Gender Sexuality

Coming Out of Shame

During the month of October, we observe LGBT History Month. LGBT History Month is a month-long annual observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, and the history of the gay rights and related civil rights movements. Coming Out is more than a public proclamation of one’s own identity. Coming Out is also an acknowledgement that we share identities and that true allyship requires that we propel ourselves into the identities of those that we say we support

During the month of October, we observe LGBT History Month. LGBT History Month is a month-long annual observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, and the history of the gay rights and related civil rights movements.

Coming Out is more than a public proclamation of one’s own identity. Coming Out is also an acknowledgement that we share identities and that true allyship requires that we propel ourselves into the identities of those that we say we support

Marincrlby Martin McKinney

We are again experiencing outrage as women come forward with allegations of sexual harassment, assault and unwanted attention, this time from a person who is a candidate for President of the United States. We seem to experience this sort of sex-based event every few years where public figures are at the center. The reality is that we are in a perpetual state of insecurity around the issues of sex, sexuality, human interaction and sexual identity. This probably represents varied and multiple identities and our collective suppression of fears and hurts around them. We often use the media to galvanize rage – masked as discussion – and action around these issues, but the media is an insufficient setting to guide these important conversations.

As we collectively celebrate LBGT History Month and encourage awareness by encouraging people to publicly speak their identities, and to reject homophobia, I’d like to suggest that we should also Come Out about our collective shame around our own sexual identities, even when our prime, public identities don’t run counter to the acceptable norms that we’ve created. We are called to publicly speak the parts of our own identities and those identities of others that cause us discomfort and how that discomfort recreates and manifests shame, illegality and suicide, and reinforces state violence in our names. Part of Coming Out ought to also be the rejection of people-made creations around who we should be.

We are called to publicly speak the parts of our own identities and those identities of others that cause us discomfort and how that discomfort recreates and manifests shame, illegality and suicide, and reinforces state violence in our names.

I’ve recently recalled many times where I have had to wonder about my own discomfort around sexual identity, and the imposition of other’s sexual identity into my neat little box. Such as when, at a formal dinner party, a woman, whom I assumed was accompanied by her husband, in reply to my question about his location, responded “oh, he’s not my husband; he’s my lover. My husband and I prefer an open marriage.” A brief 30-second conversation had not presumed that this was a necessary, or sought after, confession. In fact, I found myself wondering what her intentions were when she continued, “what about you, have you considered open relationship?”

Or, as a friend to many cis-gendered men, who also identify as same-gender loving, I have sometimes had those awkward moments where I wondered if they had a hidden-interest in me that makes me uncomfortable, or if the world sees my friendship, and the deeds of friendship, as an admission of my own identity that needs to be realized. Too often, our opportunities for friendship are disrupted by the fear of what we assume about another's intentions.

The reality is that I could argue that these people in some way have made me feel harassed, or even violated. But human interaction ought to be about vulnerability and true openness. Nonetheless, the honesty of others has caused me to hide myself, and to sometimes wish that they would also hide themselves.

There is no way that we can undo our past mistakes and indiscretions. To even label them this way is to create some level of shame and a natural desire to mitigate, or fervently erase, the shame

And yet, on college campuses, in corporate office suites, airplanes, and on tour buses those who identify as female are being sexually assaulted and otherwise made to feel uncomfortable, by others who don’t understand, or otherwise ignore, boundaries that are sometimes in perpetual motion and difficult to recognize. And women who own, or want to own, their sexual selves, in public ways, are being made to push those identities into a different kind of neat little box, sometimes by the very women who say that they want to liberate all women.

The fact is that no one should physically touch someone who has not in some way provided some unambiguous form of clearance for such a touch to occur. And concurrently, I’m concerned that in reinforcing these clearances going forward we are reaching back to undo what we are taught should cause us shame, and recognizing new realities after the fact. These new realities often mean accusation, loss of viability, economic certainty, reputation, and increasingly, jail time.

And we use our justice system, an institution premised on false ideas around equal justice for all, as a tool of revenge for the sexual wrongs that we believe have been done to us. This desire for retribution photo-1469420813546-774640967cf5vindicates a justice system that promises us a do-over, or recasting of the past. We cannot argue for criminal justice reform and continue to believe that calling police can restore what ails us, even as we negotiate, and identify, our sexual selves in a world that should embrace vibrant sexuality between human beings.

Worse, our need to enforce these new realities means that some people get accused simply because the shame of such an accusation elicits swift, and firm, reaction from a judging public. I think of my own marriage, a relationship filled with passion, and a shared intense desire for continuity. And I have wondered, after nearly 20 years, how I’ve managed to speak and not leave her feeling raw. I wonder this even though I know that I have left her raw, and, despite her best intentions, she has inflicted hurt on me also.

Coming Out is to abide with the person who represents what we fear

As a man who enjoys many meaningful relationships with people who identify as female, I am often perplexed how some could not be offended by me, while others have been grossly offended. My identity must be tied to those who feel that I have violated them. And in order for restoration to occur, we, the hurting and the inflictor, must commune in a bid for personal growth. Indeed, I have felt violated by some whom I have met and often times they were those I’ve discovered were much less willing to yield their power to me or my sensibilities. It is troubling that we are taught to be silent when we should become vocal inside these opportunities.

There is no way that we can undo our past mistakes and indiscretions. To even label them this way is to create some level of shame and a natural desire to mitigate, or fervently erase, the shame. While there are too many who grab someone’s genitalia and otherwise physically violate without permission, we must call them in while simultaneously affirming our identities and not allowing that identity to be caught up in attention seeking, self-service, nor co-opted by those hell-bent on retribution.

Coming Out is to accept responsibility for one another’s physical, emotional and sexual health

Coming Out is more than a public proclamation of one’s own identity. And while this public proclamation is immensely important, Coming Out is also an acknowledgement that we share identities and that true allyship requires that we propel ourselves into the identities of those that we say we support. It is to abide with the person who represents what we fear; to commune with one another, even those whom we think have victimized us; to accept responsibility for one another’s physical, emotional and sexual health; and, it is to reject, in total, any inclination that some of us are deserving, while others are not – we are all deserving and we are all not deserving.

When we think of ourselves as the “other” we begin to see institutions and systems as the problem and people as the objects of problem institutions. In seeing this thingification of one another, erased of what makes us troubled, yet beautiful, messy and complex identities, and intentionally rejecting this objectification, we might just be able to bask, grow and prosper in an environment that needs us all to have a proper Coming Out.


ABOUT THE ESSAYIST

Martin McKinney is the
Executive Producer
of Stories Connect


Photos by Victor Powell, Viktor Hanacek, Peter Hershey and Noah Dobin-Bernstein

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