Yes, that is right. Yesterday (the 11th of October) was ‘National Coming Out Day’.
No, I didn’t see the greetings cards on the shelves in Tesco either. Just like ‘Transgender Day of Remembrance’ and ‘Hug a Stranger Day’, it seems to be lower in people’s perception than days celebrating ‘Steak & Blowjobs’ or just talking like a Pirate.
Thing is, I am not entirely sure what the day is meant to be.
“Hey Mum, you… errr… you got any plans for ‘Coming Out Day’?
“Oh, no reason…”
Was there to be a synchronised ‘I’m…’ around the country? Are we meant to bake cakes? What is the overall theme other than just the vague ‘coming out’ aspect?
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s never an inappropriate time for cake… maybe we could play with stereotypes a bit… make jokes about how much fudge you packed into it, or how you think it’s a Victoria Sponge, but when you cut into it you realise it’s a chocolate gateau.
Also, where is the line on coming out? Gay, obviously. Lesbian, well yeah. Trans… TA DAH!!!!! Bi… well we get everywhere… but then there is this new scale of sexuality that is being pushed as we realise how much more fluid and varied sexuality and gender identity can be. Now, rather than picking one of a few well known labels, we will be listing our sexual preferences as grid references.
“Dad, I’m… E5!”
“erm… YOU SUNK MY BATTLESHIP!!!! HAHAHAH… seriously though, whuh?”
The communication barrier is something that is generational. We hip youngsters (Oi! Don’t you roll your eyes at me) are embracing sexuality’s great fluidity and the diversity of gender identity in our stride, whilst we still have to explain to large chunks of previous generations that there is a world of difference between Transsexuals and Transvestites. Don’t get me wrong, some of the greatest allies and most informed people I have encountered are older, but they tend to be in a minority. And ignorance, as loathsome as it is, and as great an obstacle as it presents, is down to being raised in a society where general consensus was that it was something abnormal. When something gets put out there and becomes received ‘wisdom’, people as a whole don’t even really think about it until directly confronted with it. I have often been in situations where people have used highly offensive terms around me without realising that there is anything wrong with them. That then creates an awkward situation where you start to wonder how many times you can correct someone before they start to feel insulted or frustrated at being constantly corrected. How self-righteous is TOO self-righteous? Is it worth holding your tongue for the time being in order to not alienate an ally?
But the real point of this blog was not to criticise the idea of dedicating a day to ‘coming out’. It is, I suppose, a nice idea to celebrate those who have come out in the preceding year, and it provides a focal point for those who wish to ‘come out’ themselves.
But I have a problem with the expression ‘coming out’. There is this permeating idea that it is a single moment of (sadly sometimes literally) death or glory; that our great announcement will blow a hole in the continuum through which fly glitter, sparkles and fireworks as we ride across the sky on a unicorn with rainbows flying out of its arse and all will see, and know what it means.
“Did you see Pete go past on a rainbow-farting unicorn?”
“Yeah… not really a surprise. He’s been telling us to keep October 11th free for weeks now.”
No, coming out is not like that. The default expectation in society is that we are all strictly binary, cisgender, heterosexual and monogamous. I mean, who on Earth can possibly fit into all of those categories AND still be fun at parties?
But because that is the default expectation and anything different presents a metaphorical minefield of misconceptions, toxic propaganda and absurd stereotypes, it becomes a much bigger thing than it should be… and it goes on forever!
I think the first time I ever ‘came out’ to anyone was in 1998, when I finally felt able to tell some very close friends that I was Bisexual and Transgender. However, that support group fell apart and I was left with very few people that I could be open with. This was also a time when I had no knowledge of where to even look for help or support as it was deliberately kept underground and away from anyone under the age of 18, whilst mainstream society was still wary, if not openly hostile in the wake of the HIV/AIDS outbreak of the 1980s that the Conservative government milked to great effect in pushing a septic, homophobic agenda. But I have covered that in numerous other articles.
My point is that ‘coming out’ isn’t one step; it is a marathon… in all weather… with oncoming traffic.
I have been telling people since 1998. I did not tell my immediate family until I had been in transition for nearly two years and already had my referrals to the GIC sent off and an appointment given to me by that point. Since then, I have ‘come out’ dozens more times to old friends, other relatives, colleagues and acquaintances, each time feeling like a big deal. Half of my extended family still do not know about me because it is feared it might cause upset if they were told, which annoys the living shit out of me because, once again, it shouldn’t be a big deal.
Each time feels like a time warp. For me personally, it is a new person tripping over names and pronouns, knocking my confidence right back, as if my transition was only just starting again. For others too it is knowing that there’s the gossiping as your ‘old news’ becomes their ‘breaking news’, and people trying to talk you round to being ‘normal’ by trying to reassure you that you are ‘just confused’.
Perhaps this is my issues with a ‘Coming out’ day… I have been coming out for seventeen years without an end in sight. When we make ‘coming out’ into such a momentous event in our minds, the reality makes it very hard to get on with your life… that constant nudging to explain yourself for the umpteenth time when all you want to do is go for a coffee or get the shopping in.
To make a REAL difference, we need to tackle society’s presumptions and encourage a less artificially narrow view of what, or who is, or isn’t normal.