s boring old news to them and they don’t think about it anymore. Maybe they’re not comfortable talking about it, but wish they could. Maybe they’re as envious of me as I am of them.

Sometimes I think–I hope–that it’s a good thing that I talk about it so much, because maybe I’m helping straight people learn not to assume that everyone is straight and not to always see everything through that lens. Maybe some of the stuff I talk about is even interesting to them–how I’ve internalized some stereotypically male ways of relating to women (because that’s the only sort of attraction to women that I’ve ever really been exposed to), how weird I feel seeing sexualized images of women that are nevertheless clearly meant for men, how it’s quite possible to have parents who are both homophobic and secular, so please stop blaming homophobia on religion, thank you very much.

But most of the time I can’t shake the feeling that I’m doing something childish. I’m told that worrying about what to label yourself is somehow passe, because “labels are for soup cans.” I’m told that we’re equal now. I’m told that “it doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, bi, neither.”

If it really didn’t matter, I wouldn’t feel so weird and wrong. So as long as that lasts, I’ll be talking about it, embarrassing as it is.

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I’m Not Gloating Today

I woke up today to a Facebook feed full of posts about the Supreme Court decision that came down today, 5-4: state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional and marriage equality is now the law of the land (give or take a few states who’ll put up a pathetic fight for a while, of course).

One of my partners texted me “!!!!” and of course I knew exactly what she meant.

Especially considering some of the things I’ve been writing about recently (and many more that I haven’t mentioned), it affected me more than I expected. I teared up just reading the dry New York Times article, and then I cried at a YouTube ad that had just come out featuring queer folks coming out, and then I cried at Mary Lambert’s “She Keeps Me Warm.” And probably some other stuff.

Almost as quickly as the folks in my feed started sharing image macros and news stories (and, of course, the obligatory reminders that the fight isn’t over [which I understand but also frustrates me because when the fuck did I say I was done???]), I also saw a lot of gloating. “Can’t wait to see what the Republicans are gonna say about this!” “So about that pastor who threatened to set himself on fire if gay marriage happened…”

I’m not going to say that gloating is somehow wrong or bad. I’m just going to say that it puts a damper on what should be a gleefully happy day for me and I wish I could somehow avoid it.

First of all, honestly, the first thing I thought when I saw those posts wasn’t “LOL YOU SUCKERS HAHA,” but oh my god, I can get married. Right here, if I wanted to. I no longer have to choose where I live based on where I can have a family. My wife, if I have one someday, will never have to be alone in the hospital because I can’t come see her, or vice versa.

And I thought, they finally understand that this isn’t some pretend delusional version of a “real” love. This is a love as real as any other, not just two perverted adults playing house.

And I thought, now I don’t have to worry about writing up complicated legal contracts when I should be worrying about the color scheme and where to seat my best friend from high school.

And I had sadder thoughts, too, like “but my family still thinks it’s repulsive” and “but how are we going to fix all the other problems like transphobia and deportation and queer youth homelessness and violence and health disparities” and “but there are so few queer women out there I’ll probably never get married anyway.” So no, it’s not all rainbows.

But those sad thoughts didn’t bring me down the way the gloating did. Most of the gloating I saw was coming from straight cis people, and it really felt like they were just using this historic, incredible moment to take another shot at the Bad Out-Group and cement the status of the Good In-Group. “Haha, guess that pastor has to set himself on fire now!” I swear, you take one social psychology class and it turns you into an annoying cynic for life, but really.

It also felt extremely tone-deaf considering how much power churches, governments, and other institutions still have over queer/trans people despite this important ruling. Whatever laughable tantrums some of these conservative Christian leaders are going to have, guess what–they get to have the last laugh, because all around the country queer and trans people can still lose their jobs just because of who they are (and don’t kid yourself that anti-discrimination laws help much against this), and queer and trans youth still get sent to conversion therapy or kicked out of their homes, and trans people are still denied the healthcare they need, and queer women still face disgusting threats from men who want to “turn us straight,” and the President still gets to decide who he hears and who he doesn’t.

