Closets are a lonely space.
They’re dark and maybe safer.
Or so we tell ourselves from day to day, the more we hide, that it’s safer in there, in the dark, alone.
I was almost 30 when I finally let myself say I was bisexual. I’d only ever had a relationship with a man. My first crushes were on a girl and a boy both, when I was still in preschool. I wanted to marry the girl. She was the prettiest, so pretty, and for years I thought me asking my mom if I could marry Sunny was just a funny childhood anecdote.
I was 30 when, at a party, a straight man asked how I could possibly be bi when I hadn’t had sex with a woman yet. It was a party, and I was pretty drunk, and my neuroatypical brain was still processing the inappropriate question when my now-partner jumped in and said something like, “Dude, sexuality is not demonstrative. You were straight even before you stuck your dick in someone’s vagina.”
And I know that, I know that sexuality is not demonstrative. But I still felt this bizarre shame, this strangeness, this offness, this quiet, “But am I really if I can’t tick that box?”
And after I could, I felt validated, and I hated that I felt validated, like my having had sex with a woman was some kind of stamp in my sexuality passport and not an act of beauty and peace and warmth that needs no validation to be true.
I know that sexuality is who you are attracted to — it’s me having countless crushes on women and not knowing how to even parse it. It’s hearing that bisexuality is just gay training wheels. It’s being erased over and over and over again because of the boxes you’re supposed to tick for your sexuality to be counted as valid. It’s feeling like you’re not queer enough.
It’s being so surrounded by homophobia and hearing slurs over and over and over and having people drill into my head that queerness is sad and wrong and sinful that my brain, that my normally logical brain goes, “Well, I am attracted to men, therefore I must be straight.” It’s not realising that that’s not a complete thought until decades later.
It’s “we love the sinner and hate the sin” being touted as something beautiful and tolerant, when all it really says is “I cannot and will not love all of you” and “I do not love your identity” and “I will love you only if you do not love the way you love”.
It’s internalising all of that. Taking it inside yourself until that’s your companion in your closet, and until you feel more scared to come out to queer friends than to straight friends.
It’s dark and lonely in the closet, living with the fear that if you say, “I am one of you, and I hurt, I hurt, I hurt with you” someone will tell you no and say you don’t belong.
Biphobia is real. People don’t know what to make of bi people, and we don’t know what to make of ourselves a lot of the time.
Passing privilege is insidious, because while others don’t see our queerness when we hold hands with the person we love, they think we are one of them.
Last week at work an older man came up to me and said his name was L–, a name these days we perceive to be feminine, as if a name has an innate gender somehow, as if such a thing is natural and not imposed. He made a crack about how he uses the men’s room, and I was supposed to laugh.
In my head I thought about bathrooms and about my body, and about my gender identity and I thought about how I won’t always be cis-passing and I was supposed to laugh at this man’s jovial transphobia when I am trans, when my gender identity does not match the one assigned to me at birth, when people make those jokes in front of me because they don’t know and expect me to find it funny.
I joke about being a stealth queer sometimes because it’s easier that way, to laugh it off.
Each time I leave one closet behind lately, I feel like there’s another one to go through, get to know, feel how it traps me, and kick the door down. Or to stare silently at it from inside, memorising the grain of wood that forms this prison.
Each time someone calls me “girl” or “lady” or “woman” or “miss” I twitch just a bit, because that’s not me. I’m also not “sir” or “bro” or “mister”, but most people don’t know what to do with that, what to do with me. People I love misgender me, and I understand, because it’s easy to get used to speaking one way, and things slip out, and I know I’m cis-passing most of the time, so part of me thinks I should just get used to it, like if your name is Steve and someone calls you Samuel every day, day in and day out until you give up and wonder if maybe you are Samuel and they know you better than you know yourself.
But there’s always that little voice when it happens, that voice of “that’s not me.”
Here’s another closet door for me to kick down: I’m poly.
Because of that, i had a date with a woman last week. She and I walked around town after a wonderful dinner, and I wanted to hold her hand.
