Coming out

29 Apr

99% of my experience in coming out as ace has been online.

I haven’t felt the need or the desire to come out to people either in person or to very many people who I only interact with offline. It just isn’t important to me that people know. In the past, I wasn’t interested in dating, and I didn’t hang out with people who were interested in it, either, so it didn’t matter.

I also live in the Southern United States, which is not the most welcoming of environments. I didn’t include wanting to work with LGBTQ library patrons in my grad school applications because I thought it would have a negative effect. There’s a person in one of my classes who puts quotes around marriage in the phrase gay marriage, and said that if a patron asked for information on homosexuality, he would have to forcibly restrain himself from handing over a copy of the Bible. My mother’s ex-coworkers were appalled that she would watch Ellen Degeneres. A creative writing classmate of mine was disgusted when I wrote a short story about a trans girl.

Plus, I want to work in a public library with children/teenagers, and I am acutely aware that being loudly not-straight could prevent me from getting hired somewhere, and could also lose me my job when I do get one. I have no legal protection in my state if they fire me for sexuality. (A trans woman recently won a suit against the state when she was fired after telling her boss about her transition, but as far as I know there’s still no law protecting employees from being fired for gender reasons.) There’s also the potential issue of a parent of some child I interact with complaining about me, even if I don’t say anything to their kid about my identity.

So even though for the most part I do not read as straight, I’ve no plans to make any overtures about my identity while I live in this area. I know that my short hair, lack of makeup, and unisex wardrobe tend to make people read me as not-straight. When I judge that I am in an environment safe enough that I don’t need to lie, I can say I have a girlfriend. But aside from the few people closest to me, I have no need to verbally mark myself as not-straight.

I don’t know why I don’t care if people know. I’ve always been a private person, and I grew up in an abusive environment where I learned for the sake of the people I cared about not to speak up. I am pretty zen about what people do and do not know about me. In school I avoided award ceremonies and practically slept through them when I did have to go. (I didn’t go to any of the four undergraduate graduation ceremonies I could’ve attended.)

Past a certain point, I don’t crave recognition. I want to get my papers graded in a reasonable amount of time, I want people to acknowledge that I contributed to group projects, I like it when I get some feedback on fanfic. But I’m not the kind of person who cares about being public about myself.

This personality characteristic conflicts with my wish that asexuality was more visible. But this blog is my visibility project. And it’s basically anonymous. I’ve used my personal e-mail for it in a few select instances, but if I ever have to use e-mail with it more, it’s probably going to be a more anonymous Yahoo! account.

Eventually, creative writing may also be a visibility project of sorts. If I ever publish a novel from an ace character’s point of view, I will probably feel obligated to mention in my bio that I’m ace. Except…

The other night I was talking to a trans friend who was frustrated by people within the trans community who insisted that all trans people should come out. We talked about how that’s just not an option for everyone, and that people have a basic right to privacy, besides. I believe that no one is obligated to come out.

But part of me still imagines publishing that ace novel and feeling personally obligated to come out. Maybe not for visibility’s sake, but… I know if I saw a book from an ace person’s point of view, as an ace person, I would be very distrusting of a non-ace author. (Not that I think the other author would be required to come out as ace to alleviate my distrust.)

Of course, publicly discussing an identity is very different than, say, including asexuality in a survey of queer lit for one of my classes. I don’t need to tell my professor that I’m ace to include Guardian of the Dead in my survey of queer lit. But if I wrote a book from an ace character’s perspective, the issue of coming out would feel different for me.

Though this all may be my journalism schooling talking: if I was tasked with writing about Subject X and I was an advocate of Opinion Y on Subject X, I’d need to either not write about Subject X, or disclose my advocacy role. This is of course in regular non-editorial journalism, which a fictional book would not be, but two years of schooling is hard to shuck off. Too bad I didn’t think about this topic before taking all those classes.

Overall, though, this is a bridge I’m not even coming close to crossing right now, so thinking of it is pretty much just a mental exercise. I would really rather put something like “likes baking, the color blue, and dogs” in my author bio. (This would not help me avoid the question in interviews, but that is also assuming I’d be interviewed and, if interviewed, questioned on my sexuality. Although I could just call myself queer and not get more specific.)

It’s not that I would rather “lie.” I’m private, and I’m used to controlling what information people have about me. Of course I can’t control assumptions people make, especially now that I visually fit a not-straight stereotype, but people assuming something about me is still not me sharing my identity with them in words. When I’m able to be private about myself, I feel much more comfortable.

Since 99% of my experience in coming out has been online, though, I should also talk about how 100% of my online coming out experience has been positive, and why. (And get out of the theoretical.)

I have very carefully chosen those conversations. They’ve either been in asexual spaces, or to best friends, queer friends, or friends in fandom circles who I knew were queer-accepting. Although queer-accepting spaces are definitely not always safe spaces for asexual people, I had familiarity with the people I told, and I was lucky enough that most of them already knew about asexuality or just needed a little bit of clarification on the issue. There are also other asexual people in the fandom communities I frequent.

