by Rory Wong Jacobs
Coming out is is a constant process, not just a single event.
I came out the way most 17 year-olds with a Facebook did: a long-winded post letting people know that I was bisexual (and then pansexual, and then genderfluid, and then, just queer) and what that meant for me. 17 year-old me conceptualized bisexuality as equal attraction to (only) men and women.
This lead to two things: a lot of confusion towards myself about what my identity really meant to me and an influx of questions from my peers. There are prevailing notions that bisexuality is a myth, that people are faking it, and that we as women are doing it to get men’s attention. I found myself with this anxiety that no matter what I did, people were going to assume that I liked one gender over the other. I felt like if I liked a girl, I’d have to like a boy next, or I would have an unequal attraction and therefore not really be bisexual.
My coming out story became a thing of public discussion. I got questions like: how were my parents taking it? How were my grandparents taking it? Did I like men? Did I like women? Was I really bisexual? Was I really just a lesbian? Was I a boy or a girl? Truthfully, I didn’t have the answers to these questions but I felt like I had to answer them. But it revealed that there was this deep desire by non-queer people to know every aspect of a queer person’s life. Once someone is marked as non-straight or non-cisgender, their identity ceases being theirs.
This sense of voyeurism is present in many interviews on TV, like when Katie Couric interviewed Carmen Carrera and asked her about “the pain she had undergone from all of the surgeries [she’s had]”. Carrera avoids the topic of genital surgery and says, “I don’t want to talk about it, it’s really personal” (advocate.com).
Though it is simple, it seems the hardest to say. “I don’t want to talk about it, it’s really personal”. We as queer people do not owe people our personal stories and trauma. I have told my own story of navigating my queer identity over and over and over again. I have answered the same questions about my identity again and again. I wish I had known when I was 17 that I didn’t have to come out, that I didn’t have to answer people’s questions, that I didn’t have to tell everyone whenever some facet of my identity has changed.
At 20, I find my identity in flux again but it feels harder to talk openly without feeling other people’s eyes constantly watching and judging. The problem with coming out is that queer people don’t have autonomy over their own identity. When something changes, it is continually pointed out as a marker that they were lying about a previous label or that their identity is a phase and they’ll grow out of it. I want to find power in my own changing identity as a queer woman of color. I want other people to know that no matter how open or private they are, their identity belongs to them and solely them.