Wednesday, May 18, 2011

7 Things to Consider When Coming Out (as Anything)

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

7 Things to Consider When Coming Out (as Anything)

Yes, there are many identities you can claim and come out as. Besides the typical sexual identities that we’re all used to, many people also come out as having a different gender than the one people assume. Others may affirm something most people don’t recognize or that society has devalued. Some examples include coming out as: being fat, undocumented, asexual, polyamorous, or having a disability--whether it’s more visible (like using a wheelchair) or less visible (like having HIV or a mental illness). Though the following list doesn’t apply to all identities, it does expand the typical notion of “coming out,” and it serve as a challenge to many of us who think we have ourselves pretty much figured out.

I was saving this piece for the next National Coming Out Day, but since tonight I’m initiating a long overdue coming out talk with my dad, I thought we could all use the reminder of what to consider when coming out.

1. You can choose your own identity. You may not have chosen the raw material that is your body, genetic background, and the experiences that have shaped your life, but you can choose your identity, which is comprised of both the words used to describe who you are—gay, fat, and butch for example—and the definitions you assign those words. Others may use different words and definitions to describe your life, but you have the option of accepting, rejecting, or modifying what others offer.

2. Identity is rarely stable. The words and definitions you choose to describe yourself need not explain your entire life story or even remain permanent. You may realize later that you were wrong about either the word, the definition, or both, but it’s also possible you will someday realize that you just want something different. Be okay with changing your mind. Don’t worry about “discovering your true identity.” Figuring out today’s identity is a hard enough project.

3. There is a difference between romantic and sexual attraction. Romantic attraction describes what kinds of people you want to date/be partnered with, and sexual attraction describes what kinds of people you want to have sex with. It’s okay to feel none. It’s okay to feel one and not the other. It’s okay to feel one or both in ways that are uncommon.

4. Sexual attraction, gender expression, and gender identity are very mixed up. Sexual attraction is who and what kind of person you want to have sex with, gender expression is how you dress, cut and style your hair, even what kind of underwear you choose, and gender identity is the word you use to name your identity—man, woman, genderqueer, etc. The “do-be syndrome” (questioning whether you want to do someone or be them) may or may not apply to you, but also keep in mind that your sexual or romantic feelings may show up differently when you change your gender identity and gender expression and when you are treated as a different identity. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your gender expression. Doing so does not automatically threaten your gender identity.

5. Your body is your body. It isn’t anyone else’s—your parents’, your partner’s, your friend’s. If you want to change it, you can. If you don’t, you don’t have to. Educate yourself, but be critical of the materials and advice you get. It might take a lot of work, a long time, and maybe money you don’t have, but making goals is sometimes more important than the end result (as if there really were one). Be wary of making decisions to please others or be accepted by others. Be as sure as you can before making big changes, but remember to trust yourself. It’s okay to take years and years to decide if and what changes you want.

6. Be prepared to stray from the paths you’ve encountered. The models of identity you’ve seen (whether straight, gay, trans, genderqueer, asexual, queer, monogamous, thin etc.) may or may not apply to you. You don’t need to conform to other people’s narratives of how and why they came out and who and what and how they live. You can write your own narrative. Be especially wary of narratives that are nonnormative. Just because you aren’t a girly girl doesn’t mean you are a lesbian or that you’re a transman. Consider many options and be critical of each one. Find the identity and expression that best fits your life right now.

7. Take it as slow or as fast as you feel comfortable. Sometimes, people just want to come out and tell everyone all at once. That is great, but it’s also okay to only tell yourself. Tell people as you feel comfortable—just try to be good to yourself. If you want to start looking or acting differently, coming out can help a lot, but it’s not required. Coming out to some people also provides a lot of emotional support that you may need, so consider that as well. Only you can know the right (or necessary) time for when and how you should come out.

Erica Chu is a student at Loyola University Chicago and is seeking a PhD in English with a concentration in Women Studies and Gender Studies. They manage the blog and can be reached at

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Celebrating Characteristics A-Z

[This is actually from a couple times ago--I forgot to post these in the right order, so here you go. Better late than never I guess!]

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

Celebrating Characteristics A-Z

Imagine a world that rewards all people with “Characteristic X” but punishes people for exhibiting all other characteristics.

This is in fact the world we live in, and Characteristic X can be things like heterosexuality, cisgenderism (not being transgendered), monogamy, or whiteness. Yet sometimes Characteristic X is something unreal and imaginary, and we can get so caught up in the cultural shame, we fail to recognize its impossibility.

Mental illness. There, I said it. Now who wants to fess up and say they’ve got one (or two…or three…)?

Whether we call it mental illness or just issues related to mental health, the LGBTQ population is especially susceptible. Perhaps you’ve been lucky in this regard. Perhaps not. But consider this: perhaps you’re so caught up in the assumption that you are as sane as they come that you haven’t even stopped to consider if your mental health needs some attention.

Characteristic X is perfect mental health, and as we should have figured out by now, perfection is impossible and often undesirable.

When Characteristic X is assumed to be heterosexuality or whiteness, we resist the assumption that sexual and racial minorities ought to be punished for not meeting this standard. We stand up and scream, “We are valuable human beings, and what you say is worthy of shame, we embrace with pride.”

We don’t, however, tend to extend the same logic to issues of mental health. In some ways, it’s for good reason. For example, we who have or do experience depression know we’d rather have it otherwise; however, depression can sometimes be very productive. It gives us new and valuable perspective, it forces us to reassess the paths we take in life, and it sometimes provides the impetus for new motivation, deeper relationships, and richer life experiences.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not suggesting we try to embrace the negative aspects of our life to the point we don’t fight for what we want and need, but I am suggesting there is good in what we often assume is too shameful to even discuss.

In some periods and even still in some communities today, homosexuality is discussed with shame by those who practice it, but we who have learned to turn shame into pride celebrate our sexual identities and embrace how our differences enhance our lives. I wish embracing my sexual and gender identity had not caused me to become alienated from those with whom I once had a strong connection. Yet I celebrate myself, and I labor so that others can see the value I see in myself.

Mental health is not so very different. We may wish the negative aspects were not present, but we must value ourselves enough to turn shame into pride—getting the help we need along the way, grieving for what we’ve lost, but most importantly accepting and loving who we are.

This of course extends to others. So the next time you start to judge someone because of your perception of their mental health, think again. Turn shame into pride, and value the different characteristics that each person offers. The world is much better because LGBTQ people are full of pride. It can be even better when all differences are supported without shame.

Erica Chu is a student at Loyola University Chicago and is seeking a PhD in English with a concentration in Women Studies and Gender Studies. They manage the blog and can be reached at