Monday, October 11, 2010

Coming Out Day

Today is National Coming Out Day!  As you may have known, I am already quite out, not just online but offline too.  I came out last year, first by blog, then to a few friends, then on Facebook, and then at loud parties, then in public restaurants, then in... well, you get the point.

I'm also in the strange circumstance of having to come out to many people twice, as gay and asexual.  Sometimes this is just because it's assumed (for example, if I refer to my boyfriend), and other times it's just because I don't tell the whole story.  And I probably contradict myself sometimes too.  I guess as a man of reason, that's something I'm not supposed to do?  But it's okay, because where I draw the line between gay and asexual is pretty arbitrary anyway.

Since I'm already "out of the closet", what's the point of Coming Out Day?  Isn't that over and done with?  Not really.  Contrary to what the closet analogy might suggest, you never really stop coming out.  We've all known hundreds to thousands of people in our lives, and there's a constant flux of new people.  You'd think you can come out to all of them on Facebook, but a lot of people don't pay attention.  How it ends up is that you just can't keep track of who knows and who doesn't.

At the same time, there is a sense in which we come out of the closet just once.  Because the first few times, it's really nerve-wrecking.  After a while, you build some self-confidence, and it becomes commonplace.  An activity can only inspire so much anxiety after you've done it dozens of times in dozens of situations.  (The exception is parents, who will always be nerve-wrecking to come out to.)

There are political reasons to come out (knowing a someone you know is gay is the best indicator of social acceptance), but I also advocate it for personal reasons.  I feel that when you come out, you don't just become more confident about the coming out process, you also become more confident in general.

Note that, just because I'm really out, that doesn't make me some kind of coming out expert.  I think mostly I just have it ridiculously lucky.  My parents are accepting.  Most of my friends were either physics or skeptical enthusiasts, and they were all college-age.  What's more, because I already had the experience of coming out as atheist, I had already built a lot of the necessary confidence, and I already knew my parents would be accepting.

I am probably not very sensitive to people who have much bigger obstacles to coming out.  I just naively recommend it to everyone.  I do have one tip though, and it's a bit counter-intuitive.  Since the first coming out experience is more about building confidence rather than actually educating people, I recommend first coming out to someone you don't know very well.  It's lower risk.  Small steps...


Norwegian Shooter said...

Not to slight physics or puzzles, they're both great, but I really enjoy your personal posts. Your last point is an extremely good one. I'm sure that it will help somebody and probably many - which is the highest compliment I can give.

You did have it extremely lucky, and I wonder if this causes your insightful posting or is just correlated. Could you ever convince / allow your parents to post their thoughts here?

miller said...

Haha, I don't think they'd want to. I once asked my grandpa if he wanted to write a guest post but he declined. But they are around, and even occasionally leave comments.

drransom said...

Interesting post about the coming-out process. I'm used to coming out in multiple ways myself--I suffer from multiple "invisible" disabilities, some of which I am very out about and some of which I am very closeted about. Figuring out how to come out is always tricky--when and how do I tell a guy that I suffer from a weird sexual dysfunction?

I hope you'll say something more about how you perceive the gay/asexual divide in your own life. I don't see any contradiction in my own life--my interest in sex is very low, but I'm confident that if it dropped even lower I'd still be gay. Hard to explain why though.

BTW, I had dinner with you and your boyfriend in real life Saturday, so you know who I am but Google does not.

miller said...

I think I'm usually ambiguous about how I perceive the intersection of gay and asexual, though perhaps you could pick up hints by digging through my archives. The main reason is that it mostly only applies to me as an individual, and I prefer to write about things that are at least a little more generalizable.

So on that note, the very first thing I should explain is that it's extremely common for asexuals to divide up sexual orientation and romantic orientation. This distinction is not unique to asexuals (many bisexuals also talk about being more sexually attracted to one gender and romantically attracted to another), but it is far more difficult for asexuals to ignore. It's possible for asexuals to be romantically oriented to one or more genders, but not be sexually attracted to anyone.

If someone is romantically attracted towards the same gender but not sexually attracted to anyone, are they gay or asexual? The in-community term for this is homoromantic asexual, but on the outside, they might just identify as gay, asexual, or both. (This is not me, it's just an example of how it could be.)

Once we've drawn the distinction between sexual and romantic attraction, it's not too difficult to recognize that there is a whole collection of things we think of as "attraction", but could be separated. For instance, I don't experience "crushes". I went to an all-boys high school, and I can say that not one of them had ever been singled out in my mind that way. But I do seem to experience other forms of attraction which are far slower to take hold and more difficult to characterize.

Other asexuals experience crushes, but the crushes don't ever lead to sexual feelings. They're like the opposite of me. Go figure.

drransom said...

Well, with me and Norwegian Shooter you can count us as two data points for reader demand for more personal thoughts even if they're not generally applicable.

A large part of the project of making marginalized queer voices visible (audible?) has to do with individual people telling their stories too. There's a set of form narratives and people whose stories don't fit into the forms get told that their experience is invalid: they really fit into the form but don't realize it.