Coming out to the family – or at least a small chunk of it – and the socio-politics of being out

8 01 2008

Over the holidays, I made a big move: I came out to my brother and one of my sisters. I was planning to come out to the younger of my two sisters, J. She’s 5 years older than me and she’s always been the one I got along best with. As a teen, she was a cool rocker chick with some rough edges, which she recently confessed to me were a façade, and I wanted to be like her. We’ve always been able to talk about all kinds of things from our common love of Iron Maiden and the Scorpions to love and sex.

So before my visit to the family (a 6 hour drive from where I live), I made arrangements with her to spend at least one night at her place so that we could have a “sister-to-sister” chat and told her that I wanted to tell her about a major decision I had made. It turned out that our family party was at her place so I simply stayed afterward and we chatted from 1AM (when everyone else left) to about 5AM. We beat around the bush for a while, talking about all kinds of other things. Then she came out and asked me: “So, what did you want to talk about? Are you comfortable talking about it now?” So I told her everything. After I first told her that I was intending to transition, she smiled and said: “I *knew* that’s what you wanted to tell me!” She had read an interview with me in a French paper about being a drag king and my answer to a question on the relevance of kinging to my own person life had been something vague about questionning my gender ID and J. picked up on it right away. My sister doesn’t get it completely but she is willing to try and is fully supportive of me. She agreed that it wasn’t a good idea to tell my mom, who is still freaked out by a heart attack she had 6 months ago.

My brother. Well, as expected, he didn’t even react. He changed the subject as if I had said nothing.  This is a guy who has been openly gay for 20 years but for whom anything gay or queer is a taboo subject of conversation. He’s internalised the mentality that people can do what they want but they should shut up about it.

Well, anyone who knows me knows I’m not one to shut up about much. Why don’t I shut up my sexual orientation, interests and transsexuality? Because if everyone shut up about it, people would continue to be isolated and nothing would change. If all kinds of queer people (yes, I know not all LGBTetc people identify as queer – I’m using it out of convenience) had not been vocal in the past, we would not have things like same-sex marriage in Canada today. We would not have the ability to access hormones to modify our bodies. We would not have access to a legal procedure to change our name more quickly than non-trans people to avoid hassles in situations requiring ID. We would not have things like sexual orientation and transsexuality as prohibited grounds for discrimination in the Quebec (and other) Charter of Human Rights.

So if I’ve always been outspoken about who I am (bisexual, non-monogamous, into BDSM, transsexual, etc) it’s at least partly out of solidarity for those who have fought for my rights before I was even born and partly out of solidarity for people who live in situations where it would be physically dangerous for them to be out (because of their social or cultural environment) but mostly to continue to obtain rights for future generations of people who are like me so that they can have an even easier time.

See, it’s like this: the people who fought to create changes in the 60s and 70s had such huge odds to face that they had to devote most of their lives to the struggle, leaving little time for other things that they could have contributed to society such as art, scientific knowledge, good plumbing, whatever. Those of us who are fighting today can devote less time if we choose because of their struggle. We can fight part-time, so to speak, and still do other things. While I participate in various fights in the queer community from time to time, I’m hoping (knocks on wood with all fingers crossed) to be accepted into a PhD programme so that I can continue to contribute knowledge about Native issues in Canada and I also co-run a drag king troupe that is helping many people fulfill their dreams of hitting the stage and producing queer stage art. Most importantly, I’m raising a wonderful child who has already contributed to the happiness of many just by being himself.

My hope is that these efforts, building on those of the past, will allow all kinds of queers in the future to have to devote very little time to establishing their rights and to have more time to devote to other important social causes such as improving the lives of people around the world whose societies have been damaged by imperialism and colonialism, improving the lives of other people who are targets of discrimination such as those with mental or physical disabilities or variant body size, helping to eliminate violence against children and so forth.

So what can I say to people who choose to live the life of the quiet, unobtrusive queer? I can understand your desire to not mix the personal with the political. And I can’t judge you because, for the most part, I know nothing about your life and maybe many of you are contributing great things to society, which I applaud (unless these great things are things that help the capitalists get richer while the poorer remain poor). But I hope that you can recognise, at least silently, that other people suffered greatly to allow you to have this quiet unobtrusive life.

So that is my long answer to people who ask why I bother being out. The shorter answer is: why should I hide? But I will save thopse musings for another post.

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6 responses

8 01 2008
Mish Lee

Cool that she’s supportive read your response in the local paper.

To everything else (except bro)- Right on!!

Though not quietly unobtrusive, I’m not as outspoken as some either. More of a happy medium. I think part of this is just my nature, but the other is the survival instinct I’ve had since day 1. Moving around and living in different places, I learned to blend in to some extent. At times, I made myself as invisible as possible because that was better than being noticed, which lead to racism or harassment. Thanks to college and where I am now, I’m more visible and vocal about who I am and what I believe in.

9 01 2008
Jacky V.

Hey Mish; That’s kind of what I was referring to when I mentioned ” people who live in situations where it would be physically dangerous for them to be out (because of their social or cultural environment”. I know it’s not possible for everyone to be outspoken. But I wouldn’t put you in the unobtrusive category for sure . . .I mean, you marched with us at Pride, man : )

10 01 2008
Gropes

“So what can I say to people who choose to live the life of the quiet, unobtrusive queer?”
Indeed, what can be said to these people? I would even venture to say that personality is part of it. I tell everyone I’m gay – work, play, family, people at the bus stop – I’m out. But, for some sexual and gender identity are thoroughly private. Does this privacy stem from internalized homophobia? genderqueerphobia (is that a word? should be!)? or a penchant for Austen era composure? The phobia ones frighten me. I guess the Austen ones would be “eraqueer”. Complete silence, though, how sad not only for you but also for your brother. If this continues, he will miss out on an integral part of your life experience. Time will tell.
Good luck, Jacky, you continue to rock.

11 01 2008
Jacky V.

Gropes!! I love the nick!!

Thanks for the comment. Yes, I think in my brother’s case, it is internalised homophobia, unfortunately. Thing is, it seems many people equate being out with telling people what exactly we do in the bedroom. I think that has a large role to play in the “do what you want but keep it out of my face” attitude. My response to that is usually: “Wearing a wedding band is a declaration to the world that you are fucking your spouse. However, being out as les/bi/gay makes no such declaration. Wanna talk about being in people’s faces?”

11 01 2008
Eva Vavoom

Love to read the blog!

11 01 2008
Jacky V.

Thanks Eva!

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