Monday, April 4, 2011

You never stop coming out

People who come out (hereinafter referred to as "outcomers") tend to fall into two categories: the experienced, and the novice.
That's the very first sentence of The Fine Art of Being Come Out To, and it contains one of the most important insights into what it means to come out.  The first few times you come out, you are nervous, because you have no idea what kind of responses to expect.  You are changing the way you present yourself, fighting the inertia of your own character.  You may feel the need to sit someone down before confronting them and telling them your Big Secret.

Then you realize that there are a hundred other people in your life, and you don't have the time or energy to sit them all down one by one!  You find out that most coming out experiences are anticlimactic.  Soon you become really jaded, and lose track of who you're out to.  Eventually, you only ever come out by off-hand references, and stop paying any attention to whether people pick them up.  Or I should say, this all happened to me; I should stop pretending that I'm speaking for anyone else.

Hello, my name is miller, and I'm an experienced outcomer.  I realize that I am speaking from a place of privilege.  Not everyone has the opportunity to get where I am.  And maybe some people don't even want to be where I am, which is their prerogative.  But this is my experience.

In a way, I was already an experienced outcomer from the beginning.  Several years previously, I had come out of the closet as atheist.  When I discovered that I was asexual, I was extremely nervous and distressed, but I also knew what I had to do.  I knew that I hated the closet.  I knew who to come out to and how to find opportunity to do it.  I knew what kinds of reactions to expect, and I knew most would be anticlimactic.  I knew to try to let bad responses roll off my back.  I knew that I was the kind of person who really benefited from a community after coming out.

Many months later, I determined that I was also gay.  Since it was my third time around, I went from novice to jaded in record time.

As an experienced outcomer, I still have to come out all the time, but the game is changed.  I'm always in this awkward position where I want to be out, but I don't want to make a big deal out of it.  Sometimes, this means pretending that it is no big deal when it really is.

This is easy to do as gay.  I generally don't ping people's gaydars, but it just comes up all the time without any effort on my part.  For instance, people ask me what I do in my free time.  I spend a lot of time hanging out at a queer-themed house.  People ask me if I go to the city much.  I don't anymore, but when I was dating, we went to several gay bars.  What's more, I don't even need to talk to people to come out, because it's right there on my Facebook.  The only people who will never know are my students, who I don't want knowing.

It's infinitely harder to come out as asexual.  There is no A-dar.  And it does come up in conversation, but not in a way that would be good to come out.  For instance, people ask me if I think any of the guys are cute.  This is the kind of situation where it would have good to be out already.  I'm afraid of completely derailing a conversation.  I'm afraid that a mere mention or off-hand reference would mislead more than enlighten.  So I just say "no," which is true but misleading.

This is bad news for asexuals.  No matter how privileged or empowered you are, there is a glass ceiling on being out.  It always takes some effort to come out.  If you want to be out to dozens of people, it all adds up.  And if you spent that much effort on that many people, it would seem like it's all you ever talk about, perhaps because it is all you ever talk about.

And then I begin to question the value of coming out.  Is it really worth all the silly drama?  I need to be out as gay in order to have a nonzero chance of dating, but being out as asexual offers no such benefits.  It's just, I feel unhappy when I'm closeted.  I don't like the silent assumption that everyone has the same motivations.  I don't like being ignored just because it is convenient.  Is this irrational?

This is part of the reason I gravitate towards queer spaces.  Usually they already have a baseline awareness of asexuality, so it's that much easier to just mention it.  It's hard for me to keep track of who I'm out to, but the rule of thumb is that my straight friends know I'm gay, and my queer friends know I'm asexual.  That's pretty much the best I can do, and I just learn to settle for it.


maddox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
maddox said...

"I'm always in this awkward position where I want to be out, but I don't want to make a big deal out of it. Sometimes, this means pretending that it is no big deal when it really is."

So much of what you say echoes my experience.

I'm usually just oblique in my side-remarks that come up while discussing a sexual topics, and I find that some people eventually pick up on this, and some don't. That's good enough in most cases.

But you're the logician (I retired years ago) so it's on you to figure this one out...

Sciatrix said...

That's really the problem, isn't it--it's so much easier to out yourself when you can do it without having to derail the conversation entirely in order to give Asexuality 101. It's frustrating and it really makes coming out more difficult.

Anonymous said...

I loved this post, it's the same thing I have an issue with and it's why I don't really go to AVEN anymore or use the label 'asexual'. I feel like, if I talk about it and inevitably have to explain it, it will make it seem like sexuality is really important to me, when it's NOT. Also, the comments that I would normally make a comment on are all passing ('...when you have children...', '...when you have a husband/spouse...') so I don't feel comfortable mentioning anything because it'll derail the conversation, I'll inevitably have to explain a bunch, and I'll probably look like one of those people who always has to draw attention to themselves and is always talking about themselves.

It's such an awkward situation.

miller said...

Ah yes. If it makes you feel better, the slope from coming out to talking about yourself all the time is not quite as slippery as it appears.

Anonymous said...

That's one of the reasons I've chosen who to tell about my asexuality so carefully -- it's just so hard to find situations where you can do it without also having to do 101. And doing 101 is exhausting! I've been very lucky not to have to do a ton of 101 when coming out to people. And the possibility of having to do it is definitely a factor in when I do choose to come out.

Natasha Field said...

I, so far have only come out to one person and she easily accepted me. Whether it was that my behavior made so much sense or whether being bi made her more open hearted, I don't know. Either way, it made me so relieved to be out to my closest friend. I'm planning carefully who to come out to because I want to come out in a certain way. I don't want to tell the straight people in my life that I can't have a relationship and I don't want to push away my cuddle buddies.

I'm still thinking about how to approach my parents which should be alright. I'm also planning on giving my little brother a quick 101 on queerness.

I honestly don't think I could be on a panel like that. I know that asexual visibility is extremely important, but I will probably never be comfortable talking about something so personal with complete strangers. That is just how I am. Thanks for helping spread the word!

Kat said...

In conversations that I don't want to derail of the "do you find any of the guys cute" or more commonly "which do you find cute" (rant about assumptions for another day) I'll grade them by nonsexual standards; a puppy can be "cute" after all, but most people wouldn't want to have sex with it! Or aesthetically, a person can be visually appealing in the same way that a scenic view is visually appealing.

I've done this my whole life, and it was only relatively recently that I even realized I'm ace... now it's an avoidance tactic that I try to save for people I'm not planning on coming out to, and I always make sure to use sexually neutral words like cute or beautiful rather than hot or sexy to limit potential future awkwardness if I do out myself and am accused of lying because I once said X person was cute. Cute I can rebuttal with "puppies are cute".