Coming out in inverted commas because I'm unsure as to how I feel about the term. No one should feel obligated to declare their sexuality - it is a very personal thing. However, we live in a world where people are assumed heterosexual until they assert otherwise, and as such coming out is often a practical thing you have to do. How can we expect to obtain our rights, without first asserting that we exist?

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Coming Out to...the Sensible Friend

My Thoughts

I first met her at college in Bangladesh. She's one of a great group of friends I made back home, the real close kind I never thought I'd make so many of. We've always gotten on really well. We're wired the same way, with our to-do lists, control-freak tendencies and drive for perfectionism! In college, she was the nice, smart girl who was out to do good in the world, and had goals that I really respected. But she went to university in the US: the distance and our new lives caused us not to grow apart, but just to generally grow while we were away from each other. A lot has happened to both of us while we've been away for our degrees, and we may never have shared these stories if I hadn't decided to come out to her.

She was the third friend told be told, and the first born-and-bred Muslim Bangladeshi that I was going to disclose my bisexuality to, and as such I was more than a little nervous. I knew that she was at least a little religious, and I worried that this would colour her views negatively. But I also knew that she was open minded, and not the kind of person to hurt me even if she didn't 'agree' with my sexuality. Yet that didn't stop me from worrying about our friendship, and what would happen if she was intolerant or uncomfortable with sexual diversity. Another big question on my mind was something I think many will be familiar with: will she keep this a secret even if she doesn't take it well?

I had to do this regardless of how she reacted though. She wasn't the kind of friend I could stay closeted from. We were close, and I started feeling that keeping this from her getting disrespectful. I still procrastinated, however, and conveniently I never saw her online for a couple of weeks. Until I did, and I actually made plans to Skype her at a specific time so we could talk. I chickened out of telling her by saying it out loud though. I said I had something to tell her, that it was big and I wanted to type it rather than say it. And then I typed it out, just like I had for my best friend a few months ago.

Her reaction was nothing like I expected. My confession caused here to launch into a speech about how she believed sexuality existed on a continuum, and that she was not necessarily completely straight herself. Major shock. I couldn't believe I had a friend from Bangladesh who thought they might not be straight. So these stories about closeted friends around you could be true after all! What followed was an exciting exchange of information. She went on to enquire about my mental health, stress levels and generally made sure I was okay. It was touching, and the talk really helped us bond again. She shared quite a bit about herself, her own mental health and the trials and tribulations that come with moving to university thousands of miles away from friends and family. We talked about life, and how everything was different now. She didn't necessarily have the answers - we talked about us, our minds and our sexualities. Not about how we would deal with it practically, what we would do in the long term or what it meant religiously. I've been planning and planning the practical my whole life, and just to stop and talk about myself rather than my plans was elating in a way I can't describe. We've talked about and around the issue of sexuality many times since. She's helped me focus and vocalise my own thoughts and opinions, and I've come to know myself better as a consequence. Writing this now, I can't help but feel that coming out to her is what has made us friends again like we were in college.

Her Thoughts

I wasn’t shocked when he came out to me. More specifically, I wasn’t shocked that he wasn’t straight. We’ve always teased him about being a closet homosexual. What did surprise me was that I’d never considered that he may have been bi. There may be a lot of dialogue out there about LGBT rights, but I don’t think I have been much exposed to dialogue about being bisexual. As acceptance of homosexuality increases, I think we’re just starting to assume that there are two types of people in the world. Gay or straight. I had always been sure I was straight. After he told me about his experience coming out, I asked him if he thought I might be bi too. He said he wouldn’t be surprised. Apparently I have never talked about guys the way other girls do. I was thinking more along the lines of how sometimes I had thought about girls the way I would normally think about guys and then wondered why that was because I knew I wasn’t gay.

Not very long after, another close friend, different gender this time but also Bangladeshi, also came out to me about being bi. Actually, came out would be the wrong term. It was more like she updated me about the status of her sexuality. Apparently she has been conducting “social experiments” so that she could understand herself better. And she was trying to place herself on the Kinsey scale. This was when I realized just how *not* discrete someone’s sexuality could be. The isolated thoughts I’ve had about girls made sense to me. I wondered whether I wanted to explore my sexuality too. She encouraged me to conduct “social experiments” too, but I wasn’t interested. However, I did ask a bunch of people of both genders awkward questions about their thoughts and tendencies.

Why am I writing about this? Because my blogger friend here asked me to write about my reaction to his coming out to me. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say. I didn’t feel any different about him or anything. But that conversation did set me on the trajectory of 'non-discretizing' the world around me, and to an extent learn a little bit more about myself. I’m not gonna talk about that; and to be honest, I find that I don’t really care. From what I may have gathered through asking awkward questions, I could be straight, I could be bi, or heck, I could even be asexual. But the interesting thing is that I’m probably a mixture of all the above. Human sexuality is an extremely complex thing and it really deserves to be studied more.

And how does religion figure into all of this? Well, it doesn’t really. Not for me. I can sympathize with my friend trying to reconcile his identity as Muslim with his sexuality. It cannot be easy. But I face no religious conflict regarding my “acceptance” of him. I don’t fear for his soul or whatever. In fact, I can’t really tell you about my religious views, only that it has been a while since I’ve viewed the world through a religious lens and I’ve started to rely on my judgment and conscience to make decisions or form impressions of other people. I can understand why he might have been nervous on this front before telling me. I was going through my “religious phase” when I first knew him. I don’t think I really talked to him about this, but this “phase” was when I tried to reconcile a lot of my ideals with mainstream religious ideals. Over the last couple of years, I suppose I’ve relaxed my religious ideals to an extent that I never even bring them up. It wasn’t a conscious decision. So when he came out to me, I never even thought about religious implications until he specifically asked me to share my thoughts on the matter.

That is not to say I was always a very liberal person when came to sexuality. Back in the A Level days, I certainly liked to think I was very *open minded* because my friends and I didn’t pretend like homosexuality didn’t exist. We’d laugh over what it would be like if we were gay (who needs guys anyways, right?) and we’d put gay characters in skits we made up. But none of that meant we thought it was *okay* to be gay. I’ve even heard something tell me people chose their sexualities early in life by choosing which pheromones to respond to. And I even sort of believed that back then (yeah I know!). But my ideas have changed as I’ve gradually come to understand the complexity and nuances of people. I’ve talked to people, read journal articles, taken a class in brain and behavior. I guess maybe you could say I’ve grown up a little. My friend waited a while to tell me, but I get it. I don’t think he owed me the truth or anything. It didn’t matter when and if he came out to me. Because it really doesn’t affect our friendship in any way. That being said, I’m glad he did tell me because it gave us something new to talk about. It gave a chance to get to know each other again, because so much had changed since we first knew each other. And it helped us build a more mature friendship.

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