When I was last dating a man, I talked long and loud about my queerness. I objectified female celebrities with the gusto of a barely post-pubescent male; I loudly debated the finer plot points of such luminous queer media as MTV’s Faking It; I was here and I was queer and I was proud, and god forbid anyone think I was straight, just because I was dating a man. I was all too familiar with that sort of misconception, but in reverse: when I had dated a woman for the first time, in my last year of high school, we had done that most high school of things and changed our relationship status on Facebook. This led a group of people – people who had known me over the course of multiple years and witnessed many ridiculously dramatic and public instances of romantic interest in men – asking me over and over again if I was a “lesbian, now”.
Being tacitly bisexual is a constant parade of those sorts of questions (as is being openly bisexual, unfortunately, but to a lesser extent). My unwillingness to announce my sexuality to everyone I met meant that when I was dating a woman, people assumed I was a lesbian, and when I was dating a man, people assumed I was straight.
And I was tired of it. I was tired of desperately trying to flip my self-presentation every time I was in a relationship, tired of worrying if I was queer enough, not to mention whether I seemed queer enough. Those worries became even more present when I became the co-editor in chief of my college’s only LGBTQ+ campus publication. How could I position myself as a leader in the queer community when I was in an ostensibly heterosexual relationship? Would anyone take me seriously as a queer advocate and writer if I happened to be dating a man come publishing time?
I was also tired of being a hypocrite. Every time a celebrity came out, I would laud them for providing more queer representation in popular culture and helping to normalize the queer experience. I criticized television shows and movies for clinging to outdated stereotypes of bisexual women, and hoped desperately that every rumour of a pop singer’s fluid sexuality would be confirmed. At the same time, I was semi-closeted. I myself could be the representation I so desperately sought, but instead I was taking the easy path and lying by omission.
This is not to say that anyone has an obligation to come out – whether they want to be a leader in the queer community, whether they want to demand more representation, whether they also passionately hope that Kristen Stewart really does like girls, or whether they just want to quietly live their lives. No one should ever put their mental or physical health at risk for the sake of coming out, nor should they feel even the slightest pressure to do so. But what was my excuse? I attend one of the most queer-friendly and liberal colleges in the world, and I come from a country that was the first in the world to legalize gay marriage and a province with an openly lesbian Premier.
So, on National Coming Out Day, I did it. I posted an overly long Facebook status, and received a flurry of likes, comments and touching messages from friends near and far. I am unbelievably lucky to have the support system that I do, and every texted heart emoji and extra-bright smile from a classmate meant the world to me. And hopefully, one of those half-forgotten middle school acquaintances saw my status and thought to themselves that maybe bisexuals weren’t the faithless succubi that television often makes them out to be.
But my great friends and family weren’t the only reason my coming out process was relatively painless. I am cis, financially well-off, and white – three things I did nothing to deserve, but that made it exponentially safer and easier for me to come out. My safety was not at risk. The most I had to endure was some snarky comments from acquaintances. But this is far from being the case for everyone.
At least 27 trans* people have been murdered so far this year. Many of these victims were people of colour. It is certain that many of their murders were motivated by transphobia, homophobia, and racism. We cannot allow this to continue. We need to advocate for trans* rights. Among many other things, this means making it easier and safer for people to legally change their names and gender, providing excellent healthcare to everyone, regardless of gender identity or presentation, and ensuring that trans* people are legally protected from harassment and discrimination in their workplaces and schools.
This untenable situation cannot be remedied by legislative change alone, however. It also demands a major cultural change. We can help to make this change by being conscious and respectful of our trans* friends and family members who have already come out, by using the name and pronouns they prefer. Even the simple act of respecting someone’s wishes can make the coming out process much easier. However, systemic transphobia is not easy to combat, and there is a long road ahead of us. It will require huge political, social and cultural changes before everyone can exercise their right to live their life freely and openly.
I was lucky and privileged enough to have a relatively painless coming out experience. Let’s make it that way for everyone.
KATIE is a Yale sophomore majoring in Literature with a focus on French and Ancient Greek. She spends her free time yelling about feminism and LGBTQ+ issues on the internet, and her primary life goal is to one day knit a sweater for her hometown hero, Drake.