Coming out when you’re single

In this, my last of three posts on coming out, I examine the shorthands we use to come out and ask what kind of pitfalls they have

There’s no doubt — being closeted is bad for your health. It places you in the position of feeling like you are doing something wrong. You feel guilty because you’re hiding the truth about yourself. In this, my last post on coming out, I want to explore ways we can come out in order to ease this burden.

Two weeks ago, I asked how different work cultures affect our ability to come out. I also argued that being trans, genderqueer, or anything other than a straight [ha!] gay or lesbian can leave you open to misunderstanding and feeling less able to come out. However, if you are in a workplace where coming out is a possibility for you, the question remains — how do you do it? This week, I want to look at how we come out. What are the shorthands we use for declaring our queerness and what kind of pitfalls do they have?

One of the easiest ways to out yourself is to refer to your same-sex partner. You can casually drop a reference to them into the conversation to signal your queerness to your colleagues. This has the benefit of feeling like a very natural way of coming out. It’s not obvious that your intention is to come out (thereby feeling natural), and because it feels very casual, you are probably less likely to experience a negative reaction from others.

However, this strategy isn’t available to everyone. After reading my first post on coming out at work, a friend commented she’s not sure how she should come out to her employers, because she’s single.

Source: adventuresingay.tumblr.com

Source: adventuresingay.tumblr.com

As someone who’s been single for most of her adult life, I understand this dilemma.  There is a huge difference between casually referring to your same-sex partner in front of new acquaintances and coming out as a single person. The first is an easy go-to phrase that allows you to test the potentially homophobic waters when meeting people for the first time. The second feels awkward. It feels way more legitimate to refer to your same-sex partner than to find another way to casually drop the gay bomb into conversation.

When I was single, I felt frustrated with this situation. Having a partner provides you with an easier way to out yourself. It feels awkward to say, by the way, I’m gay! Like you’re pointing out your difference. Of course, this feeling of awkwardness is probably internalized homophobia. It just doesn’t apply to a straight person talking about their sexuality.

The world — even the queer world — is set up to privilege couples. Being in a relationship facilitates every aspect of your life from cheaper rent, to vacations to work and family events. I’ve often felt that the pressure to be coupled is such that it’s considered better to be in any relationship at all even if it’s unhappy, than to be single.

However, before the revolution happens, we need to find ways to come out that feel less awkward to us. (After the feminist socialist queer revolution, this won’t be necessary.)

So, how do you come out when you don’t have a partner? One alternative way to come out is by dropping a super gay activity that you do into conversation. You can mention that you’re going to that gay curling or queer tango class this evening. Like referring to your partner, this has the benefit of feeling natural as it fits into the kinds of conversations colleagues have at work.

This is just one idea and I am sure there are many more. So, now I turn it over to you. How do you come out, especially when you don’t have a partner?

Ode to 2013 and some thoughts for 2014

(Not resolutions! I’m not writing my motherfucking resolutions! That’s just a recipe for disaster…) 

Happy 2014 readers! How on earth did that happen? You know you’re old when you start the new year by telling your partner “I’m looking forward to spending 2012 with you.” In my head, I’m still 29 (man, that makes me sound old).

So, I know, I know, it’s been ages since I blogged regularly. I’m surprised most of you haven’t given up on me. Ever since I moved to Toronto a little over a year ago, I’ve been overwhelmed by life. My depression has recurred, I’ve been working full-time, commuting two hours every day and started a serious relationship.

All this has got me wondering, how on earth do people who work full-time find the time to blog?! I swear many productive bloggers must have day jobs but I don’t know how they do it. They must not sleep, or BE MAGIC.

You know what else is magic? Sherlock.

You know what else is magic? Sherlock.

This year, I’m going to do my best to balance it all. Write, love, work, somehow get status in Canada and apply for a PhD. All this in one year? HELL YEAH. 2014 is going to be the year of productivity. Just make sure they don’t release another Sherlock season, because that’s going to fuck it all up. I waste way too much time watching Benedict Cumberbatch gifs on Tumblr.

