I feel like I haven’t sufficiently ranted at Tumblr recently. WELL HERE WE GO PEOPLE BECAUSE TINY RANT AHOY.
I am bisexual, and I’ve known that since I was… 9 or 10, and in a lot of ways it was never an issue of “OMG I’m weird” so much as “OMG what if people think I’m weird” which I personally consider a triumph… but I digress: that’s really not the point here.
The last little while I have been getting my fair share of, shall we say, “advice” concerning how I label myself: specifically “you’ve only seriously dated girls before so how do you know you like boys?”
And this, ladies and gentleman, is a very stupid question that you REALLY should not ask your bisexual/pansexual friends because it is as silly as “bisexuality isn’t real” does. Next time you want to ask someone this, PLEASE be aware of this: it’s like asking a straight person who’s never had a serious girl/boyfriend “how do you know you like girls/boys?”
… except, of course, that would never happen because if it was to a straight person, you would seem like a jackass. Dx Damn you and your double-standards, society.
Intersex: the Final Coming Out Frontier
Note: Before I get started, I want to stop & thank all of you who are following my blog— you rock! It’s so great for intersex visibility. thank you, thank you, thank you!!! :)
Last week, before my okcupid-induced outing, I realized I was going to have to come out again, but not in the usual way. I’d found my date in a “girls who like girls” online search, so I obviously didn’t need to come to her as queer. But if I wanted to be able to talk about my work, as one usually does on first dates, I did need to come out as intersex.
Like most people, she’d heard the word, but didn’t know exactly what it meant. Just imagine that for a moment. Coming out as LGB or T can be bad enough sometimes, but at least people know what it is!
Most everyone today knows that some people love the same sex, and that some feel more like the opposite sex than the one they were raised as, but intersex people make us think outside these binary views because we’re talking about being neither male or female to begin with. It’s the double-whammy of coming out as intersex: one, people don’t know what it is; and two, what it is is something that messes with lots of people’s entire worldview.
Intersex people have an actual congenital difference in biological sex, and we’ve been around as long as everyone else. As Plato said way back when, “…the original human nature was not like the present, but different. The sexes were not two as they are now, but originally three in number; there was man, woman, and the union of the two, having a name corresponding to this double nature, which had once a real existence, but is now lost…” http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/symposium.html.
But why has our existence been so well hidden that even my date, a lesbian librarian from San Francisco, didn’t know what we are? Well, for starters, in a society opposed to things like marriage equality because of ideas about what it is to be “real men” or “real women”, acknowledging that humans aren’t all male or female in the first place throws a big monkey-wrench in the hetero-normative equation.
In fact, in an Amicus Brief submitted to the Supreme Court for the recent Prop 8 hearings, lesbian biology professor and author Maria Nieto (http://www.thelatinoauthor.com/authors/N/Nieto-Maria/) examined how the existence of intersex people supports marriage equality. She pointed out how absurd the “between a man and a woman” concept is considering that, scientifically speaking, “man” and “woman” are invented categories. http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/supreme_court_preview/briefs-v2/12-144_resp_amcu_dmn.authcheckdam.pdf
Yet, even though intersex people can and have been used to support equality for gays and lesbians, we’re often forgotten in the struggle. For example, most “LGBT” organizations in the U.S. have yet to add the “I”, despite the fact that we’re on the frontlines of homophobia. By this I mean that because our differences are noticeable at birth, the parts of our bodies deemed “queer” by hetero-normative standards are often chopped right off.
The practice is called “normalizing” surgery, and I’m lucky — scratch that, I’m blessed — to have escaped it. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say that, unlike many of my intersex siblings, I don’t have the loss the sexual sensation and/or function, or the psychological wounds, caused by medically unnecessary treatments meant to “correct” me.
So what’s it like coming out as an intersex adult with an androgynous body? In one word: bizarre. I’m basically telling people that my physical sex traits are different than what they’re used to. Specifically, that my actual genitals are different from most women’s. That’s pretty damn personal.
However, while this might be T.M.I. for some people, I’m old enough to remember that coming out about sexual orientation used to be too, because you’re telling people about how you have sex. I still remember the “I don’t want to know what they do in bed” comments. But those early gay and lesbian activists dealt with the discomfort so others wouldn’t have to later.
