Recently, more than ever before, I have had to think about “coming out.” This is partly a good thing, because it means I have something to come out about – that I am living my life in a way that makes me happier than I’ve ever been.
However, “coming out” and all of the associated trappings has felt like an immense struggle. I work in a field where “coming out” would be dangerous – I have projects in countries where homosexuality is a massive taboo and homosexual practices can be punishable by death – either by the state or by the mob. Not coming out is not a question of discomfort in my work, but rather a question of life and death. This is something I’ve had to accept in the field I’ve chosen for the moment, as “wrong” as it feels to me to have to be completely closed about an aspect of my life that is really important to me.
Apart from the office and the friends I still have from my post-graduate course (who are always potential colleagues and in the same professional network), my life in London has felt like a refuge. It was not until my relationships with my two partners got more serious that I began to realise this may not always be the case.
One of my partners came out to his family about us being poly and bisexual, as well as our plan to settle down and have children. He has been very open to his family that I have another long-term partner, who happens to be a woman. At first it seemed like not much of an issue. We would just get some blank looks and perhaps a bit of uncomfortable silence. More recently, this has not gone very well because we have opened up about our plans to have children sometime in the next few years. Our motivations and intentions are being questioned, as well as our ability to parent. The main question now is “What about the children?!” (I have many opinions on the topic of parenting whilst poly/queer/fringe that I plan to address in a separate post.) My other (female) partner, whilst out to her brother and sister-in-law in most ways, does not plan to ever come out to her parents because her father is staunchly homophobic. Both of these situations are distressing for me. Very distressing indeed.
However, after speaking to my therapist about it last night, I realised that I was letting it “get to me.” I feel sad that the parents of one of my partners could reject them because of the kind of person they are in a relationship with (namely, me), and that the family of my other partner disapprove. I feel sad they cannot be more open with their families and that, consequently, I may not be considered a legitimate part of their families. However, no offence or disrespect to my partners or their families here, but if their parents are bigoted or prejudiced against me or our relationship, is that a family environment in which I’d want to exist, anyway? This is a realisation my therapist had to hit me over the head with.
If I “came out” to friends I know to hold traditional values (and I have a few, who I know through my professional networks), I know they may not react well and I might lose their friendship. This is a hard reality in which to live. There is a part of me that feels that those of us with so-called “alternative lifestyles” will never be accepted if more of us do not come out into the open about how we choose to live.
Then again, I do not want to have to live in an environment, ad infinitum, in which I have to come out and be looked upon as bizarre or immoral or someone or something to react to. I just want to quietly live my life the way I see fit, without hassle and without interference.
This is where the idea of “letting people in,” as opposed to “coming out,” comes into play. I have come out as polyamorous and bisexual to one of my colleagues at work – in fact, it is to my closest colleague, who I often refer to as my “workspouse.” I know her well enough and trust her to not gossip about me to other colleagues. I know she is not judgemental, although these are not choices she would ever make herself. I know I am “safe” with her. I have a few other close friends who know about my multiple relationships and my plans with both of my partners. Whilst I can be open with my friends who are also kinky-poly-weirdos, these other friendships are almost more refreshing, because I know that whilst these friends (many of whom I’ve known for 10 years or more, and a select few from my post-graduate course) are vanilla, monogamous and heterosexual, they do not see any aspect of my sexuality or lifestyle as a problem. They see me for a complete person who is essentially normal, non-neurotic, and healthy. For this I am incredibly grateful. I have more safe spaces than I realised. I make safe spaces with my “logical family” – which is my chosen family. (Sometimes chosen families can be made up of “biological” family, but often they are made up of friends.)
Coming out can be exhausting and feel (and even be) a dangerous experience. I prefer the concept of “letting people in” – slowly, over time, they get to know me without the pre-conceived notions they may have about someone who lives such an alternative lifestyle. Once they see me as a functional person – a woman who is motivated by love, career, politics, and passions – then I “let them in.” Then they are trusted and treasured enough to know some of the most important parts about my identity and the way I live – but only after I have deemed them to be worthy and trustworthy.
Knowing me in all my parts is a privilege, however, it is still a risk to “let someone in.” Some people cannot accept this lifestyle, no matter how “open-minded” and “liberal” they seem or claim to be – but it is still a hell of a lot less scary and less pressure than coming out. In some ways, the “letting someone in” process may not look much different than “coming out” – but it is a difference in mindset. When we come out, we are exposing ourselves and making ourselves vulnerable to the wider world. When we “let someone in,” it is a privilege for and a gift to the other person. To many, this could be a much more positive way to look at it, and a hell of a lot less scary. It means we maintain our agency – and we get to keep our power instead of giving it away.