Like this one.

Like this one.

Goodbye 2013. You were a tough year. You gave and you took away so much:

You were generous:

Getting a full-time job with the miracle qualities of working for a company I actually care about and using some of my skills. Having been underemployed for the previous 3 years, I know how not being employed can weigh on your self-esteem. In a culture where the first question people ask you is “What do you do?”, being underemployed feels like confessing, every time you meet someone new, to what a failure you are.

You taught me how to love:

As of tomorrow, I’m going to have been in a long-term relationship for a WHOLE YEAR (I’m going to freak out and revert to 16 now I’ve written that). Being with my partner has taught me a lot about myself, my use of time, how to be intimate with someone. I feel blessed to have him in my life. He’s been my rock.

You were a bitch:

Even though I appreciate aspects of having a full-time job, this working full-time for the first time in years has me as convinced as ever that the working week is designed to keep you as exhausted as possible. ‘Keep the peasants tired and they won’t have time to rebel.’ Working 37.5 hours a week and commuting two hours every days leave me little me time. I’ve fantasized a lot this year about being rich, and isn’t that telling? The fantasy of being rich keeps us all dreaming rather than criticizing the system that only allows a few to earn their freedom.

You weren’t very creative…

Even though I started off this year with the best of intentions, they were soon buried under the search for employment and demands of actual employment, a relationship, commuting and moving house.

I knew that moving back to Canada would be damaging to my writing career. It would take me away from the group of readers I had built up in Berlin and would leave me, unemployed, in the middle of new city and country, having to start all over again. “Better sooner than later,” I thought and packed my bags.

Although I have struggled to find the time to write this year, that hasn’t been the only reason my blog has suffered. I’ve been afraid of success, of failure, of finding things out about myself I don’t want to know. The usual reasons artists are blocked.

Even when I was offered opportunities to develop my writing – such as posting my blog on Rabble; writing articles for the Shameless blog; or creating an article for Existere, York University’s creative writing journal – these opportunities compounded my fear of success and blocked me even more.

I was even blessed to have asexual folk from all over the internet submit their thoughts and feelings about being asexual to me so that I could write a representative article on their sexual orientation for Shameless. I never wrote that article. I feel that I have let a lot of people down, and myself most of all.

…in fact, you were the year of procrastination

I saw this marvellous quote on Tumblr about how perfectionists are also procrastinators because they feel like they can’t work until they all the information they need. Which I felt summed me up pretty well, so I just spent an hour trying to find it in my feed. I was like, “I can’t carry on without this vital piece of information!” Until I realized that I just proved my own point, and decided to let it go.

Writing as a perfectionist is hard. Because you expect everything that comes out of your mouth to be fucking fantastic. So I’m going to try and get over that worry because, more often than not, when I reread something I wrote that I thought was terrible the next day I’m like “that’s actually quite good!”

[^^ The syntax in that sentence is fucked up]

 

So, in 2014, I’m going to give myself permission to write bad things. Because sometimes you just have to wade through the shit in order to get to the good. I’m going to spend more me time, because I need that in order to survive. And I’m going to apply to do a PhD to get me out of the office job. Because it just doesn’t suit me.

Happy 2014 guys! I hope yours is wonderful.

Gratuitous Sherlock gif

Gratuitous Sherlock gif

How does your work’s culture prevent you coming out?

While writing my first post on coming out at work last month I wanted to say so much more. I wanted to argue how the type of place you work at affects whether or not you feel you can come out with impunity. I wanted to argue how problematic the trope of coming out by referring to your significant other is. So I’ve decided to make this topic a three-parter. Last month I examined coming out when you don’t fall into a neat L, G or B category. This week I go on to ask how the type of place you work at affects your ability to come out. In the final post, I’ll question how do we come out at work when we’re single?

