On being out
I’ve got several partially written posts sitting here. Brain-fogging pain in my lower back and pretty much everywhere else around my pelvis, from my 95%-positive-it’s-endometriosis, has been cutting into my ability to be even vaguely articulate a lot lately. I’ve also been spending a lot of time and energy looking after an unexpected new puppy.
But, a post I ran across via FWD/Forward jogged me
today a while back: Arwyn’s Vocally crazy: on privilege and the risks and benefits of being out, at Raising My Boychick. Excellent post, which I could really identify with.
As anyone who has been reading this blog will have noticed, I’m an autistic, otherwise disabled, female-bodied agendered, bi/pansexual, poly-inclined, light-skinned Native-identified multiracial Appalachian person with loads of PTSD from 57 kinds of crappy treatment, who spent years in the psych system (and on SSI) under an alphabet soup of diagnoses including bipolar. (Stereotypes violated? Rarely one per customer.) I am as vocal as I am about all these aspects of myself and my life, out of a combination of felt responsibility and sheer bloodymindedness: I haven’t done, much less been, anything I (or anyone else) should rightly be ashamed of, so I refuse to act ashamed of myself anymore. Making other people uncomfortable–when you are treating them respectfully and they are certainly not reciprocating–is not cause for shame.
By the time I came out for real, I’d already been through ex-gay therapy and several years of questioning/wrestling, so I was pretty much, “I’ve learned who I am by fire and trial, and this is me, so fucking deal with it.”
So that trembling, vulnerable state of coming out to someone… I don’t really remember it. Because I went into everything defiantly and with the knowledge in front of me that I was prepared to kick everyone out of my life who had a problem with it. Blame it on years of trying to kick my sexuality out of my life for the sake of those people.
That has been pretty close to my approach. Tried to be somebody I’m not in so many ways, hurt myself trying*, and it just didn’t work. Anybody who has a problem with who I am? That’s them, not me. Their abysmal levels of respect toward and shoddy treatment of other people really are their problems, not mine. Anyone that disrespectful and controlling, I just don’t want to deal with anymore.
And I feel a responsibility not to behave in ways that will reinforce the idea that people like me (whatever that consists of at a given moment) should be ashamed of themselves. As I put it before, “Detsadatliyvsesdi (we hang on to one another unconditionally) and Detsadasalidihesdi (we raise one another up)–or none of us is getting anywhere.”
As Arwyn put it:
Openness, vocalness, outness are good for an invisible, marginalized group: we’re here, we’re [crazy], get used to it! It helps to replace highly distorted stereotypes with real faces, real lives, real persons. As more and more people in a group are out, more and more people not in that group know someone who is — and suddenly, they start caring. No longer is it just “those people” who have to worry about discrimination and hatred and violence and the loss of rights and dignity; it is someone you know, someone you might care about, someone you’re willing to stand up for. These are all very good, very important things.
But openness, vocalness, outness can be dangerous, even lethal, for an individual who is marginalized: when someone comes out as mad (or queer, or trans, or a rape or incest survivor, or any other oft-invisible oppressed way of being), they might risk losing their job, losing their children, losing their life. Outness cannot be dictated, imposed, or required. It must not be. It can only be chosen, based on an individual assessment of risk and worth, and the outcome of such calculations will change with each individual, and often with each situation.
For those of us who risk relatively minimal consequence, though — a rare douchebag troll, the scorn of someone whose opinion doesn’t affect us — by virtue of our multitude of other protections, or our lack of anything much to lose, or our sheer awesome courage, I think it important we do come out, as often as we have the opportunity and the spoons to. I do not want to make it an obligation, but to some extent — when it is safe-ish for us, when we do not drain ourselves with it — I think we are called to be out. I certainly feel I am.
In my own case, I have been very aware that I have the ability to be as vocal as I am because of largely economic and privilege. (Along with the privilege that comes along with being able to write and come across as fairly articulate.) Like the author, I am unable to do paid work right now, but I am married to a very White, TAB man who makes decent money and provides financial and lots of other forms of support. Which also throws in the heteronormative privilege of being attracted to (some) men at all.
I am also painfully aware that, at this point, I am more dependent on one individual than anyone ever should have to be–and, given some of my impairments, at this point I’m liable to end up on the street should things go pear-shaped. Besides having nowhere obvious to go**, I might well not consistently have the resources available even to navigate another SSI application without an awful lot of help (and what to do in the meantime?). Besides the spoons available, that would really cut down on easy net access to be vocal with. But, for now, I’ve got plenty of some kinds of privilege allowing me to speak up, even if my “speaking up” usually happens through a keyboard. 😉
Similar to Arwyn:
There is this, also: I have very little to lose. I do not have aspirations to public office. Unlike a family member of mine, I do not work in a high powered, high risk field, where people, concerned over their millions and billions of dollars, might very well fire him, however illegally, if he were to come out as I have about our shared diagnosis. I do not have any job which is dependent entirely on the approval of one or a few persons who may have the same prejudices against mental illness that my dear troll does. I do not risk my livelihood with my advocacy, if only because I do not have one.
“Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose”# has repeatedly popped into my mind. I just don’t have much to lose, either, which makes some of my choices a lot easier. The main person I have to be concerned about alienating with my mouth and/or keyboard is Nigel, and that seems unlikely as long as I treat him with the appropriate respect.
But, that leads to another point probably interpreted as more stubbornness and bloodymindedness by some***: I am not entirely sure that I wouldn’t rather end up homeless, if it came to that, than to live with someone disrespectful and controlling enough to try to get me to hide who I am and/or try to be someone else entirely. I have dealt (and lived) with enough emotionally abusive people already, and that level of disregard for the person you really are is just plain abusive. And that sort of thing is much more duyukta-stealing (in pretty much all senses of the word) and harder to take from people who profess to care about you. From hard experience, I take my duyukta and noninterference very seriously indeed these days.
Yep, things keep coming back to hózhó/duyukta/etc.
* Actually, one of the posts I’ve been trying to write concerns a recent epiphany about a very concrete, physical way in which this kind of thing has caught up with me: the probably-endometriosis chronic pelvic/lower back/thigh pain. Take endocrine-disrupting medications to try to change who you are (even without resorting to the ridiculousness of Lupron!), and also try very hard indeed to suppress your “unacceptable” sexuality–for long enough–and you too can develop this kind of chronic problem. Either factor on its own might be enough.
** This has been a really uncomfortable realization; I never thought I would reach the point that I quite literally had nowhere to go. I always had more than one place I was very welcome to live, with relatives. (Even if that had involved a transatlantic move more recently.) Now with all the aging and death, the main relatives available who don’t already have enough on their plates, with their own disability stuff and looking after grandkids and the like, just don’t get my disabilities to the point that I’d be under a lot of pressure to quickly find a job and my own place rather than even try to reapply for SSI. Ah, assimilation!
*** It’s funny how perversely stubborn and inflexible people become sometimes, when they are standing up for basic rights. See also The Angry Black Woman’s The Privilege of Politeness.