I am extremely lucky to have had such positive experiences. I’ve told someone I was ace while attempting to correct assumptions they were pushing based on their readings of Dan Savage. That could’ve easily blown up in my face. People’s reactions to asexuality can be unpredictable, and it’s amazing that I’ve met so many accepting people.

But I am conflict-averse to the point where being in an argument makes me physically ill. I would never mention being ace on a feminist or queer website without an ace-positive history and strict safe-space comment policy. I would never confront an ugly comment bashing asexuality on a site I do frequent if someone else already had — and even when I have confronted people like that, I’ve also had good friends saying, “I can handle this for you if you want, and I can provide backup if you need it.”

I pick and choose which situations I’m willing to mention being ace in, because of my personality, and because at this point in my life I’m not comfortable enough to enter an anti-ace situation.

If I had to sum up my coming out experiences in one word, that word would be selective.


8 Responses to “Coming out”

  1. Elizabeth April 29, 2011 at 5:17 PM #

    One possible solution that occurs to me about publishing a novel is to publish under a pseudonym rather than your own name. That way, you don’t have to come out to anyone you don’t want to, but you can still acknowledge that you’re asexual. I plan to do this myself, whenever I get around to publishing my own book on asexuality (although it won’t be fictional, so that creates some extra hurdles in this case).

    Anyway, nice post. It sounds like you’re very in control of how you’ve come out, and you know your limits. I think that’s excellent. :)

    • ace eccentric April 29, 2011 at 6:52 PM #

      That is a very simple solution to something I spent like three hours thinking about, LOL. It is a good plan and would get past my discomfort barrier with being public and also possibly avoid awkward interview questions, should there be interviews. I hope you do get to publish your book!

      Thank you. :) That is a good description, “knowing my limits.” I’m comfortable where I am, which is a nice luxury.

  2. maddox April 29, 2011 at 10:35 PM #

    Pretty brilliant, in a simple sort of way.

    Often people get so wrapped up in Coming Out and its meaning and its importance – it is often a major milestone in a queer person’s life – yet so many don’t have the need or the option. So it’s equally important to discuss the other side of coming out – the NOT coming out part.

    You don’t have to come out, and in your case it’s better if you don’t, and you’ve made it very clear as to why.

    • ace eccentric April 29, 2011 at 11:16 PM #

      Thank you. :) I am glad you liked it!

      I think that conversations about the importance of Coming Out are, well, important. You’re right in that it’s important to discuss the other side too. It seems like a lot of conversations are theoretical, without considering individuals, and leave a lot of people in the cold. Would it be nice if it was safe enough for everyone to come out about their sexualities and genders? Yes! But it’s not safe enough.

      And even if it was, I still don’t think that would produce an obligation if someone preferred not to. Basically, what is right for one person is not right for another.

  3. TomboySissie April 30, 2011 at 4:03 AM #

    I sometimes forget that I live in one of the most liberal and welcoming places in the world. It’s strange, actually, I live less than 2 hours from the United States, and yet every time I cross the border it becomes abundantly clear just how different the two cultures are.

    Even so, I know transgendered people who are afraid for their lives at times. I suppose this has coloured my perceptions a little. I find the idea of coming out to be intensely frightening, but also… pointless, in a way.

    It seems to me that gender and sexuality are private matters. Like politics or religion, they shouldn’t be discussed in public – not without invitation and agreement of everyone involved, anyway.

    I guess I just think that the only people who need to know are the ones you would enter into relationships with. I’m not sure if this point of view even makes sense to most people, I often seem to be alone in my logic, but it does seem that public exposure – even in welcoming communities – can be dangerous.

    I wonder if we’re building ourselves into a catch-22 though. Until someone stands up and tells the world that they are asexual, the world will remain ignorant. As it stands now, even psychologists often deny asexuality as some form of sexual development disorder. But so long as the world remains ignorant, no one wants to be seen.

    • ace eccentric April 30, 2011 at 1:15 PM #

      Everyone has a right to privacy, yes, and different people will want to be out to different degrees. For some, it’s more important to let a wider array of people know who they are. Others prefer if less people know.

      I agree that some people will only want those who they would be intimate with to know certain things about them. But everyone gets to choose who they want to tell about themselves. For some that’s everyone in the world, for others, it’s no one.

      If everyone only wanted to disclose their identities to a couple of people throughout their lifetime, I think there would be much more ignorance about all kinds of identities — even to communities themselves (until I learned there were other neutrois people, and such a thing as being neutrois, I didn’t realize I was neutrois). But considering the range of personalities in people, I think there will alwasy be some who like to do advocacy, awareness, and visibility projects, and there will always be people who want to come out.

      What will hopefully happen as these people work and as others try to create a welcoming environment in other ways, and as legal rights progress, is that people will be able to make the decision about coming out or not more independently of concerns about physical/financial/etc. safety.


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