Thursday, October 11, 2012

National Coming Out Day: Okay To Stay Closeted

Coming out is a weird process. Sometimes, it’s easy, like a few weeks ago, when I fell sideways into a conversation with a friend.

Fabulous Folsom Friend: Darling, you’re looking so buff today! What’s your secret?
Ryan: I’m—what?
Fabulous Folsom Friend: [pats Ryan on the chest] Your pecs, darling. Look at you!
Ryan: Ah. Well. Right.
Fabulous Folsom Friend: What, love?
Ryan: So, I’m a transguy. That’s not muscle.
Fabulous Folsom Friend: [flail] I DON’T BELIEVE IT. YOU’RE LYING TO ME.
Ryan: If I was, I’d've come up with something much more entertaining.
Fabulous Folsom Friend: Well, you’re cute anyway. Come here and let me love you. [tackle-hugs]
Ryan: [squawks]

(It’s worth noting that I wear a chest binder, which compresses everything mostly flat and can absolutely make me look like I have pecs. Which, y’know, bonus.)

Sometimes, it’s not so easy. And I’ve been lucky. My family is supportive, my friends are awesome people; I never had a reason to be afraid. But I’ve still started conversations twisted up in knots, sick to my stomach, convinced that this one, this one, is where it would all go wrong.

When I was in university, I was invited as part of a group to give a lecture on LGBTQI issues. This was back before I identified as transgender, so I was just part of the Q contingent. But there was an older transman in the group, and he ran the students through a variation of this exercise. In brief, it goes something like this:

  • Get sixteen small squares of paper per person, split them into four groups of four.
  • Get every person to select four of the following important things for each group, and write them out on the paper squares: people, life roles, possessions, activities.
  • Select one thing that you could do without, crumple it up, and throw it on the floor. Then turn all the remaining pieces of paper over.

And then comes the tricky part. The moderator goes around the group and takes things from people at random. Some people lose everything. Some people lose a few things. Some people lose nothing. One person is left entirely alone, then the moderator comes back around and strips everything away from them. Every piece of paper taken is crumpled up and thrown to the floor.

This is the risk. This is coming out.

Some loss is predictable—represented by that first piece of paper you took away yourself. But a lot isn’t. A lot is devastating. Pretty much no one picks “breathing” as an important activity, but people lose the ability to do that, too, every year. People get murdered for this shit.

I’m getting heavy now, but wrap your brain around that for a minute.

People get murdered for this shit. People get flat out killed.

When we did that exercise in class—with mostly straight, cisgendered people, people who would never have to come out—a lot of them wound up in tears. Loss is hard, even when it’s theoretical.

National Coming Out Day is this week, on October 11th, and it’s a cool thing. We need visibility. We need people kicking down closet doors and coming out in bitch-stomping boots and rainbow sparkles, or leather vests and fairy wings. Or regular jeans and plaid, whatever revs your engine. We need all the fabulous, mind-blowing variations of gender and sexuality and everything in-between to keep the world interesting.

But mostly we need people alive. We need people safe.

And yes, okay, we get a lot of that from visibility, because visibility breeds awareness, and awareness is the crank that drives social change. But laws are slow in playing catch-up, and when we’re encouraging people to come out, our concern has to be street-level.

If you can come out, great. We need you. Come join the party, we’ve got our own flags. (Seriously, we have lots. Come pick your favourite.)

But.

If you live with your parents, and they aren’t cool; if you’re in danger of getting your teeth punched down your throat; if your home living situation is in question; if you don’t have enough money to support yourself—maybe think twice. If you want to come out in a big explosion of fuck you all anyway, then more power to you and good luck. Have a safety plan and an exit strategy. A good friend and a bug out bag can get you through most things. I’m going to put links to resources at the bottom of this article.

If that’s not your preferred option, here’s the other choice: stay in the closet.

Yeah, I know, it sucks. It feels like cowardice. Some obnoxious dickweeds will say you’re oppressing yourself. But screw them; they aren’t where you are. Stay in for a few more weeks, or months, or however long you have to. We’re not going anywhere. Even if Romney pulls a fluke and wins the general this year, we’re still going to be here—we’ll just be more pissed off. Whatever anyone else says, you have time. There’s always time as long as you’re still breathing. Find your moment, get your resources in line, and come out when it’s safe.

If it’s never safe, get the hell outta dodge and find somewhere else to be your awesome rainbow self. Come out by letter from a thousand miles away. It’s an option. There are always options.

And hey, maybe you’ll get as lucky as I did. I kept all my family. I have a mom who uses my chosen name, a dad who’s proud to let me take his father’s name as my middle name, and a brother who challenges me to manly beard contests.

Admittedly, my brother’s a little weird.

(He’s also winning. For now.)

I even had one friend—one of my best friends—who said “That’s awesome!” when I told her I was transgender. Excellent people do exist, and if you run into them, grab on tight and appreciate the hell out of them, because they’ll get you through the storms.

But most importantly, be safe on October 11th—and the rest of the year. Survival first. Everything else after. (by Ryan Legg)

 

 

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