The Privilege of Being Out

ABC Screenshot CropBeing “out” in the number of ways that I am is a privilege I enjoy in almost every aspect of my life.  The act of being out can help others find empowerment in their own lives through positive reinforcement and visibility, yet it is a status not every one can afford or risk.

I’ve crafted a really big bubble to live in over my lifetime.  That bubble helps me remain out as a public figure, and from it I gain a huge source of strength which helps me trust in my own frankness about who I am when I find myself outside of my various communities.  My bubble keeps me safe and helps me continue to grow in my understanding of others.  I come from a long line of pretty supportive and open-minded family who also went individually about seeking communities they could live more authentically and less fearfully in; so my bubble is one I’ve crafted over my entire lifetime, and it was strengthened with a lot of early support.  My bubble is a privilege.  People with smaller bubbles, or non-existent ones can not move as freely throughout their lives as I do.

I have been able to come out at various times pretty smoothly to my predominantly artistic, often liberal, generally agnostic friends and relatives.  I’m lucky that though I have a public presence, my audiences (on stage, in writing, and in my classroom) have been very supportive of how open I, as an individual and in my work, have been throughout my career.  I am out as queer and bisexual (though I officially identify as “sexual”), as a drag king and burlesque performer, and at one point in my life I was a woman married to another woman.  I’ve come out as polyamorous, kinky, as masochistic, and as submissive (though that last one’s still a hard conversation for me and a bit emotional, but I can talk about it relatively openly).

I also have come out on occasion as a white person, as generally cisgender, as a female who dates men, and as non-disabled…  Why?  Because this:  I think owning all of who I am matters a great deal.  If I only allow myself to be defined by the things that make me a minority, if I only acknowledge the parts of me that are fighting for visibility, I am less likely to question the privileges I enjoy over others less privileged as I walk through the world.  Without mindfulness of that spectrum of existence, I will risk distancing myself from people who are not just like me.  Being out is a privilege I personally can enjoy because when one looks at ALL the things I am, I am still free to say what I like and be who I am pretty openly without fear of losing my job, my family, my livelihood, or (much of the time) being physically threatened by it.  So, it is my responsibility to be out about/acknowledge the parts of me I am granted privilege for being even when I don’t say them out loud.  Being out as someone with privilege is a status everyone can afford and risk.  Working toward my goal of being an ally to people who I have privilege over, I must recognize the ways I have privilege or I cannot be true to the work of being an ally.  When I acknowledge the complexity of my own experience I can begin to understand or empathically value the complexity of experience others live within.  This is how I believe we begin our work toward respect and equality.

So, in a conversation about queerness, kinkiness, artistic opportunity, or being a woman I might have a lot to say about my POV and experiences, however I will spend more time listening and learning from people sharing their thoughts about their transgender identity, experiences as a person of color, reality of immigrant status, experiences as a disabled person, etc…  I don’t know these particular struggles first hand and so it is my job to listen and put my privilege of speech away for a while in order to learn.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ve come to understand myself better in these regards, and how I have allowed myself to be more frank when talking about my identity with others.  The following list is just a beginning for reflection:

  • Think about all of who you are:
  • What do you like about it?
  • Are there people that you look up to who are like you?  What do they say about the subject of being out?
  • What parts of your identity are you proud of, make you happy, or do you value and love?
  • Are you afraid of revealing any of these things to others, or have you been hurt in the past by being open about them?
  • Are there currently people you can’t tell about these parts of you for fear of retribution, harm, or shaming?
  • Are there people you can tell easily?  Why is that?
  • Are there people you have reservations about sharing your life with even though it would probably be ok?  What would need to change for those people to be safe to talk to?
  • Has anyone ever come out to you?  What did it feel like when you were taken into that confidence?
  • If you could be out about your own struggles and identity, what would it look like?  Would it be a statement of concrete identity, or an articulation of a broader POV about the subject?  Would it be an identity you’ve heard before, or something new you’ve made up yourself that fits?
  • Can you accept another person’s articulation about who they are when it’s brought up to you?  Is it a struggle ever?  How do you work through that struggle?
  • When you find yourself questioning something someone is telling you about themselves is it out of curiosity and a need to understand more deeply, or from the need to organize what they are saying or assimilate it into your idea of what you already believe?
  • Can you accept yourself apart from accepting others?

I am not advocating for or against being open about who you are in unsafe situations, and I recognize that is not even an option for some people anyhow.  I think it’s important to remember that pretty much everyone is a survivor in their own right and in their own lived experiences.  With that in mind, here’s to working for equality while supporting one another’s differences, and to finding the worthiness of all our selves to coexist respectfully.

To Breath and Being,
~ Karin

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~Thank you.

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