I’M NOT COMING OUT, I’M LETTING PEOPLE IN…
It was the Sunday after attending the Bold Network Africa event dubbed Bold and Proud and I knew I would be riding that high for at least a week! As an introvert, events like this are a chance to make new acquaintances because I do them two/three times a year. That is, assuming that I have the funds. In addition to the buzzing energy that was a remnant of the day before, I was elated because I had ticked off three things on my bucket list. One, I had attended a queer event. I had always assumed I’d have to travel abroad to experience them. Two, I had approached a person I considered romantically attractive, and regardless of whether it would pan out to anything, it had been done. Three, I had danced in public. It may have been in a crowd and I may have made sure to stay on the edges so that I could give myself a quick exit when need be but I did it. How many times had ‘funkies’ ended in high school where I was left regretting the fact that I could not join in the carefreeness of dancing to the blasting music? How many times had I watched from the sides with envy? Maybe I did it for that high school version of me or for future me who knows how good it feels to tick things off a bucket list.
My phone kept buzzing with notifications coming in. I had posted some of the numerous dope pictures we took on my status and stories and of course, people were admiring the outfits, making me promise to take them to the next event, asking for more details of it and what we did, and showing all the love. I was appreciative of the good vibes but a part of me was reserved because it felt like a coming out that was not exactly a coming out. I have not done revealed my sexuality with an ‘I am queer’ written on a cake nor did I post the picture taken behind the rainbow wall of balloons. However, I often wear my rainbow bracelet while for the rest of the time it acts as my keyholder and if people ask about it -and I feel safe with them- I tell them the truth. That I am of the alphabet mafia.
As life goes, in the true fashion of yin and yang, there were comments that just rubbed me off the wrong way. A person I had rejected admitted that when I told them I was queer they thought that I meant I was a little weird. We laughed it off until they finished it with “… but it’s okay, people these days have the freedom of sexuality.” That made me pause. Freedom of sexuality? Do they think that just because there is increased awareness of more identities we decided to pick one and go with it? Was I reading too much into this? I let it slide… but only for a minute because I had to correct them. It was a freedom of expressing our sexuality, not of sexuality. We did not just up and choose to be what we were. This escalated to a point of them declaring that I was exaggerating when I said that it is not always safe for people to come out in Kenya even in the present day. Another pause of disbelief. I was exaggerating? I, a member of the community, a person who follows pages that talk about the queer experience, was exaggerating. They were the judge of that even though up until five minutes before they did not know that the word queer was used to express other identities that were not cisgender and heterosexual.
The second one was a classmate who asked if I could imagine a girl saying that they had a girlfriend. Could I imagine it? It was half of my daydream content! Before I replied, he followed it up with, “but that does not apply to you.” I ended the chat there but it lingered in my head. Why does it not apply to me? Should I come out to him? Do I even have to come out to everyone? Is it his business? After noticing that I was thinking about it too much I replied to the text and asked, “what if it does?” He did not respond but it was out of my head at least.
The concept of coming out is one that does not happen as we see it in the shows. You don’t get to make one announcement and now everyone knows. It is something I find myself doing monthly, like a subscription.
Plus, is it necessary that I do it? Sure my friends know I’m queer but my parents don’t. Sometimes the said friends will make comments that are offensive to the community as if they forgot that something that would offend people in the queer community would also offend me. Then I feel like I am doing it again because ‘I’ve been single for so long that they forgot I was queer.’ I come out every time I wear my rainbow bracelet. I come out every time I leave the salon with a hairstyle typically associated with queer people. As I sit on the chair waiting for the barber to shave my sides I feel like all the eyes are on me and that they know. I come out every time I leave my house with that hairstyle because it always feels like I’m making a statement instead of just existing in the world. I come out every time I wear masculine-presenting clothes and I can feel the questioning glances from people I cross paths with.
At the same time, sometimes I stay in the closet when my mum is giving me a lecture on why I should not date men before I’m fully independent. I bite my tongue and prevent the “don’t even worry about it, there is no chance for that” from spilling. I burrow into the closet like I’m looking for Narnia when I wear lipstick to ‘tone down’ my masculine presentation of the day and not just because it is a lipstick type of day. When we called it war paint, I don’t think this is what we were going for.
Sometimes I feel inspired and bold and proud to be seen as queer because the truth is told and during those times I have the energy to talk it out with people, educate them patiently and argue for the bigger cause but other times I just want to be free to do grocery shopping with a rainbow jumpsuit on and my cat in my hand without anyone giving me a second look. I want to post pictures of myself having fun without having to excuse or justify myself. I want to occupy my space in the world without having to explain why I choose to occupy it the way I do. Ultimately, I’ve come to the conclusion that we should have an expression for coming out that applies to common people, something that expresses how we can be out but still be in the closet, at the same time. Selectively out? I don’t know, we’ll rack our brains and come up with something. If suggestions are being taken though, I’m writing on a note and passing it to my more extroverted counterparts so that they can yell, “it is letting people in. letting them in into more of our truths and who we are.” How does it sound? Instead of ‘I am coming out to you’ we go, ‘I want to let you in…
Story by Carrina