Unlike others (whose feelings are also valid), this doesn’t mean I don’t want to celebrate today. But it does mean that I’m very, very wary of the gloatings of straight people right now.

I feel differently when queer people gloat because I’m able to trust that they get all this. They live it too. For us, humor and ridicule can be a survival skill (though not one that generally feels all that good for me personally).

But straight people–of course your first thought wasn’t “finally finally finally I can have a family.” Y’all have had that right for millennia. (I acknowledge here that straight people with other marginalization have not always had that right, but I’m speaking generally.) You don’t even necessarily have to think about how close we might’ve been to an enormous setback.

So sure, gloat. I’ll stick with the things I personally find constructive: celebrating, and planning our next battles.

The Glass Closet: On Queer Female (In)Visibility

#homophobia #sexualharassment

I had an awful dream recently in which my girlfriend and I were running around in the city, trying to find a place we could be alone. I don’t remember much of it except that we couldn’t seem to find any privacy. The city felt dark and unsafe, not at all the way it usually feels to me.

Finally, we ended up in the dark basement of some huge apartment building, where we found a single bathroom stall. We went into it and started kissing, only to realize that the stall was made out of glass and that the building super was standing outside of it, watching us.

I don’t attach much importance to dreams, usually. I don’t think this “means” anything other than that these feelings have been on my mind, and the dream brought them out in a stark and horrifying sort of way, as dreams do.

Queer women are simultaneously invisible and hyper-visible. We’re invisible, though increasingly less so, in the sense that we are almost always presumed straight until proven otherwise, that our girlfriends become our “gal pals,” that our sexual experiences become “just college girls experimenting” or “just girls trying to get guys’ attention.” We’re invisible in the sense that you almost never see queer female relationships in shows or movies or books that aren’t About Gay People (such as Glee and The L Word). (Even with shows like Glee, though, queer female fans often had to fight for that representation, to fight for characters like them to be treated seriously.)

Queer female relationships, when they happen in film or television or literature, are rarely anything other than the Main Point of that work. You don’t get the badass ex-Soviet spy who happens to have a girlfriend. You don’t get the detective on a cop show flirting with the girl at the bar. The surgeon on the medical drama doesn’t come home to her wife and kids, who are upset that they so rarely see her. (Yes, there are exceptions. There’s a reason I’ve stuck with the mess that is Grey’s Anatomy for so long.)

Maybe it doesn’t seem like this matters. “You have your gay women,” you might say, “so what more do you need?” But the fact that queer female characters are virtually nonexistent except in Media About LGBTQ Issues suggests a divide: Media About LGBTQ Issues, and Media About Everything Else (hospitals, crime, law, spaceships, spies, drugs, college, elite New England boarding schools, aliens, Medieval Europe, politics, etc). Do queer women have a place as doctors and detectives and lawyers and spaceship pilots and spies? Or are all those things exclusively for straight people?

Yet at the same time, in some contexts, queer women are hyper-visible. I think of the glass toilet stall from my dream again when I remember how I’ve felt out in public with my female partners. Queerness is a “marked” identity, which means that sometimes it’s way more obvious and noticed and remarked-upon than straightness. When I’m out with a boyfriend, nobody pays us any particular mind. Sure, sometimes people might notice us and think, “What a cute couple!” (or maybe I’m just flattering myself, but really, people have this thought about straight couples sometimes), but certainly nobody’s going to stare, let alone point fingers or giggle or glare disapprovingly.

But if I’m out holding hands with (let alone kissing or cuddling) another woman, it becomes very obvious. The mere act of being affectionate with my partner marks us as queer and makes us vulnerable to all the bias and hatred (and, potentially, even violence) that may result.

Luckily, in New York, there’s obviously a lot of acceptance and people are used to seeing queer couples, and even if they weren’t, New York has a very strong culture of LEAVE OTHER PEOPLE THE FUCK ALONE DO NOT STARE AT THEM. (I love this about New York.)

