On Being in the Closet

closet

It’s a Monday. I get to my 9am class with a few minutes to spare, and sit down with the group of people that I’ve been assigned to work on a project with. We’re all making polite small talk; how was your weekend, have you started the paper yet. One girl turns around to look at me and asks “What did you do last weekend?”

I hesitate.

It’s an innocent enough question. She had been chatting about her weekend and it was only polite to ask the rest of us about ours. So why did I hesitate? Well, because I had spent the past weekend at my girlfriend’s house. We had made pancakes and squabbled over the correct flipping method, we had cuddled on her couch while bingeing nerdy TV shows, we had made each other tea and sat on her bed talking long into the night.

So I hesitate. I hesitate because I don’t know what her reaction will be. I hesitate because I have to spend the rest of the semester working with this person on a project that is worth a significant part of my grade. Because I don’t want there to be conflict. Because I don’t want to watch her face twist with disgust before she’s able to hide her expression. Because I don’t know what she will do. Because I don’t want to have to sit with and talk with and discuss the project with someone who I know is repulsed by my existence and thinks my loving relationship is immoral, or pathological, or unnatural.

All of a sudden, on a Monday morning, I have to decide whether or not to come out to this girl I barely know, whose political affiliations I am completely unaware of. I must decide without being certain if it will be safe to do so. If I will be a target for harassment, or ostracized and ignored. If all our further interactions, which we must have in order to work on this project, will be tainted by awkwardness and uneasiness. And she only asked me about what I did last weekend.

I wanted to share this moment because I think a lot of people don’t realize that these kinds of moments exist. If you have never been in the closet, maybe you don’t realize how all-encompassing it is. Being in the closet doesn’t just mean not going around shouting “I’M HERE AND I’M QUEER” at the top of your lungs. It’s not even only having to pretend you don’t mind when people ask you if you have a boyfriend, while internally you’re frustrated about their gendered assumptions. It’s having to lie about your weekend plans and not feeling safe when people ask you questions that they think are friendly and polite.

In light of the recent election, I’ve seen a lot of people say that they’re going to go back into the closet, or that if things get really bad for queer people again at least they can go back into the closet. I understand that being able to hide one’s marginalized status is a privilege. Not everyone has that ability and the ones that don’t are in much more danger. I also don’t want people to get a dismissive attitude about being in the closet, and thinking that being in hiding means you’re not really being oppressed.

If you think it would be easy or not at all detrimental to constantly be hiding your sexual identity, then I would just like to ask you: what did you do last weekend?

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