On Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day, many of my friends shared articles about queerness and wrote statuses about their sexual orientations. “Hi, I’m pretty gay,” one friend wrote in her status. “I’m gay,” proclaimed another. In these posts, many of my out, queer friends added the caveat that closeted queer people didn’t need to come out if they felt uncomfortable. However, as I looked at the countless posts and statuses, I still felt awkward about posting one of my own.
National Coming Out Day is important. Providing a designated celebration for people to come out can allow people in queer communities to openly recognize their sexuality. National Coming Out Day was created in 1987 after 500,000 people participated in a March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The creation of events such as National Coming Out Day, the increase in legislation supporting gay rights and the prominence of openly LGBTQ+ celebrities have all bought queer issues to the forefront of the American social and political consciousness.
But, even though the visibility of openly queer people in the media has increased, the violence against queer people has not decreased. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, about 20 to 25 percent of gay and lesbian people experience hate crimes in their lifetimes. And this summer’s tragic shooting of 49 people in a nightclub in Orlando also proved that the bodies of queer people in America are still quite disposable.
Due to the fact that queer people often disproportionately experience violence, sometimes it feels difficult for me to be vocal about this aspect of my identity. Talking about queerness becomes especially difficult once we begin to analyze the intersections of different forms of oppression. For example, in his essay “Here be Dragons,” James Baldwin extensively discusses how his sexuality and his socioeconomic status affected his identity as a black man living in Harlem. Although he viewed his queerness as a large part of his identity, he struggled to vocalize this because it often meant that he would be excluded from spaces in black communities.
Intersectionality becomes even more complicated when we factor gender into the equation. When women of color are so commonly fetishized as sexual objects instead of viewed as human beings, any deviation from the masculine-presenting, heterosexual, cisgender norm can only play into these stereotypes, whether we want them to or not.
I’m sure that many of you are aware of this.
However, a significant feature of intersectionality that is seldom discussed at Yale is visibility. At Yale, people too often mold themselves into archetypes. Everyone has their social presentation: the athlete, the activist, the academic. Although I spend most of my time writing for the News and speaking at the Yale Political Union, some of my other close friends here decide to spend their time designing sets for productions or playing club soccer. Although I enjoy many of the clubs and extracurricular activities here, it often becomes challenging to talk about things like sexuality, gender, race and other aspects of identity politics when such groups are not explicitly centered on such topics. And — even though I identify as queer — labeling myself as such becomes an uphill battle when Yalies are expected to craft an identity for themselves very early during their college experiences. Often times, we feel constrained by our respective groups, finding it harder to grow beyond our initial social persona.
I suppose that the best answer to this quandary might be to “become more vocal about these issues” or “ to create more spaces,” although this doesn’t seem to be an adequate solution. While we should all strive for diversity, we need to recognize that it is still difficult — for a multitude of reasons — for certain individuals to “out” every single aspect of their identity. Moreover, we shouldn’t have to adhere to a static conception of our identities, even though there is so much pressure to do so.
So be that a status or just a conversation with a friend, we are all constantly in a state of becoming. Identity is fluid, and so is queerness. You don’t need to go to every Co-op party or attend every meeting at the Women’s Center to be queer at Yale. It’s okay to say, “Hey, I’m gay,” even if you’re not fully “out” or if you don’t belong to explicitly “queer” communities. And even if the only person who knows you’re queer is you, that’s okay, too. National Coming Out Day is a celebration, not an obligation. Do what feels good for you — now, next year and always.
Isis Davis-Marks is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .