In and out of closets (Part 1)

For me, coming out makes me feel more honest, relaxed, and free to express myself, but it is also a political choice. I believe that it is harder to hold homophobic views if you know someone who is queer and realise they are pretty ordinary and likable. By being visible I can draw attention to issues which affect us. It also helps me connect with others so we don’t feel isolated. I started coming out to people when I was 13, and from then until the past year I have attempted to be out in all contexts of my life. Friends, workmates from previous roles, people at church know that I am queer, and anyone who has seen me carrying a banner in rallies and parades!

Then I got pregnant, and suddenly I became aware of how much we are in the closet unless we are explicitly out. I was doing my fieldwork placement, and so meeting lots of new people, and it felt like I was constantly being asked questions like “What does your husband do?” or “Is the dad going to have some time off?” Then I realised that it wasn’t just the people I was working with making those assumptions. I suddenly became aware of all the people I could pass by in a day who would be seeing my big belly and thinking there was a dad in the picture.

Now that we are mums the questions about husband/dad continue, and I am also aware of all the subtle messages that we don’t quite fit: little things like filling out a form for a healthcare provider and it only has space for “mother___” and “father ___.” There has been a lot of coming out to people I am meeting when I am out with children and without L… and even some coming out together, e.g. turning up to a childcare centre or a doctor’s office as a family and the one not carrying the child being asked “and who are you?” Even once we have come out to people they forget, which bugs me now that Windhorse is old enough to comprehend what people are saying. We saw one nurse together as a family, and then I went back with Windhorse and as we left the nurse said to her “are you going to pick up daddy now?”

Being the non-gestational parent this time was very weird, especially once we were close to the due date. Sometimes I told people, like my new workmates, “we’re having a baby soon” and was met with confusion. On the other hand some people understood immediately and were excited. Miromiro has had a few health problems, and doctors and nurses have often spoken only to whichever of us is holding him, and sometimes say “mum” when they are talking about something which is relevant to both of us. We have generally been very supported. The midwives in hospital were fantastic. Once people know I am the other mum, most of them treat me no differently.

On my placement last year, the subject of self-disclosure came up in supervision, and specifically whether disclosing my queer identity to clients was ever OK. While my supervisor didn’t say outright that it was not OK, in our discussions she presented a number of reasons it could be “harmful.” For example, various hypothetical situations such as a client not feeling ready to come out and feeling uncomfortable. Changing the therapeutic relationship in a negative way, revealing too much, making someone feel I wouldn’t understand their situation? I don’t remember all the “problem” scenarios.

It didn’t sit well with me – particularly as a number of the people I worked with mentioned having an opposite sex husband/wife, in their introductions, as a way of building rapport and partial reciprocity, and this wasn’t seen as problematic. There were other forms of self-disclosure that could, in my view, potentially make people feel uncomfortable, such as wearing a cross on a necklace. For me, as a queer person, seeing a sign that someone was Christian would make me feel cautious about mentioning being queer to a therapist.

In my new workplace I wondered if people would have the same kind of concerns as my previous supervisor. I was considering talking to my manger or my supervisor about it. Then, before the boy arrived, my workmates put together a basket of baby things for us. Some of the young people we work with saw it and started asking questions, and my colleagues gave some matter of fact responses. Well, that solved the dilemma for me… it was out in the open, and nobody made a big deal of it. As new people come to the service, most will probably assume I’m straight because of the hetero -normative culture we live in. But if it does come up, or if they hear me mention my partner to a colleague, I’m not going to stress about it. In our work context, there is a lot of self-disclosure about partners, kids, and small details of our lives. By hiding that part of myself I would be contributing to queer invisibility. In my view, for a young queer person coming through our service, knowing someone who was queer, and open and happy about it, could be really positive.

 

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