I stand on the shoulders of giants. Men and women and transfolks who came before me, fought the impossible fights, loved with great passion and depth, and made the amazingly brave choice to be who they were authentically. I am who I am and can live how I live because people before me took risks, embraced who they are, and loved.
When I was eleven, I watched The Life and Times of Harvey Milk on PBS in San Jose, CA. I had not come into much knowledge of my own sexuality. I had kissed my first boy and had a crush on a girl in junior high but that was the extent of what I understood sexuality to be. I didn’t know that gay was weird or different (how my religious parents managed that one, I have no idea but am eternally grateful). I didn’t understand that gender mattered to people in choosing a romantic partner. I watched the film and I listened to the history. It was my first exposure to gay history or icons.
The quote atop this piece has stayed with me every day since then and has become my mantra. At the time, I didn’t understand the community politics and history behind this quote. What I knew was this amazing and funny man loved his community, loved people, and loved his country. To make things right he took risks, over and over and over again to make it possible for more people to love and live authentically.
To me, at eleven and today at 41, I really see no higher purpose than this. Living authentically and loving people is why we are here. I have been lucky enough that I could come out as bisexual at 14 and later as kinky and submissive and be open about this only because other people literally put their lives on the line for me. It would be a betrayal to generations not to be honest about who I am.
I have been open about a lot of my life for a very long time. One of the greatest compliments I receive from people is, “I feel okay being who I really am around you.” I know that many, many people feel a need to either hide things or put up a false front for others in order to feel safe in the world. They deeply believe that if they are honest about who they are, they will loose their job, or their relationships, or their children, or their lives.
Many times, they are not wrong about this. In most states, people can still be fired for being openly gay. In almost all states, you can be fired simply for being trans. There are thousands of divorce cases where the judge uses involvement in the kink community or being non-monogamous to deny custody of children. Many states still permit “conversion” therapy for gay youth.
In 2012, there were 293,800 hate crimes reported in the United States. The Bureau of Justice statistics estimate that this represents approximately 30 percent of all actual crimes motivated by hate. Victim perceptions of what motivated these crimes include 26 motivated by gender, 13 percent for sexual orientation, and 7 percent because of perceived characteristics (for definitions and methodology, read this). Hate crimes are more violent in nature than crime not motivated by hate. Ninety percent of hate crimes are violent while on 25 percent of non-hate motivated crime is violent. Being who you are and living openly can be dangerous.
I have opted to be open about who I am and take the risks I have for two primary reasons. First, I want to live authentically and embrace who I really am. I hate lying about and hiding fundamental aspects of who I am. Second, I owe a debt to the people who came before me and took much greater risks so that I could be as free as I am.
Every time I have thought about lying about something fundamental about me since I was eleven, I hear Milk’s words. People have applied them to the LGBT movement, and rightly so. Milk was enormously committed to this community and worked toward justice and freedom for LBGT folks. For me, it applies much more broadly. He said EVERY closet door.
I have come out of a lot of closets. Bi/pan-sexual, kinky, submissive, bipolar, porn lover, cat hater and more. I do this because I believe being okay with who you are and open with who you are allows others to do the same. When you hide who you are, the message to others is, “My identity in this area, what I do, how I live is not acceptable.” Additionally, “If you are like me, you should be ashamed and hide who you are.”
When we force people to hide and lie, we create isolation. There is little that is more detrimental to human beings than isolation. There is a new book out, Chasing the Scream, which argues very effectively that isolation is the fundamental cause of addiction. Isolation exacerbates mental illness. It is a precursor to suicide. It creates all sorts of unhealthy habits. If you do not have a community and you believe who you are, at your core, is fundamentally something to hide and be ashamed of, the damage to the psyche and health is extraordinary.
In reality, many sexualities and relationship styles can be healthy. I am ardently against pedophilia and bestiality and don’t find any possibility of those sexualities being healthy. But monogamy, non-monogamy, vanilla, kink, gay, straight, bi, pan, trans, fluid, weird birthday sex, and all the like can be healthy. However, it is hard to know if you are engaging in healthy behavior if you have to do it in isolation.
Living authentically means aligning who you are at your core with how you live and what you present to the world. This takes time. We are not born knowing who we are. We grow and change. We deal with the pressures of fitting in and being socially acceptable. It takes time and practice to align who you know you are with what you present the world. Many people never get to this point. They see the benefits of presenting a certain image to the world and they cultivate the public perception even as it chafes against who they are at the core. The benefits are too great to justify the risk to them to live as they really are.
I talk to a lot of people about this disconnect. They see the real and perceived risks of being open about being kinky or poly or gay or whatever. I have seen this path lead down a couple of roads. The most common is that this need to hide takes effort. The lying and eliding of truths takes up brain bandwidth and takes an emotional toll. Feelings of guilt and shame mount and impact relationships.
Others choose to live authentically only in small parts of their lives. They find a community where they are accepted and will go to social events and hang out with people that allow them to be who they are. These moments help relieve the stress and make them feel “normal” for a moment. When they cannot meet with members of their community because other obligations interfere, there is a loss and sadness. When they are out in public, there is a fear of running into people from their community.
In the kink community, we actually have a code. If we see someone we met at a kink event and they are with an unknown person or their kids, we don’t acknowledge each other. If, for some reason, we interact with them and there is a third party there, we generally say we know each other from an old book club. This is necessary for people who are not open about who they are. However, it promotes the idea that who we are is shameful and to be hidden.
Coming Out as Service
I am a service submissive. My great joy comes from doing acts of service to my partners and my community. I view coming out as kinky and pan and submissive as parts of this service. My level of risk tolerance is higher than most. I am in a position where I can take the risks of living openly. I do this both for my own sanity and because it allows others to see that they are not “weird” or “sick” or something to be ashamed of.
Coming out is an act of self-love and love of your community. There are lots of ways to come out. There are risks and rewards. There are smart and dumb ways to do it. It will be different for everyone. I see it as absolutely necessary.
Milk and thousands of other people have been murdered simply for being who they are. We need to honor their legacies and live openly. To do anything less is to diminish these sacrifices. You stand on the shoulders of giants. Come out, come out, whoever you are.