Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts will be found at www.polymeansmany.com . This month, our topic is “Coming Out”. Trigger warnings for homophobia, domestic abuse, mental health, gender identity
As a queer, poly kinkster, the topic of being ‘out’ or not is something I’m well versed in. As it happens, I am out about everything, but the process of coming out was not always my choice, and certainly not pain-free, but I do enjoy the freedom of never having to lie about who I am. Be warned, this blog post is much like a Grimm fairy tale, complete with baddies, evil witches and a happy ending.
I knew from a fairly young age that I was neither straight nor vanilla, although I didn’t have the terminology and understanding to be able to explain that, I just remember thinking and feeling things that I found out were not normal when I talked to friends. I explored my sexuality in my teens, and to the great disapproval of my rather judgemental family, I didn’t make any secret of the fact. I remember my mother’s look of horror when I said I’d kissed a woman, and my parents’ various comments about disowning my brothers if any of them came out gay. My own understanding of my sexuality evolved over time, and changed from bisexual to pansexual to queer. Trying to explain these concepts to my family and friends has ranged from indifference to ridicule to genuine interest in new words and meanings.
I got into BDSM fairly young – too young, in some respects. I did keep this aspect of me private, considering it as private as say, my favourite sexual activity or preferred position. I didn’t see the need to share this information about me with people other than sexual/romantic partners. However, my vengeful ex-husband outed me to my family when he found out I’d met a new partner following our separation, showing them my online profiles and god knows what else. To say this alienated me from my family at an incredibly stressful time is an understatement: they utterly sided with him and told me I was ‘stupid’ for divorcing him, a man who was a drug addict, abusive, and controlling. I suffered years of snide comments about ‘gimp masks’ and ‘kinky weirdos’ from my family, and various comments about being ‘sick’.
Once my partner and I were fairly sure that poly was not just an experiment, but a way of life, we came out. As I wrote in the price of poly 1, this process was not without its fair share of heartache. For the simple fact of being ethically non monogamous, I have had countless arguments, lost friends and family, been accused of all manner of horrible things, and shed many, many tears.
So you, dear reader, who may have found this post thinking of coming out about something, may be reading this thinking ‘what the fuck! If that’s how coming out goes, I’m staying quiet!’. Never fear, I have not forgotten you. Even my stories of coming out are not all bad: you can’t control other people’s reactions and prejudices, but it’s highly unlikely that everyone’s reaction would be permanently negative, and you would be utterly alienated from your social group. What I would say is that I would not go back into the closet for all the tea in China. Why? Because I never, ever have to lie, about anything, to anyone. I never have to make up stories about where I am going, or what I am doing, or who I have been with. I never have to introduce a love as a ‘friend’, I never have to pretend we are less to each other than we are. I never have to worry about being ‘caught’ with someone else, and accused of cheating. There is a great freedom in honesty, and that has more value to me than all the easy rides and simple conversations with family can ever offer. I can hold my head up knowing I am being true to myself, and not allowing other people’s prejudice to cast me into the shadows, I feel that by being out, I am standing up and being counted as part of the communities that I belong to. I am visible. I exist. I do not conform.
For those wanting some advice on how to come or be out, here are a few basic points for you:-
1. Be sure
Not in a ‘be sure this is what I identify as, until the end of time’ way, but be fairly comfortable and settled with your identity as X before you spill the beans. There’s a world of difference between chatting to a trusted friend that you might think you are gay/queer/poly/kinky/whatever, and coming out as ‘I am X’ to the world. If you come out too early, the inevitable negative response you will get from some people could affect your decision making, and people can become tired of someone who constantly ‘comes out’ and then changes their mind. Just pick your moments and be fairly sure what you’re telling people is accurate, fairly constant at that time of your life, and relevant for them to know.
2. Be succinct
There’s no need when coming out to get into big discussions about why, details, thought processes or experiences. Tell people that you identify as x, and that’s that. You should always include things like preferences ‘please use a neutral pronoun for me, because I identify as genderqueer’, or ‘please don’t make gay jokes, they offend me’, etc. Don’t get drawn into discussion or debate about what you identify as – inform, answer questions, end the discussion if you are unhappy with the way people are responding to you.
3. Be prepared to answer reasonable questions, but reject intrusion
When you tell people something they didn’t know about you, it’s fair for them to ask questions about it, especially if it’s a term they’ve never heard of before. You have a duty to explain what it is you are asking people to acknowledge and respect, provided the questions are fair and reasonable. You do not need to answer intrusive or personal questions pertaining to your sex life or other personal areas of life, and only you can judge where that line lies. For me it’s the difference between ‘what does genderqueer mean’ and ‘so, do you fuck all the people you tie up?’. One is reasonable, the other is intrusive. People only need the facts about your identity, they don’t need the details. Anyone who thinks they have the right to ask intrusive and personal questions, or indeed that you are obliged to share because you’re the newest curiosity is someone you need to deal with bluntly.
4. Be indifferent to opinion
You’ve identified as X, probably after some time of feeling not entirely right or fitting with general stereotypes or labels, and some soul searching. You’ve been brave enough to share this fact about yourself with others, trusting them with knowledge about you that could make you lose your career, or even be dangerous to your personal safety in the wrong circles1 . Unless you are extremely lucky, at least one person will respond negatively, potentially permanently. Sorry to break it to you, but as much as you can try to come out in a controlled, thoughtful way, someone will not like what you’ve told them, and that sucks. Lots more may be mildly unhappy but will come round in time and with discussion. Some people, in the best possible way, won’t give a hoot.
The main thing to do in coming out, I believe, is to try and be indifferent to the response. People’s responses can hurt, but ultimately you are what you are, and they need to deal with it or get out of your life. Do not hide, diffuse or change who you are for other people. That is a one way ticket to a life of misery. Coming out is not easy, you will get shitty comments from people ‘but what about my future grandchildren?’ or ‘which room is the dungeon going to be in?’ but don’t tolerate it. Demand that people don’t use information about you as a target for jokes or insults, and if they continue to do so, cut them the fuck out of your life. The people who really matter, the people you should spend time and energy on are the ones who accept and love you as you are, and nothing less.
I can’t say that coming out is easy, but I can honestly say that for me it has been incredibly freeing and informative. Being out has been brutal about seeing who cares about me and who cares about what they want me to be. The former are still in my life, the latter are long gone, and that has been nothing but positive. Being out and proud takes courage and resolve, but I wouldn’t live my life any other way. As Valerie puts it: ‘I’d only told them the truth. Was that so selfish? Our integrity sells for so little, but it is all we really have. It is the very last inch of us. But within that inch we are free.’2
Live the inch. Be free. Be yourself.