Coming out is rough, man. It’s not like coming-of-age Hollywood where one day you wake up, decide to wear all your rainbow clothing and rock up to school confidently. It’s an anxiety-ridden process of sitting in your parents’ car on mufti day to see if everyone else is also wearing mufti. Except this time, you’ve packed multiple backup outfits in your bag, including your uniform and you’re definitely wearing your hoodie as you walk in because you’re too self-conscious about your outfit even though it’s 28 degrees. There’s a lot of emotional baggage (backpacks included) that comes with coming out. We don’t spend all that time in the closet for nothing. Do we have emotional damage? Yeah, but at least now we can be fashionable and queer.
In the ideal world, coming out is so easy that there isn’t even a need to anymore. I keep waking up hoping that people will get my pronouns right without me having to over-explain that aesthetic and identity are only partially linked. While society has become less hostile (in the Western world) to LGBTQIA+ communities, it still seems like they expect to put in minimal effort into actually understanding the community. Everything is a tick box of gay, straight, she/her, they/them, instead of recognising sexuality and gender identity as various fluid gradients. I’m sure you’ve heard this before but it’s not just a switch that turns on overnight. Instead, it begins as a small idea—an inkling. Just like when you decide what to wear, non-cishet identities emerge when we try different combinations based on how we feel. Like our tastes for fashion, our taste for partners (or lack of) and what pronouns we choose develop gradually over time. Sometimes the parts that we look for are hidden away in the back but that doesn’t mean they’re any less valid than the newest addition.
Does this top make me look gay?
A big indicator of my queerness was my obsession with women growing up. My dad was extremely out of touch with Western pop culture leading to an 8-year-old me obsessively watching Glee and playing Bratz on the Playstation 2. I watched every Barbie movie religiously, ooh-ing and aah-ing over the outfits and princes. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realised the princes were as boring as white bread and I was just crushing on Barbie. Unsurprisingly, I crushed majorly on Kim and Shego and I didn’t realise that not everyone likes Ben AND Gwen Tennyson. I could never voice these thoughts though. I went to a primary school where you got laughed at if you were different (kids were mean) and even though no one said anything, I knew I was meant to love Gwen because she was cool and badass and a girl but not in a “I have a crush on you” kinda way. So, I kept very quiet about my queer awakenings and watched Britney Spears videos in bed after my parents went to sleep.
No mum, I don’t need a jacket.
Your parents think they know best and sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t though (which as I’m getting older, I’ve realised is totally normal). Growing up, my dad was my world and much like how I feared being laughed at by my peers, I was scared that my dad wouldn’t react well to my queerness. It didn’t help that he had grown up in an extremely conservative era where queerness was shunned. Also, I didn’t know how to explain all I was feeling in Mandarin. So, I sucked it up, ignored it, and proceeded to never think about it again. It took me the greater part of the past 10 years to finally become comfortable with my sexuality. It took me nearly all 10 years to realise that positive responses to my sexuality were not ALL people fetishising me. To everyone who is still in the closet and figuring out their sexualities—I see you. I’m sorry if you feel like you can’t be honest about who you are and I’m excited if you’re still figuring out who you are. I hope you remember that your presence is an honour, and that people are so lucky to be in your life. Being a part of someone’s coming out process is such an honour and not a right that people can buy based on how long they’ve been in your life. You don’t owe any of your friends or peers anything.
I did, however, come out to my friends in high school and that was a beautifully liberating process. Even if I no longer talk to them, I want them to know that coming out to them as a small(er) awkward 14-year-old was a pivotal role in my security in my identity today. A less wholesome yet still pivotal role was realising that half of me lives inside the closet and half of me lives outside it. While I have my pronouns tattooed on my hand and openly share about my partners, sometimes it feels like society’s been conditioned to put in that effort when it’s easy. I end every email with my pronouns in brackets hoping that people will read the signature yet also bite my lip when people use feminine coded language like ‘girl’ or ‘queen’ or ‘lady’. Sometimes existing out of the closet means picking your battles and it is not your responsibility as a queer person to educate your peers.
Okay I’m ready…
I don’t think I’m ready to leave this closet yet. Not in a way where I’m not anxiously checking for spots and stains every 5 minutes. I hope to one day be at this point where I’m comfortable enough to correct strangers about my pronouns and to finally come out to my parents. Is it weird that my work misgenders me despite the fact that we are rainbow approved? Yeah, a little, but being in the closet is varying degrees of undress and that includes being comfortable in one’s gender identity yet not being publicly open about it. Pride comes in many forms. Mine just happens to be oversharing in a university student magazine to an audience of strangers, peers, and friends.
To all my gays, baes, and theys: get dressed, we’ve got things to accomplish.