Coming (further) out, or not

My Facebook newsfeed today brought a recent initiative called Come Out, Come Home (COuCH) to my attention. This appears to be a project by Sayoni in partnership with International Coming Out Day, and a platform for Singaporeans who have come out to share their stories – where, to whom, and how they came out; subsequent reactions; dealing with fallout etc. I quite liked that it was for both LGBTQ people and allies – coming out as an ally is no less significant (or terrifying!).

After reading both the stories currently posted on the website (from Ding Tai Boon and Stephanie Wong) I ate a bit more of my avocado and waited for a rush of motivation to be more out to hit me.

Nothing happened.

The idea and stories were lovely, of course, but I just wasn’t feeling particularly enthusiastic about the idea. I wasn’t strongly against it, but it didn’t really call to me the way it might have a year ago. Still, I dragged myself over to their pledge form, and filled out most of it before I paused and gave up. Only later did I realize that this didn’t feel quite right because I was trying too hard to do being gay* ‘right’ all over again.

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Also, the orientation I filled in was ‘panromantic and vaguely asexual (but don’t feel comfortable identifying as “queer”)’, yes it’s all a bit needlessly complicated and no ‘panromantic’ doesn’t feel right either. My search for the right label continues.

Still, after I closed the form I continued to feel bad about it for quite a while. Why didn’t I want to come (further) out? Was it shame? Fear? Was I not comfortable enough with my own attractions to make them more public?

I think that the last is definitely a reason, but it’s not really that I’m ashamed of liking people who aren’t men. It’s more of that…I’ve liked one person who wasn’t a man, and I haven’t felt that way about anyone else yet. The small sample size makes it hard to tell if it was a ‘one exception’ kind of thing, and having your first love be nonbinary is a bit confusing. I haven’t actually liked any men yet, not by my definition of the word, (although I might have something like a borderline squish on one, a very mild and low-intensity version of the irrational infatuations I’ve had in the past). But then again, although I’ve thought ‘wow she is super cute’ both IRL and in response to pictures a couple of times, I’ve never ever had any degree of romantic interest in a woman.

Not being totally sure about the genders and sexes I like is confusing enough, but there’s the nature of my affections as well: my romantic interest in E only developed after I became their girlfriend, and because of aforementioned guy I’m starting to think that this might be the case with everyone (either that or I’m in denial about being romantically attracted to people).

And then there’s my asexuality, except I think it might be demisexuality, but wait how do we define sexual attraction, and yeah I definitely have no idea what I’m dealing with here.

I don’t have enough data to draw conclusions from, and my own feelings aren’t quite clear enough for me to be able to make any statements with confidence. And coming out…requires confidence, I think.

Not necessarily the loud and flamboyant kind of pride that so many people associate with the LGBT community. But a quiet aplomb, belief in yourself and who you are and that it’s okay for you to be who you are, I think you need that to be ready to come out. I have some of that, in that I’m pretty sure I’m not heterosexual, but it’s difficult to define myself as anything else. Someone once pointed out that ‘not straight’ was demeaning by virtue of being a relative definition that enforced heteronormativity, but sometimes, that’s all you can really be sure of.

The question that tripped me up in the COuCH form was ‘I will come out to ___’: I was imagining sitting various groups of people down and telling them ‘yo, I’m not straight’. No, actually, that’s a lie. I couldn’t even imagine how I’d do it, because I don’t know how to!

I think the second reason I don’t want to be more out is that I’m very comfortable with my current level of outness. In real life, I’ve never explicitly come out to anyone other than my parents (hahahaha NOT a good idea), but my friends are all aware of it to varying degrees – our group-chat-SMS things bore a substantial amount of my in-love giddiness and post-breakup sadness, after all, and I talk to them about LGBT stuff once in a while. I’ve mentioned having a ‘partner’ or ‘my ex’ to friendly acquaintances whose opinions of me I don’t really care about, and when they inevitably ask if the use of ‘they’ means I’m polygamous, I explain nonbinary gender to them. I’m more or less out at school, where it’s generally safe to assume that everyone isn’t straight anyway. And – this is sort of funny now – a year ago, I had a self-defence class the Friday before E and I broke up. I was pretty much in pieces by then, and in a fit of emotion I came out after class to a random 20-something guy whose name I can’t remember. He was probably pretty startled, heh.