But even in New York, hate speech and hate crimes against queer people happen. I feel silly to be afraid of it, especially as a white cis person, but the thing about oppression is that it doesn’t just go away because you have other privileges. When a partner and I are walking up to my apartment building, holding hands, I think about the men who catcalled me right at that spot, late at night. One of them said he wanted to come and tuck me in.

It’s enough that they know where I live, but to know that I’m gay, too?

And now I’m in Ohio, where I might have to stay for some time. Here I don’t know how to navigate it at all. Will people admonish me because “there are children here”? Will they tell me I’m going to hell? Throw bottles at me? Am I being completely overdramatic and unreasonable? If so, can you really blame me, considering how deep the well of Midwestern Christian homophobia runs?

It seems that we get the worst parts of visibility and the worst parts of invisibility. Our relationships, when they are represented at all, are never treated casually in the media, like obvious givens. Yet in real life, we can never seem to fly under the radar unless we get back in the closet.

And even that’s not exactly a guarantee. The closet, too, often feels to be made of glass–transparent and fragile at the same time.

Why do straight people think we want to turn them gay?

#homophobia #violence #rape

In general, I think that Freudian defense mechanisms (you know, projection, repression, reaction formation, all those) are the last resort of the entirely unimaginative and unempathic who would nevertheless like to take a shot at explaining human behavior. It’s like the psychology version of the Internet Skeptic shouting out the names of logical fallacies, hoping that something sticks, as his opponent argues him up against the wall.

But if I were to venture and call something a case of projection, it would be the persistence of straight people in claiming that gay people want to turn them gay.

That belief, which can only gain any sort of urgency when one also believes that being gay is awful and no decent person would want to do that to someone else, has been used to justify all sorts of discrimination and prejudice. It was used to justify firing gay teachers, who would presumably use their positions to turn schoolchildren gay. It was used to justify banning same-sex couples from adopting children, because they would obviously raise their children gay. It fuels fears of allowing gay men into traditionally masculine spaces, such as professional sports and the military.

The persistent fear of rape by gay men fuels that too, even though men who rape other men are not necessarily gay and are usually doing it as “punishment” or as part of a display of social power. The implication there is also that being raped by a man automatically makes the victim gay, which is a gruesome misunderstanding of sexual orientation and of rape. The only way to be a gay man is to consider yourself one, and to want sex/romance primarily with other men. Whereas if you are raped, that is not something you wanted or asked for in any way.

If it weren’t so hateful and horrible, I would laugh. Because let me put it to you straight (no pun intended):

Who used medical and psychological “expertise” to define heterosexuality as normal and healthy, and queerness as a mental disorder to be cured?

Who demands that bisexual people just calmly settle down with someone of the “opposite” gender since they have that “option”?

Who uses religious scripture to claim that queer people should pray to be “saved” from their sin, and that they should do their duty by marrying someone of the “opposite” gender and producing children?

Who believes that “corrective rape” can turn a queer person straight–and does it?

Who practices scientifically invalidated, psychologically dangerous “therapy” intended to “convert” queer people into heterosexuality?

Who forces their children to attend such “therapy,” often on the threat of disownment?

Who consistently erases the existence of other sexual orientations through language and media, refusing to display same-sex couples on television, preventing gamers from romancing a same-sex character in a video game, asking women if they have a boyfriend and men if they have a girlfriend?

Who enacts policies banning queer people from telling others of their sexual orientation or displaying it in any way, while straight people get to discuss who they fuck and who they love as much as they want?

Who reacts hatefully, even violently, when a same-sex couple so much as holds hands or shares a quick kiss in public, while straight couples get to publicly make out  and grope each other without so much as a disgusted comment?

Who openly claims that the world would be better without us? Who, in the most extreme cases, commits murder to try and make it so?

We’re not trying to make you gay.

You’re trying to make us straight.

That’s projection. That’s assuming that because you’re so obsessed with changing our sexuality, we must be equally obsessed with changing yours.

