Recently on Fearless Press, Viola wrote a post called Pissing on the Oyster about the idea that kinky people should come out as kinky to increase acceptance of kinky sexualities. Viola does a great job in that post of covering the legal and lifestyle ramifications of coming out as kinky, and I wanted to add a voice to the chorus and talk a little bit about why I have a problem with the idea of “coming out” in the first place.
Coming out can be an empowering experience. I know many queer people for whom coming out was a blessing, a way to find community, and a way to feel more comfortable in their own skin. Throughout my own teenage years and early twenties, I found coming out (as bisexual, then as lesbian, as feminist, as queer) to be important because my gender and sexuality were huge parts of how I identified as well as huge parts of my activism.
Coming out can also be problematic, however. This is true whatever you’re coming out as–queer, poly, kinky, asexual, anything. Personally, I’m out to different degrees in different spaces. I’m out as queer everywhere. I explain genderqueer to some, but not to all, because it might affect my ability to get a job and because it’s frankly complicated to explain. I did tell my mother, but she completely missed the significance of that identifier in my life. I’m out as poly only to particular people I trust, and not to my family. I’m out as kinky only to certain friends that I met online and of course on this blog, which doesn’t list my full name but maybe wouldn’t be that hard to find if you knew what you were looking for.
I don’t believe that anyone has a responsibility to come out. I’m generally wary of the personal responsibility rhetoric. I think that the drive to come out often is wrapped up in essentialist notions of identity. “Come out as gay!” they say, and then tell you what gay is supposed to mean. Once you come out, it’s expected that your identity is unchanging. The notion of a constant identity is very important to some queer people, and many of us are shamed or kicked out of certain communities when our identities shift. I believe that my gender and sexuality are a living thing, and I don’t assume that any identity I claim now will exist tomorrow. As I learn, question, grow, get to know myself, experience sexual and romantic relationships, and move through my life, change happens. I welcome this. If I come out in grand fashion today, I may have to adjust my declaration five years down the line.
The same is true of kink. “Kinky” doesn’t mean the same thing for all people. I might disagree that kink is necessarily about our sex lives (for me, for example, a huge part of submission is a non-sexual emotional component) or that if it is, sex should necessarily be something to keep in private (I believe that our society is extremely sexually repressed and that we should work towards opening it up). But I do think that like coming out as genderqueer or poly, coming out kinky is something that you have to explain. People have preconceived notions, but they aren’t notions that we can dispel with a single swoop. It would be a disservice to kinky people to try to wrap BDSM up in a neat little package to present to vanilla people in order to show them “what kink is.” Kink is many things. Kink is everything.
I do think that we need to figure out ways to increase acceptance. How do we do that? Through increased awareness and acceptance of sexuality as a legitimate topic for conversation and education, and as a legitimate identifier. Through an increased understanding of the fluidity of gender and sexuality, and the power of the individual to create hir own narrative. Through supporting laws that increase privacy and autonomy. Through direct confrontation of the way shame operates around sexuality in our society. Through education about different relationship and family styles, and support of laws that allow for differing family structures. Through patient, dedicated effort, community building, and respect for one another.
In the end, isn’t that sort of what it’s all about?
This post was originally published on the blog Sex Positive Activism, which has now merged to become the sex & relationships section of Queer & Now.