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Queeries: when will I know it’s time to come out?

20 Mar 2020

Illustration by Soofiya

Fagony Aunt Aisha Mirza answers your queeries about QTIBPOC health, love and life

Disclaimer: This is not a column about coming out of your house during a global pandemic. I’m not the right person to give advice on that right now. But, perhaps the apocalypse will distract those who choose to spend their time policing the genders and sexualities of others. Perhaps it will put into perspective the weight that is placed on declaring sexual preferences as we refocus on things that actually matter like community care for everyone regardless of who or what gets them off. I won’t hold my breath though, and for those of us who might have to share increasing space with people we have not yet come out to, as communal gathering spaces become limited in coming weeks, this is especially for you. 

The thing about “coming out” is that you don’t have to do it. Over the years, coming out has been positioned as this integral rite of passage for queers and anyone else with lives and passions that fall outside of the boring hetero-normative landscape that is unfortunately considered default in the West. Trans people, sick people, kinky people, sex workers and many others are burdened with the knowledge that at some point we will need to tell other people. There is pressure on us to engage in this vulnerable and often traumatic exchange as a mark of validation or staying true to ourselves, but baby, the thing is, if your heart is gay then I’m so sorry but your heart is gay, regardless of how many people know it.

Coming out – like sexuality and gender and capitalism – is a construct that is used to normalise the behaviours of the majority by making the rest of us feel like freaks with a secret. This upholds a status quo in favour of rich white straight men who rely on binary gender, divide and rule and the free/low cost labour of femmes, black and brown people, and other marginalised humans to uphold their standard of living. No-one is asking Martin when he first realised he likes to half-heartedly fuck any woman who gives him the time of day.

You don’t have to tell anyone anything about yourself that doesn’t directly impact their wellbeing and safety. Though it may not feel like it, personal information about yourself is a gift, and the specifics of how, when or if you share that gift should be completely up to you. There’s no “right” way to do it – only what feels good or best for you. Never forget, you understand the nuances of your situation and your health better than anyone else.

“If your heart is gay then I’m so sorry but your heart is gay, regardless of how many people know it”

I first told my mum I was in a relationship with someone who wasn’t a cis man over the phone, 3500 miles away from home, at the age of 25. At the time, this felt very late, and I carried a lingering shame that it had taken me so long – that perhaps a truer or better gay would have said something sooner. Luckily, my therapist worked gently with me to help me realise that the way it happened is the way it was supposed to happen, and that these conversations and ways of sharing ourselves vary hugely across time and space and culture and capacity – that queerness is so much bigger than one coming out story.

Not all professionals or trusted people in your life will have the same approach though, and I’ve heard too many stories of people being forcefully encouraged to come out to their families with reasoning such as, “if they love you they will accept you” and “you owe it to the community to come out of the closet”. As we have already established, you don’t owe shit to anyone, and if someone in your life is pressuring you to come out, rather than asking you what you need and how they can help, you may want to question their motive because it sounds like imperialism to me.

Being queer is hot and being trans is magic and living outside of societal expectation is godly, and so the chances are, you’re naturally going to want to share some of the stuff that’s meaningful to you with the people close to you. Humans are very chatty when it’s safe for us to be! Being selective about who you share personal info with is often a protective move as we assess the likelihood of our disclosure backfiring. Though it’s true you never know exactly how people will react to your news, rushing the thing isn’t helping anyone – you’re allowed to go at your own pace!

“Though it may not feel like it, personal information about yourself is a gift”

It’s a fallacy that coming out happens once, as anyone who has done it can attest to. Explaining your queerness or transness or whatever to one person at one time is only one moment, only one of the many times you will engage in this fluctuating, ongoing process. Coming out does not have to be finite – we are constantly discovering ourselves, and for many of us, our genders and sexualities are shifting. Coming out, in the way that it is prescribed to us, does not often acknowledge the malleability of the human experience, and can be a way of forcing us to hop into a new box while trying to get out of the first one. 

Taking time to explore yourself – your desires, needs, comforts and pleasures – without having to explain them to someone else, can be precious. You are, after all, the only person who is definitely going to have to live with yourself. That said, not being able to share intimate parts of your life with those around you for fear of backlash, can be intensely painful. While you shouldn’t feel pressure to come out, you also shouldn’t have to make parts of yourself smaller to appease anyone. No-one should have to deal with that.

Being aware of the toll that living covertly can have on your health is important, so that you can find ways to offer yourself the gentleness, validation and support you need and absolutely deserve. This is also where community-building can be life-saving. Finding people online and IRL who can act as a reminder that you are heard and not alone and that non-judgemental care is possible is a key way to nourish and protect yourself. Seeking out people who share some of your intersecting identities and experiences can be particularly soothing. 

“Being queer is hot and being trans is magic and living outside of societal expectation is godly”

When your home situation is an intolerant one, it can be difficult not to internalise the feeling that there’s something wrong with you. I promise you there isn’t. None of this is your fault and coming out shouldn’t even be a thing. Finding ways to ground yourself in this truth can be helpful. Perhaps you have a mantra or affirmation that you repeat to yourself in the bath. Maybe you have a friend or a group chat you can reach out to when you feel the weight of being in a situation where you cannot be safely yourself; is there an activity like cooking, writing, walking or colouring that grounds you when you’re hurt or in your head?

The thing about coming out is that it’s exhausting whether you do it or not. In that way this column is less about coming out than it is about the chronic fatigue of living outside of society’s expectations and norms. It’s hard work. It’s hard to trust ourselves, it’s hard to build communities of like minded people and it’s hard to maintain those communities which are beautiful as they are, often harbour much vulnerability and hurt. It’s hard to access the resources we need, it’s hard to keep secrets from people we love, it’s hard to out ourselves constantly, even if we know our difference to be the source of so much joy, calm and life-affirming naughtiness. 

It’s hard to know when it’s the right time to come out and it’s annoying because no-one can decide that except you. Maybe the right time is when you’re financially independent, or maybe it’s when you feel you have an affirming support network, or maybe it’s a text from the room next door during Eastenders, or maybe it’s during the apocalypse, or maybe it’s just not right now. Trust yourself – you’ll know. In the meantime, go to therapy, rest and laugh whenever you can, and unapologetically pursue things you love with people who make you feel whole.

This is part of the QUEERIES column