Advice

WAfyWF: On Being Quietly Queer

Question:

I am pan but have been in almost exclusively cis/ m/f relationships. Being a part of a community (derby) that is full of wonderful, open people is a part of my life that I love. However sometimes I feel like I am not queer enough; that I haven’t proven myself enough, or am not loud enough. But I am not loud about my personal life, doing so makes me uncomfortable. 

How do I reconcile being quietly queer in a loud community?

Answer: 

I’m sorry to hear you feel this way. I’ve felt it, too, and it sucks. The whole idea that you have to be queer enough to fit in is disheartening. And it’s also absurd since the word queer started out meaning something that just didn’t fit in. So let’s start here: There’s no right or wrong way. Just be you. 

What does it mean to be queer enough or not queer enough? People bond over what we have in common, so there’s something to be said for being out among friends, but that doesn’t mean you have to shout it from the rooftops if that’s not your style. Are queer folks supposed to dress a certain way, or is there perhaps a quota for how many times per day we mention it? Granted, I totally know people who can’t get through a conversation without mentioning how gay they are. I once knew a woman who constantly said things like, “you guys, I am so gay…” and I felt like I was supposed to congratulate her for figuring it out. It stopped being funny pretty quickly. Just because you’re queer doesn’t mean you’re required to make it your whole identity. It’s part of who you are, just like being an athlete is part of who you are. Your career aspirations are part of who you are, along with your decisions about getting married, having children, and voting. You get to emphasize the parts of yourself that are the most important to you, and their priority may shift over time. 

Part of the struggle of being pansexual in a straight-looking relationship is that for many of us, it feels like a big piece of who we are gets erased, and a lot of people think pansexuals and bisexuals aren’t even real or are “just confused.” As a teen, one of the reasons I didn’t want to come out was because I kept hearing that it was “trendy” to be bisexual, and I was afraid of having people think I was just trying to be cool. Even as an adult, I’m sometimes hesitant to be friendly with women who identify as lesbians because I’m married to a man, and I’m afraid that in their eyes, that makes me an outsider. You already know this, but I’ll say it for the people in the back: Your sexuality is not a trend, a rebellious phase, an act, or training wheels to coming out as “actually gay,” whatever that means. 

The other thing about being “queer enough” is that queer is also a political word. For example, I recently read this article called “Gay White Men Need to be Queer Again,” which summarizes my own thoughts on the issue better than I can. When I asked myself if I was queer enough a few years ago, the answer was no, not because I wanted to fit in with anyone in particular, but because I felt personally compelled to own my queer identity and take the risk of being visible. I made the decision to come out as an adult because I was in a place in my life where I could afford to do so  — and yes, this is an example of privilege. For some people, it is still unsafe to come out. I believe that visibility matters, so that by being visible, I hope to make it safe for others to do the same. Not everyone has that privilege. If it doesn’t feel safe for you to come out, don’t. But I hope that one day you can. I’m rooting for you, and meanwhile, those of us who can afford to be visible are going to keep trying to make it safe for you. 

If, however, you are out but just not very noisy about it, that’s also fine. Sometimes we get really excited about rainbows and parades, and we just want to brag about being magical, and we can get a little carried away. Especially in the derby community. Lots of us are noisy and enthusiastic people in general, and that’s not really about being queer. That’s just another part of who we are. If that’s not who you are, please don’t let it be a reason you hold yourself apart from your friends. You’re allowed to be you, to be quietly queer, and to selectively share your thoughts with the people near you. If you feel compelled to be more visible as a pansexual person, online communities are a nice place to start dipping your toe in with the occasional silly meme and gradually start being part of a bigger conversation about current events and the fight for equality. Take your time in this process and take steps that feel authentic to you. 

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