I’m out. About most everything. I use my legal name (first and middle names, since my last name is very unique and I’d like to have some semblance of privacy for the people in my life). I work professionally using that name. My only living relative, my mother, knows that I’m a sex educator and that I am involved in multiple consensually non-monogamous relationships (I would tell her I am queer, if I decide I want to bring a non-male identified partner home to meet her, but given her age and my reticence to introduce anyone to her in her current state, that’s unlikely to happen). My boss & coworkers know about me – in fact, my managers read my website before hiring me.
Do I think everyone should be out? Absolutely. Do I think that’s in any way realistic? Not a chance in hell.
The reality is that it’s painful to be out about a lot of who we are. Stating that we’re kinky, queer, trans, or any other sexual or gender minority could potentially cause the loss of a job, a lover, a family, or one’s own life. Some of my trans female friends are (very rightfully) scared of being outed, as many transwomen have been killed by people who were threatened by their presence and their embodiment of self gender determination. Some of my kinky friends are very cautious about who they talk to and how they share their information, as their activity in the BDSM & Leather communities could cost them custody of their children or their job security. These are real issues – and sadly, the rest of the world has not caught up to the concepts of self-determination in one’s sexuality or gender identity.
Unfortunately, until we reach a tipping point of people who are out about all of these things, we won’t see any change. The groundswell of gay men & lesbians “coming out” in the 1970’s and 1980’s was, first and foremost, a radical social act. By forcing those around them to acknowledge the reality and authenticity of their lives, these men and women presented a public face of queerness; no longer could society say “Oh, those gays, you know they’re all pedophiles” without putting forth an image of your awesome Uncle Mike who taught his niece how to ride a bike, or Ms Jones down the street, who always brings food to shut ins in the neighborhood. They put names and faces on the terms “gay” and “lesbian”, at the cost of their own safety and security, and made it increasingly impossible for a minority of human beings to live in a state of marginalization. The rights that we have today were fought for, tooth and nail, by all of these people and their friends, families, and allies, standing up for their right to be treated equally.
My fear is that, until society sees enough normal-looking people who acknowledge their sexual or gender minority status, we won’t see any changes. When kinky people are constantly demonized as freaks who care little about themselves (and even less about their sexual partners), we can’t expect that society will see us as compassionate parents and competent members of that society. When the only images we have of poly folks are cult-type polygamist figures, we can’t expect that people will see relationships that involve more than two people as healthy, mutually-respectful ways of creating a family. When society’s only idea of trans bodies is that of street-based sex workers and self hatred, we cannot expect that transmen and transwomen (as well as those who do not identify as part of a gender binary) would be treated with respect and compassion by health care workers & law enforcement agencies.
We have to stop passing as hetero-normative. We all have to decide how we can, in some small way, come out. It may be just telling our friends, or disclosing our truth to a potentially sympathetic family member. It may be talking to our doctors about what we do, and demanding accurate healthcare based on medical fact, not social fear. It may be walking down the street, hand in hand with all of our lovers. It may be emblazoning our truth on tee-shirts and flying a flag announcing our reality. And if we cannot do those things, our only way of “coming out” may be talking with our dollars, by supporting organizations that help to end discrimination against sexual & gender minorities. But regardless – if we care about whether the next generation of people have the ability to insist on their rights, we have to start fighting for them.
Because, in the end, we owe it to them to create a world where they can be who they are, no questions asked and no apology necessary.