I’ve been doing the same thing with intersex, and now I’m reaching out and asking folks not to forget the “I” in LGBTQI. Reminding people that biological sex is a continuum, just like the rainbow in our flag, helps us all. It also makes it easier for intersex folks to come out, and for parents to choose to accept their kids, if people know what intersex is (and if you need help explaining, please see, “Brief Guidelines for Interex Allies” http://oii-usa.org/category/for-allies/).
Speaking of, I’m happy to report that once I got the intersex definition squared away with my date, she didn’t care at all. In fact, we even made plans for a second.
Coming out. Still not so straightforward.
Yesterday Tory Shepherd wrote an article on The Punch about how if, in a purely hypothetical situation, she was gay (which she’s not, don’t get her wrong) she would proudly be out to the world, no ifs or buts about it. So why, she mused, did it take Magda Szubanski so long into her career to come out publicly? She’s a well-respected member of a tolerant industry. It’s no big deal anymore, right?
Well, not exactly.
It’s very easy to announce “I’m straight,” when someone queries your sexuality. It’s a statement that most people will never have to say and an answer that won’t generally lead to further questioning. When you’re heterosexual this aspect of your personal life will likely not define you in the eyes of others from then on.
Saying “I’m gay,” regardless of how confident and secure you are with it, shifts the perceptions people have of you. Your friends and family can love and accept you 100% as the person you are and still manage to put your sexuality above your other personal qualities. Or find a way to relate your interests (or lack of interests) and qualities to your sexual preference. This is something many heterosexuals would no doubt find irrelevant if applied to them and, in some instances, insulting. But everyone has that “gay friend” they refer to in anecdotes; often regardless of whether sexuality is even relevant to the story.
There are a great many people in the LGBTI community who are fine with and embrace their sexuality as a very public and important part of what defines them. This is something that should always be admired. Regardless of their profession or whether or not they have a profile in gossip mags, these are people for the queer and questioning to look up to. But in turn what we then need to remember is that this is a choice strictly for the individual to make in their own time and their own way. Being a role model or openly discussing sexuality is not something gay people are automatically good at or should even find necessary to take on. It should never, ever be put upon them that these are the expectations of broader society.
Being in the public eye amplifies the personal aspects of your life at the best of times whether you like it or not. This is true regardless of your sexuality. Yet there also seems to be an unwritten rule that being openly homosexual gives the media, your industry peers, and the public permission to quite casually define you by this one aspect of your life. How often do you see the name of a famous heterosexual preceded by their sexual preference in a news article?
The fact is discrimination and homophobia is still rampant. Including in the entertainment industry. People often hold Ellen Degeneres up as an example of a successful and respected openly gay woman. In doing that you also need to remember that when she first came out at quite a high point in her initial success she was shunned by her peers, the industry, and the public. It took a lot of hard work, guts, and spirit for her to get to where she is now. Yet still you have people protesting as recently as last month the decision to appoint her as spokesperson for a company they believe doesn’t, or shouldn’t, cater to people of a certain sexual orientation.
Our sexuality is often a very private part of all our lives regardless of where orientation lies. How far we go in discussing these things with friends, family, employers or strangers should be the choice of the individual and the individual only. Disclosing your orientation should not suddenly be an obligation simply because you’re in the public eye and not heterosexual.
Those who choose to come out while in a perceived queer-friendly industry such as film and television are still putting themselves out there into a broader society that can and will vocalise their views against them. To think this couldn’t easily have a negative effect on an individual’s self worth or career is naïve.
Being thought of as gay by other people because they’re a bit of a tomboy, or a man who likes showtunes, does not give a straight person any more of an idea of what they would do if they were actually gay and faced with the decision of when, how and why to come out. Nor does having a whole army of gay friends. The insinuation that they have somehow gained an insight into the “other side” because someone thought they might be gay is quite frankly offensive.
To take someone’s incredibly brave decision to come out publicly as a chance to muse on why it took so long, and accusing those still in the closet of passive self-loathing - when there is nothing at all passive about those feelings - is nothing less than bullying and will not at all reassure others that when it is their time to come out, they’ll be given the love and support so desperately still needed from that “straight friend” of theirs.
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