A Life of Comings In and Out

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Since I came into my queerness about three years ago, I’ve come out to only six people: my two siblings and four of my closest friends. But my coming outs took different forms.

With my sister and three of my aforementioned friends, we’d already established a circle of trust and openness, so talking about my sexual orientation came as a way of sharing the goings-on of my life with them, an invitation into my world, a way of bringing us closer together.

With my fourth friend, it was a pull and tug on our growing friendship that finally led to that revelation. We were catching up over lunch, discussing relationships, friendships and attraction. At one point, she turned the tables on me and asked me what I thought. “I think the line between friendship and something more can easily be blurred irrespective of the gender of the people involved,” I said. I knew that she was reading “Bareed Mista3jil”. So I inconspicuously told her to read this one story I really identified with – which was of course mine – and then we could have the conversation again. After lunch, we went back up to her office and I went to talk to another colleague. When I returned to her office, I saw her reading “Bareed Mista3jil”. She looked up and straight into my eyes. “It’s you, isn’t it?” she said. I nodded. She smiled, and became so overwhelmed by excitement and intrigue that she wanted to know the story behind the short story. She later told me that she always thought I was gay and that throughout our conversations, she was trying to make me feel safe and supported for whenever I was ready to come out.

With my brother, it was the last-resort bomb. I was craving complete independence in a place of my own so I decided to move out from my parents’ house. My mother, traditional and rather conservative in her way of thinking, didn’t take the news very well. My older sister, with whom I share a bedroom, was already privy to that “other” side of my life so she was understanding. My older brother took me on this horrible guilt trip, after seeing my mom’s reaction. When I didn’t flinch, he switched to trying to win me over. “Why do you want to move out?” he asked. “What is it that you don’t like in this house? Tell me, we’ll fix it. We’ll give you the space you want.” I persisted: “No, I want my own space.” When my stubbornness started failing in the face of his accommodating alternatives, I blurted out: “I’m gay, what kind of a life am I gonna have here?!” He froze, while I hurried out because I had a meeting to get to. Later during that day, he called me from his office. He’d spoken with my sister. He asked me not to rush into things, he wanted us siblings to talk about my decision again. But he said: “What you told me in the morning doesn’t change anything. You’re my sister and I love you no matter what.” And that was that.

Today, as good old friends and new friends make their way in and out of my life, and as my extended family draws me into its circles, I still keep my sexuality to my very private self.

Political statements aside, I’ve come to regard the act or process of “coming out” as an existential need that differs depending on the people initiating it. It is a survival tool we use in this harsh world we all live in, a communication tool we use to connect with people, endowing it with a different meaning depending on the circumstances.

We tend to consider “coming out” as a make-or-break disclosure. But our entire life unfolds in a never-ending series of coming outs. Our popular and unpopular, conforming and non-conforming beliefs, values, opinions, experiences and feelings are a form of coming out once we put them out there. We live in a closet, which we walk in and out of everyday, choosing what stuff to strut along the way. We pick what pieces of ourselves to wear before the watchful eyes. Today, for example, I came out carrying this quilt from my past.

Sometime in the first decade of the 21st century, Joelle found queer and feminist activism, which only added to her always being lost – in thought, that is. Joelle likes to wander (or is it ponder?) the world, read books, listen to her – yes, her – music, and mull over her existence, the human condition, and the thoughts zooming through her mind when she’s running or biking in the city and beyond. Queer existentialism anyone?

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