In the spheres where being out is a bit more risky: I’m publicly LGBT-positive and have been for years; I used to write to the papers whenever people got too trigger-happy with their homophobia (only got published once, though…) and my online identities finally began publicly supporting LGBT news and organizations this year. I think that if my colleagues at work asked directly, I wouldn’t pretend to be straight. Still, I write this blog pseudonymously for a reason (although my writing voice is rather distinctively rambly). And I would be more wary of coming out to anyone above the age of 30.

I suppose that for all intents and purposes, I am out to the people who need to know. That’s a good way to put it – I’m out on a need to know basis.

Most people assume I’m straight, and I never have a need to tell them otherwise, because they don’t ask me about it. They’ll ask me about whether I have a boyfriend (no), when am I going to get a boyfriend (if someone suitable shows up), are there any nice boys who’ve caught my eye at school (not really no). Often, after being questioned like this, I get a very strong urge to come out to them. But I usually sit through these quietly and wait for the impulse to pass.

I suppose the third reason I don’t feel motivated to be more out was that it honestly doesn’t seem that relevant to me. My orientation has, a bit ironically if you’ve known me for more than two years, become a pretty important part of my current identity. But it’s a bit like how I don’t go telling people that I’m an artist unless the context calls for it (I can completely imagine that if not for Facebook, 95% of my friends wouldn’t know that I like to draw). Who I like is who I like – there’s no need to go telling people about it unless they ask. This works both ways: I feel strongly that people wouldn’t be interested in my personal life either, so bringing it up would be both sort of awkward and generally useless.

Tai Boon writes on COuCH that

[…] I discovered over time that the majority of people were objective and will evaluate you based on how well you did your job and not the details of your private life, and that made it easier to come out gradually to my men [in the military].

I surprised myself, but was nodding in agreement when I read this sentence. I don’t know how true his statement actually is; I don’t know how bad homophobic and transphobic discrimination is in Singapore. Perhaps when the results of the 2013 LGBT Census come out, we’ll have a clearer picture of how things are. And I have a hunch that the older generations are more likely to behave in a severely discriminatory manner (I’m thinking things like firing someone for no other reason) towards gender and sexual minorities. But the general attitude of younger Singaporeans that I have been exposed to is, while far from ideal, not quite as bad as before.

It seems to be one of tolerance instead of outright hostility: one of my 19-year-old classmates objected violently to my suggestion (made half in jest) that our class go to Pink Dot together, and said that ‘I don’t think we should discriminate them [sic] but we shouldn’t encourage them’. A 35-ish man who recently won the highest national award for youth leadership told me he was in three minds about the LGBT issue; although he didn’t approve, he agreed that there was nothing you could do if someone was born that way, and that they shouldn’t be discriminated against. He added that from a pragmatic standpoint, he knew that the ‘war’ (how I hate that word in this context!) was lost in Singapore, and that he was backing down – as long as they didn’t start campaigning for marriage. (It was a words and religion issue; he was fine with civil unions and full civil rights, so I didn’t press further.)

So, yeah. Coming out further – to the public, to work, to government people who aren’t my friends – doesn’t feel relevant to me because I don’t really care and I don’t think they really care either. Personally, I’m more worried about people mis-orienting me after deciding from my Facebook posts that I’m not straight. I have a very strong aversion to being described as a lesbian or gay woman, because that’s not what I am (for now). This aversion is closely followed by hoping that people don’t assume that I’m allosexual. I suppose coming out reduces the chances of that happening. It’s not a strong enough motivator for me, though.

What is quite motivating is this reason that COuCH posts on their website:

By Coming Out and being a visible member of the community, you are making a difference in creating social change and acceptance. In the long run, the more out people are, the more positive public attitudes are likely to be.

I’ve noticed that I tend to be more obviously not-straight when I’m with other young Singaporeans. I’ll be a bit more obviously interested in LGBT things and feminism, or sometimes I’ll just out myself (not always intentionally…I get carried away). A sense of safety is definitely not the reason I do this. Instead, I hope that if there’s someone who is closeted or questioning or beating themself up about not being straight around me, that person will notice me and what I’m doing, and come to talk to me, or at least feel better about not being alone. No one has talked to me yet – wait, actually, one person has. Huh. That’s kind of cool, I guess.

It feels a bit selfish to not make a bolder move in the face of this reason, to stay where I am with my semi-public-but-really-mostly-private level of outness. But the plan I’ve had for a while now is to save my public coming-out moment for when I’m in a position of enough influence that it will make a substantial difference to the people who really need it. And then to repeat that every time my influence grows or changes.

Assuming I can get there…!


* I’m not actually gay, but this is such a convenient turn of phrase.

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