Writing From Factor X

October 6, 2010

The Politics Of Being Out

So, National Coming Out Day is coming up, and I’m still planning what, exactly, I am going to do for it.

I am somewhat conflicted about coming out, largely because for me the process of outing myself is still often fraught with anxiety. Much of this comes down to the fact that not only does coming out for me  entail the usual worries about how the person will react and whether they will show themselves to be a total douchecanoe, but also worrying about asexual-specific coming out issues. You know: whether I have the resources necessary to provide an explanation of my orientation. Whether I can explain my sexuality to someone and get it across without too many lingering misunderstandings. Whether I’m going to put up with the dreaded Masturbation Question. Whether I am going to be asked if my sexuality is a disease, or told to check up on my hormones “just in case.”

Neekabe recently posted a really awesome essay on why it’s often difficult to come out as asexual, even if you’re actively trying to do so, and one of the things she said really resonated with me:

As a sexual person, all you have to do drop the word of boy/girlfriend, and/or a casual mention of a person being attractive to you, and you’re basically done. Or you have a variety of slang terms that you can use if you want to be more explicit. Being out may not be a good thing, but society has gotten to the point where it is possible to come out without turning it into a Thing unless the other person chooses to turn it into a Thing through their reaction.

As someone who’s asexual, it’s virtually impossible to accidentally out yourself. The casual hints “I’m just not wired for relationships” (my favourite line) or “Not really interested/looking” tend to be just read as typical avoidance. Slang terms aren’t understood. I could tell someone I’m ace, or a gray-A(*), but they’re not going to get what that means, they’ll have to ask, and then it becomes a Thing.

If I could come out just by mentioning I was ace, without having to make a big show of it… well. I’d come out more often, for certain. If I could come out just by hinting, I’d be out to everyone. (Hell, I’m blindingly obvious if you know what to look for. The fact that people don’t usually just means that I either ping gaydars or get reclassified into this mysterious not-gendered-not-sexual category.) But that’s not where we are right now.

Right now, coming out entails playing educator, representative of my sexuality, and terrified person trying to share something important all at the same time. (I try not to show I’m terrified.) Have I ever mentioned that it is difficult to play educator when you’ve just bared a secret, important part of yourself and you know that total confusion is one of the best-case scenarios?

I have also had incidences where I was essentially given the choice between coming out or lying. In class, no less. That one was fun. I suck at lying. Let me tell you, as stressful as coming out can be when you get to pick the time and consider when to bring it up, it is a thousand times worse when you get totally blindsided. Especially when you’ve just gotten invisibled on top of that and are dealing with realizing “oh, awesome, you assume either I don’t exist or that I’m not here.”

So given that I think coming out is stressful and scary and difficult much of the time, why do I do it?

Partly, it has to do with my ability to pass as heterosexual, which is the usual “default” assumption. Which is to say, I suck at it. I do not particularly experience crushes, I tend to go silent when people are around me are discussing hot people of the appropriate genders, and I often don’t have anything to share when the inevitable dating talk goes up. Besides, people who know me well and hang around me a lot tend to notice when you never display any interest in anyone, ever. I experienced enough probing questions about whether I was gay or not in high school, especially from my parents. Coming out is a much better way to give people an explanation for why I am generally not dating or looking to date than just letting them come up with their own explanations, I find.

But that’s not my whole reasoning. I firmly believe there is a political aspect to being out as asexual. Well, to coming out in general, actually, but especially coming out ace. Coming out is the single most powerful means of forwarding visibility. Even aside from the fact that it is an act of visibility in itself, and a powerful one, coming out as asexual humanizes us. It puts a face to what we are. It makes it impossible to divorce the concept of asexuality in general from this person, right in front of me, who is herself asexual. (Or himself, or themself, or zirself.)

Which is not to say that outing oneself past endurance is a good thing. Quite the opposite: if you don’t have the mental resources to come out or do not feel safe doing so, then coming out is probably not a good idea. There are people I have decided do not get to know I am asexual, for example. Barring a serious change in the current state of affairs, I have no intention of allowing them to know. There is a balance.

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