CW: Coming out, biphobia, biphobic commentary, anxiety, mental health, being outed, shitty people.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been undertaking some training to volunteer with a great organisation which works in schools, teaching young (perceived or otherwise) men about toxic masculinity, gender [in]equality, sexuality etc.
The reason I looked for something like this was because I’m old fashioned. I genuinely believe that exposure, education and an open dialogue is what we need to facilitate the change we want to see in our societies, the same thing goes for politics, race and so forth. Teach people what they don’t understand and perhaps they’ll make more informed decisions or develop into different people.
Anyway, voter-apathy and systemic-racism is another post. What got me thinking about coming out was an activity we had to practice that attempts to address the stigma of sexuality reveals and how to, I guess, diminish homophobic/transphobic/biphobic reactions.
The activity was good in and of itself. It required volunteers to act out a scene and tell their acting partner a secret. The secrets would escalate from something like not liking video games to coming out as gay. Yet, it made my bones itch. Why?
The organisation only trains men to deliver the training in schools. When I tell people this they often look at me funny, but I see it from two perspectives. Men need to play a part in dismantling the patriarchy and toxic masculinity, the emotional labour cannot fall on everyone else outside of that sphere. Secondly, studies show that young boys/men respond better to these topics from other men [this is a misogynistic problem, I guess we have to start from somewhere].
As I saw the play-pretend unfold, I looked around at the 16 men in the room and knew of only two others there that would have had to ‘come out’ in their lives, that is not to say that there were not others. First bone itch. Then the idea of acting and pretending to come out, which to me, made a mockery of the personal trauma surrounding my coming out. Second bone itch. Lastly, people were pretending to be teenage boys and shouted out things like “haha, batty-man”. Third bone itch.
Our culture, and a huge part of the male identifying culture, is based on homo/trans/biphobia. We internalise this as soon as we can hear, speak and interact with others. Homophobia and misogyny are the caveats that keep us in line with the cis-hetero mindset. They keep us within the sexual and gender binary and have serious mental health implications [see links below]:
For me, being bi (opposed to gay) presented me with a particularly special confusion whilst growing up. Hearing society invalidate a part of you, in my case same-gender attraction, made me feel hollow and incomplete. I couldn’t quite understand why it upset me when my mum told me that seeing men kiss made her feel sick or my Dad telling me he’d disown me if I were to turn out gay [in reaction to me crying…], other than that I thought they were pretty shitty world-views to have.
I didn’t even have the vocabulary at a young age to know that there was a word for me, I thoroughly believed I was gay between the ages of 12-19. I later started to conflate my growing mental health issues with my perceived ‘problem’ surrounding my sexuality, coming to the dark conclusion that same-gender attraction and depression were synonymous of each other; although after using Grindr one could come to that conclusion.
I avoided queer people, I felt they’d out me, sense something in me. Yet, I was drawn to them. Wanting to see how they moved in the world, in awe of their monosexual determination. Watching Hollyoaks, Brookside, EastEnders – they all did it, they all had a coming out story. The Craig Dean and John Paul story in Hollyoaks being a particularly hard-hitter when I was around 16 and then Tony sleeping with Max in skins.
But, how could I be accepted as gay if I still found women sexually appealing, why wasn’t I seeing someone attracted to both? Bi-erasure is again, another topic for another time.
My early to mid-20s subdued my questioning. I was in and out of some long-term relationships with women and dealing with some very hardcore self-medicating, my therapist would now tell me that they were all interlinked of course, and that’s not to say I wasn’t confused. I was just preoccupied. It took a mental breakdown and a big gay wedding in the French alps until I had a eureka moment. I was bi.
That’s barely skimming the surface of the mental strain and sheer number of anecdotes I have around understanding my sexuality. I believe sexuality and gender is fluid and is ever changing, day to day I am still fine-tuning what I feel and think. However, that’s 25 years it took of my life to decide I needed to tell people.
The build up to coming out is like turning your whole body into a shook up can of Pepsi. Every conversation is a potential threat, you don’t know how someone will react. Anyone who experiences severe anxiety can relate to the debilitating nerves that run from the back of your jaw to the tips of your toes. As if you’re feeling sub-zero temperature whilst also having your insides scraped out. That’s how I felt before every coming out conversation until it was my identity.
Getting down to it, however, wasn’t as bad as I had thought. I told my ex-partner at the time, she was lovely and understanding despite making me chuckle by asking me if I was going to go out and get off with boys on holiday. My mum told me she didn’t care and then followed up with telling me that she had always thought that bisexuals were greedy. A friend who I thought would be the most understanding, asked me why the hell would I tell people. I guess keeping secrets is easy for some.
Anyone else that I told, didn’t really blink an eye. The only issue I had was that, out of the 6-7 people I told in person, and after making it very clear that it was my news and I’ll share it how I please, someone outed me. Having people come up and ask you about it or congratulate you on it is like being attacked, having every bit of control taken away from you – the control you formed and shaped into the practice of every conversation and their possible directions.
That was the most demoralising event of my coming out. It can be a lot, lot, lot worse.
So, I guess that’s ultimately why I disagree with staging a fake coming out to teach children that ‘being gay is okay’, it’s seemingly coming from a straight perspective as its underplaying the severity of it and isn’t something that straight people will ever have to experience.
And yes, there’s the argument that coming out is only for straight people and that is fundamentally true. We only come out to protect cis-hetero fragility. They can then choose to accept us, try and disenfranchise us or get done with us.
What we can’t do is make a joke of trauma. That’s what sexual confusion can be. That’s what coming out can be. Traumatic as fuck.
What we can do, is raise awareness of straight privilege. What we can do is ask why straight people don’t come out. What we can do is educate young people on the subtlety, the intricacies and the nuance of homo/trans/biphobia.
Within the patriarchy, that prejudice keeps certain people in power. That’s not to say that members of the queer community don’t benefit from it themselves, straight-passing masc-presenting gay/bi/trans men can benefit a hell of a lot.
But what can also be done is some active participation to help others you may or may not know, who are struggling with their sexuality.
Which are not limited to the following:
- Call out everyone who uses the word gay as a derogatory. Make them know why it’s fucked up. Realise why you’re fucked up if you use it.
- Call out the myth that bisexual people are cheaters, promiscuous or deceitful. It’s a lie. People can be all of those things, it is not limited to someone’s sexual orientation. Bisexual people do not experience higher sex-drive or want to fuck everyone, they merely have a broader spectrum of people with whom they could be attracted to.
- Remove the word fag/faggot/faggy from your vocabulary. It doesn’t belong there, never did. It’s a volatile, violent word.
- Stop telling jokes where a queer person is the reveal, in a negative manner. Stop telling jokes about queer people altogether, if you’re insulting someone to be funny. You. Are. Not. Funny.
- Stop questioning straight people’s orientation if they do something a little out of script, as a form of insulting them.
- Don’t make spectacles [i.e. tapping your mate on the shoulder and literally pointing at them like animals in a zoo] of same-gender couples in public places, especially if you’re a cis-hetero man that sees two women holding hands or making out.
- Get the fucking idea out of your head that two women together is for your singular pleasure and have some respect. Lesbianism is not limited to a category on pornhub, you’re gross.
- Learn what the fuck it means to be trans, remove the word trannie or transvestite from your vocabulary and do some good, hard googling.
- The internet is a wonderful thing, if you can use it to watch cats on YouTube you can spend 5 minutes learning on it too and avoid being a shit person. As someone quite bluntly told me on the internet today, it’s 2018, there’s no excuse for ignorance.