Almost everyone in the LGBT+ community has a coming out story. Many polya and relationship anarchist folx have coming out stories as well. Hell, even furries have coming out stories. Whenever you discover something about your identity that just –clicks– and explains all these squiggly-wiggly little feels that were fluttering around deep inside, and your world just radically shifts because you’re no longer alone and there’s a word for that! then there is a potential coming out story waiting to happen. I won’t go into why labels are important to identity, that is a rant for another time, but it’s safe to say that those of us in often marginalized communities really value these words for our identity. They give us the acknowledgement that someone else has felt this before, enough to make a term for it. And once we have that term, once we can use language to crystallize in our minds what was already there and view it through a clearer lens, we often want to express that. We have a part of ourselves that we likely ignored, repressed, erased, neglected, or shut down, because we didn’t know it was allowed to be a thing. Suddenly it is a thing, a real thing, there’s a word for it so it must be, and we can see ourselves in it. We want those who love us to acknowledge the part of ourselves even we might have been afraid to before, to accept and provide support or reassurance. This is just fundamentally human, but it turns into “coming out” because we quickly realize that these things about us that we may have repressed are in fact –a big deal– to some people, and their whole concept of us may change radically, so telling them because this big moment.
I have a bunch of coming out stories, since I have had quite a few marginalized aspects to my identity over the years as I’ve discovered myself (bi, pan, gay, queer, genderqueer, trans man, polyamorous, relationship anarchist, etc), but I’ll pick one to go with.
The first time I came out to my mother about being polyamorous was on the ride home from college, on my first college break. I had been in polya type dynamics before, but I didn’t have a term for it, and also did not share as much of myself with my mother as an early teen, so I don’t think she was aware. When I told her about my new dude and that we were polya, she told me I didn’t know what love was and implied that it was an excuse to sleep around. She accused me of being horribly unfair and unloving to my dude, as though he didn’t have the agency to consent to that kind of dynamic and was forced into it, because who would agree to that willingly. I remember passionately ranting the whole two hour ride home about what exactly I thought love was. I could spend two hours describing all the things love meant to me, so clearly me being non-monogamous was not because I did not understand the many aspects of love. By the end of the conversation she had stopped telling me I didn’t know what love was, maybe because she actually listened to my passionate rant, maybe because she just wanted me to shut up, though I chose to believe it was the former. My ways of relationshipping have continued to evolve over the years and I’ve been able to be very open with her about them, though I’m still not sure if I have complete understanding or acceptance from her or my father. At the very least, I can have all my partner’s and parents together for thanksgiving every year without incident, so that is something. So compared to the reactions many folx get when coming out, I was pretty fortunate, I wasn’t disowned, just invalidated, and things have gotten better from there.
Parents, friends, and the workplace and three big arenas where folx feel they have to come out, that it may be essential that others see them as who they are. When I had my first really career related job, I did not “come out” to my employers. I had been around groups where I was completely open about all of me that it has stopped being a thing I thought about. The first time I censored myself and then realized only after the words left my mouth, I referred to someone that I always called “my partner” as “my friend”. I couldn’t stop thinking about it after. As someone who is extremely honest at all times about everything, to the point of not just telling the technical truth, but trying to give the most absolute and clearly understood and elaborated on truth, it really ate at me. I could have justified it as yes, this person is also my friend as well as my partner so technically not a lie. But to me that was a lie, that was an edit that I put in there out of unconscious fear of backlash in my workplace, where I couldn’t escape it because I needed my job. For me, nothing is worth feeling deceitful, so I promised myself I would not do so again. The next day, when talking about the same person, I referred to them as my partner. It was clear in the context of the conversation that this long distance partner I was talking about was not the same live in partner I frequently rambled about. I didn’t come out with a big announcement or parade, I just was honest, in the context of a normal conversation, in a way that made it seem commonplace. I didn’t act like what I was saying was anything out of the ordinary, because for me, it wasn’t. There was no shock, no deviation in the conversation, and from then on whenever it was relevant to talk about my partners, I did so just as openly as I do among any other group. After a time, my office manager did ask me what being polya was like because she was curious, but even in a workplace of mostly conservative folks (they almost all voted Trump and I heard a whole lot about Jesus if that gives you an idea), I didn’t experience any real kind of backlash for being polya. It was the same way with being gay and a trans man just for the record. I just spoke of myself normally, and if something that highlighted those aspects of my identity was relevant to the conversation, I didn’t tailor or edit my words. I just was myself and treated those marginalized aspects of my identity as completely normal, and therefor, so did everyone else.
I had learned that little secret before, but that experience really emphasized it for me, because it was the first time I was really around folks who had views that so heavily opposed my own, and some of which involved thinking of those aspects of my identity as wrong or sinful. If you don’t come out with a fanfare, but just act like those parts of you that society may not always accept, are normal, –because they are– then most people will follow your lead. Doing it that way allows them less room to object. You are the one talking about things in a completely commonplace way, you are not announcing it in a way that they might see as inviting opinion, and that aspect of you identity is likely just a side note and not a centerpiece in the discussion it comes up in. That puts the onus on them to make a big deal of it if they are going to. They suddenly have to be the one that stops the conversation, derails it, and initiates making a fuss. I’m not saying there aren’t some people who won’t do so, but people are a lot less likely to feel comfortable doing that, then attacking you if you make a big announcement of it and give them a platform to give you an earful of exactly what they think. This isn’t a full-proof method, especially with folks like parents who are close to you and may feel they have license to criticize and comment on anything you say, regardless of the context. But the folks who are going to really flip their shit, are going to do so regardless of how they find out things about it. Those kind of douchenozzles may be beyond saving, and that’s unfortunate, but they are just teaching you that you are better off without them at all. Your run of the mill reasonable person (those do still exist don’t they?) is going to be averse to picking a fight where they are the instigator though, so approach these things with normalcy and sprinkle them in during casual conversation where they would come up anyway if you were being completely honest, and they likely won’t have time to mount an attack before the conversation has continued on. You also then have mentioned it, and they didn’t get a chance to express displeasure or tell you all about how you’re going to hell, so since they’ve already not objected once, it would be harder for them to do so when it next comes up.
Aside from the pustulent analspheres who would find any excuse possible to attack you anyway, most folks seem to react well to this approach. There is one big downside, which is that for some, the aspect of coming out with a big flourish is a matter of pride. It is a way to show that yeah I’m heckin’ proud about this cause I am a fabulous magical beast and nothing you can say will change that fuckers! And you know what, if that is what is best for you, do that thing! If you need another way that is more subtle and seems to met good results for those who are really concerned about reactions though, then here it is. And there is big upside about just being so super casual and acting as yourself, not officially coming out but just letting the parts of your identity that people do feel they must come out about just come up as normally as your favorite sportsball team or what you’re doing that weekend. When you act like it’s normal, because as I’ve said, –it is-, you help normalize it for others. Thirty years ago if a masculine presenting person mentioned his male partner in the office, it would have been received very differently in most places then it is today. Treat your -shiny and unique but still part of the normal variation of humanity identity pieces- as normal. Remind the world they are normal. When we normalize all those things, we continue to make it easier for the next generation of lgbt+ and polya and other marginalized folx, and that is worth doing.