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“Look, Becina, this room has two closets: one for your clothes, and one for you!”
One of my friends told me this a few weeks ago as we toured upperclassmen dorms. I couldn’t stop laughing for the rest of the tour. Nothing beats a good closet joke.
Later, I was relaying this joke to one of my queer friends, who laughed and then asked in all seriousness, “But, do you actually consider yourself to be closeted?”
Well, yes and no.
Being partially closeted is a huge part of my identity. It affects how I think about myself, what I share about myself, and my relationships with other people.
People tend to view the closet as a temporary state that every queer person should want to get out of, where the end goal is to come out to the world. And in a way, I see where that line of thinking began—plenty of people do feel trapped in the closet, desperate to escape. But we need to recognize that escape isn’t always the best or safest option for each individual. We celebrate people who found the courage to come out, but forget about the equally courageous people who found ways to embrace their queer identities without coming out to everyone. Consequently, we ignore the very valid reasons people have for not coming out, such as personal safety or privacy.
For me, there are two main categories of people who I’m not out to. The first is those whom I’ve made an active decision to not come out to due to concerns for my personal well-being and safety. These are people in my life who are so unaccepting that I might never come out to them in order to preserve my own comfort and happiness. It comes down to this: I have a finite amount of time and energy, and I’d rather spend it on spreading love and seeking fulfillment over trying to crack open a tightly jammed closet door. Of course, that’s not ideal, and I will spend the rest of my life fighting anti-queer sentiment in our society in the hopes that the next generation doesn’t face the same intolerance. But, I can do all that without coming out to every single person in my life; remaining partially closeted and advocating for equality are not mutually exclusive.
And then the second category is the people who I’m just incidentally not out to, which spans classmates, professors, and random strangers I pass on the street. I haven’t actively decided to not tell them; there are just a variety of factors influencing why it hasn’t come up. First off, I don’t feel like I need to come out, so I tend to not force the conversation. The idea that I have to intentionally come out to the world reinforces the assumption that other people are entitled to know details about my private life.
Some people choose to be very vocal about their queerness, and that’s a wonderful way to increase representation and raise awareness for BGLTQ issues. But no one should feel obligated to do that. I tend to speak more openly about being queer on online platforms (such as this column) or in queer-specific spaces, but I’m wary of randomly bringing it up in most conversations, mostly due to my complete ineptitude in coming out smoothly and effortlessly.
The truth is, coming out is one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever done. It’s more uncomfortable than the time I tripped and nearly fell onstage during graduation, the time I accidentally called my teacher “Mr. Right,” and even the time I went snowboarding in a strapless bra which kept slipping down to my waist. I’d rather do all of those things in the same day than come out to anyone ever again. I’ve come out dozens of times, and yet, each time, it catches me off guard. Something about being explicitly queer, I mean clear, about a topic I tend to dance around is incredibly off-putting.
I’ve tried just blurting out, “I’m queer,” but that feels highly inorganic and forced. Alternatively, I’ve tried dropping hints that I like girls, but it takes a lot of mental energy to set up a conversation where I can bring up my attraction to the same gender in a seemingly natural way. Plus, this method usually leads people to think I’m a lesbian, which may or may not actually be true.
Because of these difficulties, I usually opt to just not come out to someone unless it either comes up naturally or there’s a specific reason they need to know. However, my nondisclosure can lead a lot of people to assume that I’m straight.
At the very beginning of the school year, some of my new friends (who are straight girls) were talking about hook-ups, and somehow everyone started sharing whether they planned on hooking up with any guys. When I was the only one left who hadn’t said anything, all eyes turned to me. “Well, Becina, what about you?” I froze. I don’t quite remember when I did next, but I’m sure it was some combination of incoherent mumbling and avoiding eye contact.
I came out to all of them a week later.
In hindsight, I did feel a bit of pressure to come out to them, if only to avoid any potential repeats of the same awkwardness. I also ran the slight risk that one of them would be homophobic or treat me differently after I came out. But, I weighed the pros and cons and then made a choice that was right for me.
Perhaps other queer people would have reacted differently in my shoes—some may have used the question about the hookup as an opportunity to come out, others may not have come out at all, while others may have avoided the situation entirely by coming out much earlier in the friendship. And that’s perfectly okay. Coming out is very personal and means different things to different people. We should be mindful of other people’s experiences and not place value judgments on their decisions because, ultimately, it is up to each individual to determine if, how, why, and when they want to come out. I am partially closeted, but I have my hand on that door knob, wielding the power to open and close the closet door as I see fit. And no one can take that power away from me.
Becina J. Ganther ’20 is a Crimson editorial editor in Wigglesworth Hall. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.
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