Today is National Coming Out Day. It is a day when many queer and trans* folks who are already out once again proclaim their identities. I’m sure there are some folks who actually come out for the first time on this day, but it is mostly for folks who are already out.
Coming out is such a complicated act, both politically and personally. However, it is more complicated for some than for others. Coming out is not a unilateral or universal experience. It is altered by the different social locations the person occupies. Anderson Cooper’s experience in coming out is going to be very different than CeCe McDonald’s.
And in many ways, coming out is an act of resistance. It is an action that flies in the face of compulsory heterosexuality and heterosexism. It flies in the face of assumed cisgender identity and cissexism. However, coming out carries different risks for different folks. What frustrates me is when folks like Anderson Cooper come out and everyone is like, “That’s so brave. He’s so strong. OMG wow…” Like, I’m glad he came out but lets be real. Coming out for Anderson Cooper carries no risk. He is rich as fuck, he isn’t gonna be fired from his job or become homeless. And yet his experience is seen as normative for all queer people. And we exult him, as if he singlehandedly fought a rhinoceros. Further, his coming out does nothing to challenge the status quo. Rather, his coming out reinforces that assimilationist claptrap that we are “just like straight people”.
What this emphasizes for me is that not everyone has the privilege to come out. Whether because of safety or financial or any other reason, many folks cannot afford to be out. And I think that we must recognize the reasons for that silence. And those of us who can or don’t have the choice to come out, we need to constantly resist and fight against the reasons for that silence.
If coming out is to be an act of resistance, than it must carry risk and it must challenge, at least in some way, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy and capitalism. Coming out is an act of political resistance only when it emphasizes the collective liberation of all people. In other words, coming out and saying “Hey, I’m a normal gay!” is not gonna cut it. When you come out, it must be in solidarity with all oppressed peoples.
Which leads us to a bigger question. What is the nature of resistance?
I would argue that resistance is and must be a spiritual practice. When we resist, we reclaim our power. When we resist, we assert our humanity. It is in resistance that we politicize ourselves and locate our position in the greater social hierarchy. It is only in resistance that we find ourselves, find who we, as oppressed people, really are.
Resistance can take many different forms. It can be as subtle as refusing to identify gender on paperwork or it can be as in your face as protecting your home against foreclosure. Ultimately, when we resist, we are refusing to have our power taken from us. We are refusing to allow our lives to be moved around without our input. Resistance is certainly not futile because even if we don’t win the battle, our oppressors can never claim our souls. When we resist, even if our efforts are not successful, our humanity is still affirmed.
But even more than that, when we resist, we give thanks to all those ancestors who came before us. We honor their memory of sacrifice and suffering and joy and beauty. When we resist, we do not allow their efforts to go in vain. We continue their legacy and work. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and we must continue their work for the generation that will stand on ours.
In reclaiming our power, we are refusing to be spiritual infants. We are able to co-create our reality with the Universe/Goddess/Great Spirit/Creator etc. We move away from these Western (white) concepts of spirituality as submission or obedience to an All Father, which tell us to just take it and that we will have paradise in the next life. We can be right sized in our relationship with the world. We are neither the rulers of all but neither are we victims of powers beyond our comprehension. Rather, we have our place as stewards and facilitators in the greater scheme. We become the midwives to a new vision of reality. This vision does not come from us but we are still needed to facilitate its birth. Resistance allows us to do this.
We can take responsibility for our actions and our power in this life when we resist. Paradise might be an unachievable aim, but we must still shoot for it in this life. Because we can find exultation in that struggle and create communities that support us and feed our souls, minds, bodies.
As Emiliano Zapata said,