Monday, January 30, 2006

Les mésaventures de la nouvelle lesbienne, acte 1

Isn't that a great title? The Misadventures of a New Lesbian. It's an article in my SCUMgrrrls magazine. Apparently the French for coming-out is: coming-out. I wonder how on earth they pronounce it. As the awkwardly translated article summary states:
One "coming out" is ok, but 30 "coming outs" are already less fun...the coming out to parents is just the beginning of a very long list. And as is confirmed by the old new lesbians [this is a literal translation of ancienne nouvelle lesbian. I have no idea what it's supposed to mean]: "One has never really finished to tell it to everybody." The only positive side is that it makes good stories to tell...!
Well it does at that. Let's just say that coming out to your parents over the phone is sooooooo not recommended.
I've often thought that the coming-out metaphor shouldn't be a closet but a revolving door. Because you're never really totally out (unless you're Elton John or something). Until the world stops enforcing mandatory heterosexuality, every new person you meet and every new social context slams you right back into the closet. People just assume everyone is straight like them.
Which makes navigating the social terrain of a foreign country that much more complex. In some sense, I'm much freer here than in my home state; I'm removed from the family clan, and gay marriage here isn't the political football it is in the States. Plus, Paris. Lovely, wonderful, infuriating, teasing Paris. But it also means I don't know the ettiquette, identity politics being quite different here. I don't have the luxury of the gender neutral third person pronoun (I don't care what some 18th century old fart said, "they" is perfectly acceptable as the singular). And it's just as suffocatingly heterocentrist as anywhere else; especially since French women have this intense pressure to maintain the ideal of heterosexual femininity. They got a national reputation to maintain. If you like femmes, France is the place for you. I haven't even seen the "female jock" types like you have in the States, straight but sporty girls in soccer cleats and pony tails. The word "butch" doesn't exist in French. Butch women do, but they aren't a delineated gender in the lesbian scene, as I've found it.
My trip to Greece was another mésaventure in the dynamics of homophobia. My Let's Go guide, in describing some guidelines for single women traveling alone in Greece, had this advice:
Homophobia is also widespread, so asking where you can find a gay bar will usually shake off a potential suitor. 533
It's also a great way to get yourself killed. Spoken like a straight person who's never had to face the ramifications of coming out. If I'm being harassed by a man, I'm going to head to a well-lit area with lots of people and policemen. I'm not going to give him an excuse to rape me or plead homosexual panic.
But, safety issues aside, you know what? Sometimes I don't feel like it. I didn't come out to my roommates in Greece because I didn't feel like going through the trouble of sussing out their likely political bent, then finding an appropriate time to casually drop it in without sounding awkward or creating an uncomfortable, surprised pause in the conversation. I just met these people, and they're leaving in a few days. I'll probably never see or hear from them again. I didn't feel like being The Gay Person. I was willing to put up with conversations that assumed I was straight ("Seriously Anne, can you explain to me why women find Brad Pitt so attractive? 'Cause I just don't get it." Me neither, pal. Me neither.)
Because you never really know how someone is going to react, and you're always taking something of a leap of faith, and I just didn't feel like having that conversation. Ricardo handled the news about Matt fine, but when I came out to him he was so shocked he had to "go have a cigarette" to process the information. Even though we were sitting in a bar (well, he is from Nicaragua...). After which proceeded the education; no I don't hate men, yes it really is real sex, no I don't know why I am I just am, yes I guarantee you have met lesbians before Ricardo, you just didn't know it. Of course they're not going to tell you, you live in fucking Nicaragua. Etc.
Sometimes I wish we could sit every straight person down and force them to read "I Hate Straights" until the scales of heterosexual priviledge fall from their eyes and they finally get it:
I hate straight people who think they have anything intelligent to say about "outing." I hate straight people who think stories about themselves are "universal" but stories about us are only about homosexuality... I hate straight people who say, "I don't see why you feel the need to wear those buttons and t-shirts. I don't go around telling the whole world I'm straight."...I hate having to convice straight people that lesbians and gays live in a war zone, that we're surrounded by bomb blasts only we seem to hear, that our bodies and souls are heaped high, dead from fright or bashed or raped, dying of grief or disease, stripped of our personhood.
(This is why I work so hard to be aware and mitigate my race and class privilege. It's a basic requirement of all decent human beings, but I know what it's like to be on the other side of that coin too).
I ran into a really stunning example of this with my roommate Val. I was telling her about my conflict over coming out to my hostel roommies, and she said "Why? I don't feel nervous about telling people I'm straight!"
I seriously just sat there and blinked at her. I should have asked her "When have you ever had to do that, Val?" but I didn't think of that at the time. And even if you ever have had to "come out" as straight, it's not even remotely the same thing. No one's going react with violence or disgust if you tell them you date the opposite sex. And she should know better. Her father's gay, for Christ's sake, been with the same man for the last 20 years or something. I refuse to believe that she's never had to hide the fact that she has two dads. It's for situations such as this that they coined the word "flabbergasted."
Maybe I'll take to wearing the rainbow triangle earrings I got for Christmas (from my "Brazilian sister", not from my family, of course. They wouldn't know where to buy them in the first place). A bit corny, maybe, but hopefully it will make this whole endless revolving door experience a little less dizzying.


At 3:37 PM, Anonymous Kevin said...

At 12:36 AM, Blogger Andygrrl said...

Yeah, those posters rock. I wonder if they could start something similar in the States? I love the "Get Married" one, with the bride giving the finger!

At 3:59 AM, Blogger Winter said...

Brilliant post. I really have nothing to add because it's all true. I'm really tired of "coming out"; I've been doing it for years.

At 2:34 PM, Blogger the bluest light said...

I've made the mistake of trying to deflect unwanted male attention by coming out. It resulted in 10 minutes of questions about my sex life and being pinched on the cheek and told I was 'too cute to be queer'. The straight friend I was with couldn't understand how humiliating it was.

But anyway, thank you for this post.


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