Prefer Not To Say
Or, Why Queer Credentials Are Kinda Bullshit
So here’s a thing.
I very nearly didn’t come out earlier this year.
Or, I should say, I almost didn’t come out in the very public manner in which I ultimately did.
My initial plan was to come out to close friends and then, after that, on a case-by-case basis. I stand by the decision to come out publicly, and I stand by the reasons I laid out in that post on Medium.
But it’s not the whole story. And there’s a dimension to my decision to come out that makes me feel really uneasy in some parts of the queer community.
Over the weekend, an essay written by a trans woman on her decision not to come out publicly made the rounds on Twitter. (The essay was written back in March, and I’m not sure how or why it became a Thing this weekend.) While I have some gripes with parts of the essay — I feel like she’s a little too eager to wave the #NotAllMen flag, and there’s one line in which she writes fairly dismissively of nonbinary and agender folks — but overall I think her perspective is perfectly valid.
Coming out is complicated. And as much as some folks engaged in queer and trans discourse imply otherwise, gender isn’t the be-all-end-all pillar of personal identity. People have to balance their gender identity and expression with other aspects of their personal and professional lives, and everyone ends up making compromises somewhere along the line. Everyone runs their math differently, and I think it’s important to remember that there isn’t one universal and objective answer that works for everyone when it comes to queerness.
This all sounds obvious. And yet.
Pretty soon after this bubbled up on my particular corner of Twitter, the backlash was already in full swing, and today was the backlash against the backlash. Because that’s just how these things go now.
Jay Edidin talked about it on Twitter, and they captured a lot of my feelings about this (as they, uh, often do).
There’s this sort of… credentialing in queer circles that feels really yucky to me. That in order to participate in queer discourse, you have to be ready to show your receipts, and you can’t complain if anyone demands to see them. Even if it means outing yourself before you’re ready. Even if it means being dragged out of the closet.
It creates this culture where people who are questioning, people whose queerness is still emerging, can’t ask for help.
I looked back on old emails and chatlogs a while back and realized I was questioning my own gender identity as far back as 2010. I could’ve gone through this process, and maybe even come out, years ago. But I didn’t, in large part because I didn’t feel like it was okay to ask for help.
And yet, conversely, on some level I felt like I had to come out earlier this year, and do it in the way that I did, in order to establish credentials. To have a public link with a Published On date to produce in the event that someone demands to see my receipts. Because if I didn’t make it public, I’d just be read as a cisgender man while participating in The Discourse.
Or that I wasn’t Trans Enough.
I had plenty of good reasons to come out publicly. (Which, as a practical matter, meant mostly coming out to Soccer Twitter and my editor at Paste, along with friends and acquaintances I made on Queer Twitter.) But I can’t deny that there was some pressure to come out in order to be seen as “authentically” queer and trans.
And that sucks. It sucks that I didn’t really have the option to check the “prefer not to say” box. That it had to be In or Out. That I had to open this part of my life up to public scrutiny just to be seen as “authentically” queer.
That really sucks.
And, as Jay says, it’s really important to let people check “prefer not to say”, and to give those folks space and the benefit of the doubt. I want to be part of a community that gives that to people who need it.
And yet. There’s still part of me that’s waiting for the day my coming out letter “goes viral,” and I get to hear from potentially thousands of strangers why I’m problematic. And I won’t get to complain, because I signed up for it.