What does it mean to “come out”? As one of the panelists of Tuesday’s “Coming Out Stories” Brown Bag asked, what do people come out of? After “coming out”, do people then come in to something? In our culture, coming out typically means letting people know one’s sexual orientation as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, or queer. But this begs the question: why don’t heterosexuals come out? I don’t know about you, but I never had to endure the terrifying and potentially life-altering moment of letting my parents know that I was heterosexual. It was just assumed that I was heterosexual unless proven otherwise. This demonstrates how a simple phrase, “coming out,” is a part of our language that supports the heteronormative assumptions of our society. One thing I think it is important to understand how language can be used as a tool to oppress groups and silence the voices of many because of the lack of dialogue. Our language supports categories of people (whether appropriate or not) and doesn’t leave much room for those who don’t belong in those strict classifications.
However, this panel gave voices to several queer students, a staff member, and a professor. They demonstrated that although they don’t fit into specific culturally constructed categories, their stories and lives matter. Specifically, there was a girl whose story was particularly interesting because it is a story we don’t hear very often. She is a self identified straight(ish) girl who is dating a transsexual. She talked about how people didn’t understand her decision and automatically identified her as “bisexual.” However, she did a lot of research and reading and came to the conclusion that she was straight and that her relationship was difficult (even impossible) to explain. This highlights how the binary and restrictive categories surrounding sexual identity and preference isn’t for everyone. Some people don’t belong into any category but our language doesn’t recognize this. Although gender-neutral pronouns are slowly integrating themselves into our language (ze & zir), there is still a lot of work to be done (given Microsoft Word doesn’t even recognize these gender-neutral pronouns or the word heteronormative) to make our language more inclusive and less oppressive.
-Michelle Van Veen