To be fair, I (and probably many other people) think the world would be a slightly nicer place if there were more queer people in it. That would probably mean more people I can be comfortably myself with, more spaces free of homophobia, more writers and musicians and artists and directors and game developers to make art and media that includes us, more friends who share some of my experiences, more people to go out with, more people to vote against your bullshit laws.

But I don’t want to turn people queer.

I don’t care what the fuck your sexual orientation is. I care how you treat us.

I Will Probably Never Come Out To My Family And That’s Okay

#homophobia

Despite being a financially independent adult, I am not out to my parents or anyone in my extended family. There are two reasons for this. The primary reason is that I already know exactly what they think of people like me, and the secondary reason is that I just have no reason to tell them or to want them to know that about me.

A lot of it, both the homophobia and my need to keep close ties to my family and my resultant silence, is probably a cultural thing. If you think the homophobia is bad here, it’s much worse where my family is from. (But you probably know that already; that country’s terrible LGBT rights record lands it on the news all the time.) I think my family is actually quite progressive compared to most people over there. A relative of mine told me once that she visited home and people there were surprised to hear that she “allows” her (adult!) daughter to be friends with a gay man. Friends. With a gay man. She said she had to leave the conversation because of the way it was going.

In our culture family trumps everything. Absolutely everything. Your family, including your extended family, will help you in any way they can–give you a couch to crash on when you’re in town, let you stay in a spare room without paying rent when you have nowhere else to go, lend you money, give you free childcare, listen to you talk about your problems, and, of course, cook you many, many meals. Of course many American families will do many of these things, to varying extents, but having been a part of both cultures, I can attest to the fact that there’s something different.

It’s not just that losing the support of my family could be dangerous, if not physically then mentally. It’s also that, despite all the things they don’t know about me, I feel close to them in a way I don’t feel to anyone else. I’m comfortable around them in a way that nobody else can make me comfortable. I can tell them things I can’t tell anyone, not any of my partners or closest friends. They are the only people I can talk to when I’m extremely upset, though I usually choose not to because I can cope by myself. I’m pretty sure they would never abandon me, not even if I came out, but that would make things tense and difficult and painful.

Of course, there are already tensions. I’m tired of having to justify so many of my decisions to my family, including my choice of career, my choice of relationship styles, my choice of partners (namely, non-Jewish), and even, sometimes, my choice of friends (namely, I’m not interested in being friends with some of the people they want me to be friends with.) It’s exhausting, but it’s manageable. Because at least they don’t hate the thought of any of these things; they just happen to disagree with my decisions.

Queerness would make it much, much harder.

Despite the difficulties I have with my family, my experience with them is overwhelmingly positive. More so than with many other people with whom I’m much more politically aligned and open, to be honest.

It is difficult for fellow progressives to understand my decision about not coming out to my family, especially when they’re straight (but well-meaning) and have never had to grapple with this themselves.

The first annoying thing that people do is that they assume this is just the first or second stage of some “process.” You know, like “denial is the first stage” and all that. They claim, explicitly or implicitly, that there will come a time when I will understand that I need to come out to my family in order to be “fulfilled.”

Part of it is probably those bullshit models of Gay Identity Development or whatever that have “coming out” as the apex stage. Until you come out, to everyone, you are not a self-actualized queer person according to these models.

Needless to say, that’s a complete sack of turds. I am comfortable with my queerness. I relish it. I am joyfully open about it with my friends and acquaintances, and sometimes even classmates. I easily came out to my interviewers in my last job interview (it was relevant), and I got the job, so, you know, whatever. My desire to maintain a good relationship with my family has nothing to do with how I feel about or process my own queer identity. The problem is with them, not me, and I’m quite aware of it.

Another part of it is the possibility that coming out will be unavoidable. “But what if you end up marrying a woman?” people say to me. Well, yes, then I would probably come out rather than elope. But, honestly, that’s not very likely for me at this point. I don’t prioritize marriage very highly. I don’t prioritize integrating a long-term, serious partner into my biological family unless everyone is super into the idea, and since my partners are rarely Jewish, my biological family is rarely super into the idea. I do prioritize remaining close with and comfortable with my biological family, however, and I have always known that marrying a woman and/or coming out will probably destroy that forever.

