Coming Out as a Political Act
While coming out can be terrifying and even dangerous, it’s also an incredibly important and powerful political act.
It’s been four years since I came out publicly the first time about being queer, and three years since I came out about my gender identity. I’m not going to lie: it’s been a bit of a roller coaster.
In 2018, I wrote about how coming out is a never ending process, involving a lot of calculus, and how exhausting that is. Last year, National Coming Out Day kind of slipped by me and I only wrote a quick reflection on it on Instagram, but given the state of affairs in 2020, I feel compelled to once again put pen to paper on the subject in a more substantial way.
This year, I want to talk about an idea - the idea of coming out as political action, and really, as an act of protest.
I have to preface this, of course, with the comment that coming out is deeply personal, and no one should feel compelled to do so. It is perfectly reasonable and OK to not be out, now or ever, in any or all contexts. Outing someone or pressuring someone to out themselves, whether you are cis or trans, heterosexual or queer as fuck, is an act of violence. Full stop.
With that being said...
While coming out can be terrifying and even dangerous, it’s really important that we acknowledge it’s also an incredibly important and powerful political act. A political act that is just as crucial today as it was for our queer and trans ancestors.
Being seen is something that changes not only you, but the people who see you. A huge motivator for me coming out as non-binary, even in the first year of this presidency, was that idea of being seen. I wanted to be seen and acknowledged for who I was (who I am), particularly given the gendered policing I had experienced my entire life from family, friends, and strangers alike. And at the same time, I wanted to be seen by those who needed to see that their future was possible. As a very gender non-conforming kid, my life could have been a lot different had I been able to see myself as an out and proud adult. I wanted to be what that kid needed.
Globally, fascism is on the rise and the far-right is beating a steady drum of hate louder and louder. A lot of terrible things come with this breed of terror, including laws and violence against queer and trans folks. Just look at the increasing anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, policy, laws, and violence occurring from Poland to the UK to the US and beyond. It has always been there, and many generations of activists around the world have been grappling with it their entire lives, but it has been increasingly emboldened.
Given that context, being seen comes with risks. Sometimes those risks involve very real physical violence and even death. Some people are at greater risk than others -- simply consider the epidemic of violence against and the murders of Black trans women in the US. Add to that the fact that many people, particularly trans people, may not have much choice in being seen or unseen. I don’t say this to scare anyone away from the idea of coming out, but to be real about what is involved and what might be faced.
And yet, there’s that idea of being seen and how powerful it can be. While I want to be seen for myself and for the kid I once was, I also recognize that being seen by those who spit hateful rhetoric can be powerful too. They want the people they hate to remain unseen -- they want us to disappear, out of fear or force, because that makes their hate easier. It gives them power.
Being seen by them is not without danger. Maybe they’ll react with hate to the part of me they think they hate. But maybe, just maybe they’ll also see something of themselves or someone they love as well. Maybe they don’t know me, but maybe they could, and that knowing can change things. Maybe knowing will plant a seed. And maybe I’ll never see that seed grow, but one day it might push through the dirt and reach for the sun.
I have this quote by Dinos Christianopoulos on the wall above my desk:
They tried to bury us.
They didn’t know we were seeds.
I think about this a lot. This idea of planting seeds, of being a seed for change. It’s incredibly difficult to fight for something you know you may never see, that you may never benefit from, but it’s also incredibly important. I am only able to be who I am because of those who came before, because of every fight they fought, even when they lost.
I don’t know what else to say. I’m scared and angry and uncertain of so much right now. But I suppose, too, there’s something to knowing who I am, to being seen for who I really am, and being able to say “fuck you” to anyone in the world who tries to tell me otherwise. I am who I am, and no amount of hate can change that. I am a seed for the future.
So, if you’re questioning if you should come out, that’s OK -- I can totally understand being scared or not ready, or maybe you’re in a particularly dangerous situation, and it’s really, truly OK to not come out, whatever your reason. It’s your choice, and it has to be your choice alone, every time you do it.
But I also urge you to not forget the political power you wield every time you do choose to come out, to be visible, to speak your truth, to plant a seed. Every time you share yourself with the world, that is a political act, an act of protest against those who would erase you. That matters today, and it matters for our futures.
I’ll leave you with this quote from the esteemed bell hooks because it’s been on my mind all summer:
Queer not as being about who you’re having sex with (that can be a dimension of it); but queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.
Stay safe, friends. Remember you are not alone and to be proud of who you are.