But everywhere we went, people were hollering at us. Men. Always men, hollering about our bodies, trying to get us to stop and talk to them, imposing in our conversations as if we owed them something, our attention, our smiles, when I just wanted to smile at her because she’s smart and incisive and bold and beautiful.
I was afraid to hold her hand. Afraid to ask if I could kiss her, because we were in public, and we are queer, and men think they own our bodies, and I am cis-passing, and those men see two women together even platonically and think we owe them.
I was scared enough walking back to my car alone. Had she and I kissed on that street corner, the way any male and female person could have kissed on that street corner, would I have made it back to my car safely?
I don’t know.
The next day my primary partner and I went on a date and walked those same streets.
I didn’t once feel unsafe, but I felt that my safety was somehow a lie.
When you are queer, you are never safe. There is only safer.
Closets are not much safer.
I’ve had conversations with a lot of closeted bi people in the past few days, since Orlando, since that reminder of how not safe we are.
All of them have expressed that they fear they are not queer enough to grieve. I’ve tried to tell them they are, because if they’re not, then I’m not.
Sexuality is not demonstrative. And even if it is, the only time we are then straight or bi or gay or pan is when we are in the actual act of sex with a person, because that defines us somehow, because this is bullshit to even type, but that’s the logical conclusion of believing sexuality is demonstrative, that we’re only straight when there’s a penis in a vagina and only queer when there’s some other combination happening and people don’t even think of queer sex as sex, for fuck’s sake.
If I make her come, I have made love to her. If there are hands or vulvas or tongues or clits or penises or breasts or scars from becoming self or bodies crackling with divine sexual energy or gasps of ecstasy or orgasms or being sweat-spent, that is sex, that is sex, that is sex.
She might have a penis, and that’s only my business if she wants me to touch her, to love her and her body. Just like my body is only the business of myself and the partners I invite to share it, because it is mine, and my gender identity is mine, and the sex I have with my body is still sex regardless of whose body is on the other side of it, and what beautiful pieces make them up.
Fuck the patriarchy for telling me anal is a workaround for maintaining the holy virginity that applies only to people with vaginas. Fuck the removal and erasure of queer bodies and queer sex. Fuck feeling we have to tick a box to be queer enough because we’re monogamous with someone of a different gender identity and the world thinks we’re straight, treats us like we’re straight, makes jovial homophobia and transphobia something that safely happens in front of us. Fuck the erasure of bi people for never having had a long enough, serious enough relationship with an eligible, queer-making person. Fuck the erasure of attraction, of looking at another human being and thinking how beautiful they are and how you don’t know how to parse the feeling, but you want to be closer to them, you want to get closer to them, you want closeness. With them. Fuck stamping all that down.
Fuck forced laughs from the closet.
You are queer enough.
Some queer people don’t know what it’s like to be afraid to hold their partner’s hand on the street. This is true, and this is not a value judgement. This makes them no less queer, and it makes their closets no less valid.
We are not competing for the street cred of how much we fear homophobia.
We all fear it.
We all know where it leads.
It leads to death, physical and metaphorical.
In closets we die small deaths every day.
To be out.
To be out is at once a privilege and a paroxysm of rebellion. Queerness is invisible. We are all presumed to be straight until proven otherwise.
To come out is an act of defiance. It is a risk.
But closets are dark and lonely things, and outside them there is also community.
We are social beings.
Yesterday I was filled with rage.
Saturday night I could not sleep. I lay wide awake in bed with my partner, my mind spinning with anxiety and fears. While I lay there, over a hundred people were shot in Orlando. I was awake while they died, and when I opened Facebook with the first rays of Sunday’s sun, I saw what had happened while I lay there in bed.
In my exhaustion and grief, I spent most of the day weeping.
When we leave a closet, we seek community and safety. We build places to be social with people to whom we have nothing to explain.
Where we can be, where we can exist, where we can hold hands and kiss.
It’s Pride Month.
I kept thinking that over and over again. Over and over and over again.