Is marriage worth that? For many people, yeah, but not for me.

The second annoying thing people do is related to the first one, and it’s that they assume that my relationship with my family is suffering because of my decision not to come out to them, and that I am suffering too, because they don’t know Who I Really Am.

“How could you keep something so big from them?” they ask. “Don’t you want them to know who you really are?”

No, not really. There are plenty of things about me, important things, that my family does not know and hopefully never will. There are entire huge swaths of my life that are just blank spaces in their minds, unless they’ve filled them in with their imaginations. And that’s how I like it.

But also, it’s curious that people seem to universally assume that which types of people I happen to be attracted to is such an essential part of Who I Really Am, so much so that it would actually pain me not to be out to my family. Truthfully, the only reason I think about my sexual orientation at all is probably because this society forces me to, all the time. I adopt the label “queer” and I come out to most people I know (except my family) in order to intentionally push back against a structure that says that queerness is disgusting, bad, and morally suspect. In the absence of homophobia and heterocentricity, which is an absence that’s nearly impossible to imagine, I would probably have no need or reason to label my sexual attractions at all.

So, yes, it’s a part of who I am, but at the same time, it’s…not. It feels weird when my parents don’t know what I write about or what I love to do in my spare time, but it doesn’t feel weird that they don’t know I’m queer. Maybe that’s a self-defense mechanism I’ve cultivated, maybe not, but regardless, I have no burning desire to reveal My True Self to them in that way, and it’s condescending to assume otherwise.

The third annoying thing that people do is they concern-troll me about What Will Happen If I Get Outed. Yes, believe it or not, I have actually considered that possibility a lot, because, believe it or not, queers think about these things.

First of all, whenever I have friends or partners who are going to meet my family, I ask them beforehand, awkward and hopefully unnecessarily as it is, to make sure not to mention anything about me being queer or anything about my non-male partners to my family. So that takes care of accidental outing by friendly agents.

As for non-accidental outing by non-friendly agents, that’s even assuming that these hypothetical people are able to find my parents, and assuming that my parents believe some spiteful tattling rando they’ve never heard of. This seems highly unlikely. But if it happens, my response will be, “I think it’s pretty creepy that this person seems so obsessed with my private life,” and leave it at that.

And if my parents somehow stumble upon the information themselves, well, I know them well enough to know that they’d be too embarrassed and disturbed to bring it up with me, and it would probably never be mentioned at all. Sometimes I idly wonder if this has actually already happened.

Regardless, if asked directly, I will be honest. I don’t like to lie. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to open the can of worms myself.

The final annoying thing that people do is “YEAH WELL IF THEY WON’T ACCEPT YOU FOR WHO YOU REALLY ARE THEN FUCK ‘EM YOU DON’T NEED THAT IN YOUR LIFE.”

I don’t want to even dignify this ignorance with a response, but I will, just to say this: yes, I need them in my life. No, I don’t need to justify or defend that to anyone.

So yeah, you know, it’s annoying to hear my parents say things like “Do you have a boyfriend?” or “You should _____ if you want guys to like you” (the second is annoying for a multitude of reasons), but they’d do that even if I came out. Because most likely, they’d just refuse to believe me and then ignore the new information as though I never told it to them. Or they’d just start including little stinging microaggressions in every statement (“We’ll pass those clothes down to you when you have children…assuming you even can…“). Or they’ll never speak to me in any sort of normal parent-to-adult-child way ever again.

What’s the point?

If there’s anything I would want people to take from this, especially straight people, it’s that we should recognize the fact that there are uncountably many different queer experiences and not all of them are centered on the idea of coming out, and not all of them are “unfulfilled” or “full of shame” or “sad” just because they include neither that Ultimate Hallmark Family Coming Out Moment nor the Brave Self-Actualized Cutting Off Of Family Ties that sometimes follows coming out.

I don’t want or need either of those in my life. I wish I could come out, but only because I wish my family were not homophobic. Given that they are, this is the right decision for me.