Did you know that today is National Coming Out Day?
October 11th is marked as the day to celebrate and honor the various ways that LGBTQ+ folks choose to come out of the closet. Why is it on October 11th? Because this was the day of the 1987 National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights. One year later, in 1988, it became known as National Coming Out Day as a way to commemorate the march. Decades later it is often regarded amongst LGBTQ+ folks as a way to recognize both the importance of, and the ongoing struggles inherent in being out and visible.
I have A Lot Of Thoughts ™️ about visibility—particularly the struggles inherent in it. But I won’t get philosophical with that today. Rather, I thought today would be a good day to share a bit about my sexual and romantic attractions and identity. I want to do this not so much because I feel compelled to define myself, but honestly because I’ve heard on multiple occasions that because I openly identify as queer, people assume that I only like women. That couldn’t be further from the truth! In fact, I am truly attracted to people of all genders! (Yes, all genders—there’s more than two!) So, if you’re a cisgender man and you’ve been wondering if I’d actually be into you, the answer is yes! But not because of your gender. I’m attracted to people regardless of their gender. I’m never one to pass up an educational opportunity, especially when it means I can get nerdy about history and break open people’s minds a bit. So here’s a look into my journey to queer identity and a bit of the why behind it.
An ex partner of mine once said “you think coming out is a one-and-done deal when you first do it. But then you realize you’re never not coming out.” At the time I understood to some extent what they meant, but I didn’t fully understand just how true it was until years later. Believe it or not, I didn’t come out until I was 30. What can I say, I’m ever the late bloomer! At first I thought I might be a lesbian because I had become really uninterested in dating men and knew in my heart of hearts (and pants) that I’d been attracted to women for as long as I can remember. I knew I had to explore those feelings, so I took to OK Cupid! I ended up meeting and dating a woman for 4 years. But after our break up I was left with a feeling that while being with women was incredibly satisfying and wonderful (for a whole host of reasons), I still was also attracted to men. My idea of gender and what’s sexually and romantically attractive had also become more expansive.
I no longer believed that gender exists as a binary, but that there are so many more genders than just “man” and “woman,” and that my capacity for attraction was much larger than only those folks in the gender binary. I had no idea where this left me in terms of identity. It felt disorienting and confusing.
I knew beyond any doubt that I wasn’t straight. But lesbian felt too restrictive and just plain inaccurate. “Bisexual” didn’t feel quite right either because at the time I thought that term excluded attraction to non-binary people. I’ve since come to realize that’s not entirely true, but I still don’t feel that “bisexual” entirely suits me. I’d also heard the term “pansexual” but in all honesty it felt a little too…I don’t know…extra for me and how I felt.
I can’t really remember exactly when or how I came to settle on “queer” as an identity. It was almost as though the word came slowly out of the mists of an early memory. Or perhaps it came from the collective LGBTQ unconscious. I remembered hearing the rallying chant “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” spoken at marches in the early 1990s. I remembered how much of a mark that left on me as a pre-teen. I still vividly remember sitting in front of the tv watching news coverage of the hundreds of people marching on DC while chanting that chant and feeling such a pull of kinship without knowing why. (Turns out it’s because I’ve never been straight—imagine that!) So calling myself “queer” just felt…right. Why?
Well, initially it felt like an all-encompassing enough term to allow for my ever-expanding sexual and romantic attractions. But as I explored history and built community with other queers, I found more reasons. (Side note: LGBTQ history is still hard to find and is quite gate-kept out of the mainstream. It sucks and means our youth don’t know their own history. But that’s a blog post for another time.) I knew that queer had become a reclaimed term, but I didn’t know much else. I learned that the reclamation is rooted in the AIDS activism of the 1990s. Groups like ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) and Queer Nation sought to fight back against the violence of the US government ignoring the AIDS crisis and the interpersonal violence from straight, mostly religious, conservative people. The underlying current of this reclamation was that rather than being divided into separate categories like gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people, we were all part of the same queer family whose very lives depend on standing together and fighting back. I learned that the genesis of the term “queer” in its contemporary usage was completely political.
Wow did that speak to me! As someone who grew up in the rural southern US I grew up witnessing homophobia and state violence against LGBTQ people and I knew that, like it or not, being anything other than straight automatically politicized one’s existence. I also learned that the queer movement eschewed the assimilation that its contemporary gay/lesbian movements sought. That really appealed to me because I didn’t (and still don’t) have a desire to assimilate into a hetero-normative world. I also remember being aware of respectability politics and feeling no comfort from the idea that in order for marginalized people to gain access to basic things like economic, social, emotional, and physical security we must conform to what people find acceptable and respectable.
I don’t find comfort from living a traditional life. I never really have. I feel comfortable existing outside of and in between neat categories. They grey space is where I thrive.
Once I found these very important aspects of queer identity, I knew that was the term for me. It rang so clear and true. It was as if it were a precious gem had been inside me all along and I only needed to pick it up and polish it a bit to see its beauty and clarity—to know that it was mine. It feels like a joy to be queer, despite the ongoing violence we face. It allows me to express myself in ways that are hard to describe. It’s a flag and it’s my community. There’s an expression: queer is a verb. So in honor of that idea, here I am, coming out again. Because my ex partner is right…you’re never not coming out…and I find that beautiful.