It’s Pride Month.
We call it Pride because we live so much in shame, because we live so much being shamed, and Pride is fighting back. Pride is waving our flags and saying that we are here and we deserve life.
It’s Pride Month.
This happened during Pride Month.
The voice in my head when I think that sentence is so small and full of fear.
It’s Pride Month.
To be hit right where you think you are safe, to be brutalised in a trusted space, to die with your community you fought so hard to find.
I’m thinking about people in closets, and how much I understand why they might not come out.
It feels safer in there.
And when there is no safe, safer seems like a choice to make.
I looked at their faces, and I’ve learned some of their names.
These beautiful, beautiful members of my queer family, of this community I’ve been part of since I was a kid, long, long before I ever came out, when I was being raised by two mothers and knew so many others, when I was surrounded with love and light and pride.
These beautiful people, most of them Latinx, this intersectional truth of the crime, that it came from many angles all at once.
I’m thinking of their families.
I’m thinking of their coming out. I have heard one of their coming out stories, about Juan Ramon Guerrero, whose surname means warrior, who was afraid his family would not accept him.
But they did.
I saw a picture he posted on Instagram, with his boyfriend Drew, a stitched picture of them with each of their families.
Their families, Drew’s and Juan’s, say they take comfort that these two lovers died together, if they had to die, because they belonged together.
I cannot quite form thoughts beyond that, that such a thing is what they must take comfort in.
Drew and Juan deserved to live long lives. They deserved to kiss and love and squabble and forgive and grow old.
I’m thinking of Eddie Justice saying, “I love you Mommy” from the bathroom he died in. I’m thinking of a friend telling me yesterday that whoever her child turns out to be, if her gender identity is not what was assigned to her, whoever she loves, whoever she is — that her baby should never have to send her a message like that.
No one’s baby should ever grow up to have to send a message like that.
Their families are going through the unimaginable.
Closets are lonely places. And in a time like now, we need each other.
We need each other.
I have needed my queer family like I need air.
I have needed my bi friends, my gay friends, my lesbian friends, my trans friends, my non-binary friends, my intersex friends, my asexual and aromantic friends, my friends who are many letters in that acronym or only one. I need this quiltbag of human beings because we all know what it’s like to be in closets. We all know the dangers of coming out.
It’s scary. It’s so scary. It’s terrifying because we know. We know the danger.
We live every day with the knowledge that there are people in this world who do not know us, but who think we deserve to die.
We don’t. We deserve to live our lives in peace and joy and love. We deserve freedoms and the same rights. We deserve to hold hands without fear. We deserve to dance without death.
Location: The Closet
Wherever You Are
In the past three days, and even before, you may have outed yourself to me. I am honoured that you trusted me.
You may also have stayed silent, and that’s okay too.
But this is for all of you, in your closets. I know you’re lonely. I know you’re scared. I know the pain you feel, because I feel it too. I know the pain of passing, because when you pass, you are not seen. You are invisible; you are not accepted. There is a difference.
I know you’re grieving, and you may not feel like you have a right to. You do. You have a right to grieve no matter who you are. And if you are in a closet, you are part of my QUILTBAG family. You are. I know you’re there. I know you are there. I love you, and if and when you are ready to come out, know that I will welcome you with love and that you will find community here.
Know that you can reach out to me, if you want. You can send a message from your closet, and I will listen. You can tell me how you feel about Orlando. You can tell me how you feel in general.
You may be lonely, but you’re not alone. We’re here, and we love you.
It might feel safer in there. I know that feel. I’ve felt that way too. And we know, we know, we know, that stepping outside of your closet can be dangerous. We know it so well. You never have to come out if you don’t want to.
I just want you to know that if you do, you will find welcome with me. You will be enough. You will be gay enough, bi enough, lesbian enough, trans enough, ace enough, intersex enough, pan enough, you are enough.
I love you, and I know you’re there. I love you so much I think my heart may burst.
You are allowed to grieve with us. I invite you to come love with us, wherever you are.