Coming out at work isn”t straightforward. While your average employer might be OK with a middle-class, white gay man in his/her team, how will s/he feel about a transsexual woman, butch dyke or sissy queer? Even within the apparently inclusive term “LGBTQ” there are the socially acceptable gays and the too-queer-for-employment, er, queers.

With the addition of newly conceived genders and sexualities, coming out isn’t, let’s say, traditional anymore. Not for everyone the lesbian rom com of feminine slightly awkward girl meets similar and then living as the socially-accepted-but-always-slightly-inferior gay couple among their mostly straight friends. Sure, many LBGT people lead fairly straightforward lives apart from the fact that they aren’t straight. But for some — politics aside — our sexuality and/or gender don’t fall into neat categories. And for some of us who are visibly queer, hiding our difference isn’t a choice we can make.

But I'm a Cheerleader makes it all seem so easy...

But I’m a Cheerleader makes it all seem so easy…

Coming out as queer in any situation isn”t straightforward. While most will understand what you mean if you refer to yourself as a gay man or a lesbian, will they understand if you call yourself queer, transgender or genderqueer? As the editors of Rabble so aptly summarized last month’s post, coming out isn”t as black & white as it used to be. These days, we don’t only come out as gay or lesbian; we also come out as bisexual, queer, transgender, polyamorous and more. However, in a time in which coming out is the most socially acceptable it has ever been, this acceptance only seems to apply if your sexuality is relatively straightforward. And, for some employers, transgender issues are barely on the table.

For many, coming out is a double-edged sword. Coming out as trans, for example, can leave you open to the ignorance of your colleagues in ways that coming out as gay or lesbian might not. On the flip side, staying in the closet means you could face the psychological effects of being misgendered every day.

But closeting employees isn’t only bad for the employee in question’s health, it’s also bad for the company who employs them. Even the most conservative employers should recognize the negative effect of closeting employees on the workplace. Employees who feel unable to come out at work spend a lot of energy censoring their speech and behaviour. This is energy that could otherwise be spent on their work. Employees who are closeted are also less likely to stay in their position longterm, which means companies waste money finding and training new recruits.

As I mentioned last week, I work in an organization whose mission is to teach emotional literacy and empathy to children. Luckily for me, this work attracts some lovely people and I doubt I would experience discrimination for being queer or having a trans partner. The glimpses I have seen of the corporate world, however, show a completely different culture. Vast areas of the corporate world are dominated by white, straight, macho dudes to the vast exclusion of women and people with non-heterosexual life choices. Coming out as anything other than lesbian or gay in this culture seems laughably difficult. When even being a woman makes you an anomaly, how are you then supposed to come out as trans? Furthermore, if queer people are systematically excluded from corporations, how will the culture of these corporations ever be changed?

There are many other workplaces in which coming out doesn’t seem like a good idea. As a babysitter two years ago, I worried that coming out as queer would make the child’s parents uncomfortable. Sadly, some people still think that homosexuality is a disease that can rub off on their kids. Even though the family seemed liberal-ish, I worried that their potential homophobia would force me to quit and find a new job. A friend recently expressed the same concerns about her job as a nanny. The thing is with homophobia and transphobia is that you never know where you’re going to find it. It’s not just the big bad extremists ‘out there’ who discriminate; homophobia and transphobia are very live and well in our everyday lives. And you never know who is, or isn’t, going to be a douche about it.

I’d be interested to hear your experience of coming out at work. Are there any other work cultures that feel hostile to LGBTQ identities? Have you decided to come out or stay in the closet. If you come out, how do you do it? Don’t forget to check out next week’s post, where I’ll examine the privilege  extended to couples in the ways we come out.

Coming out at work; is it necessary?

Who we are seen to be at work affects our relationship with our colleagues, managers and our job security. In my case, as a queer femme in a relationship with a transsexual man, I am often misread as straight, which forces me back into the closet. My perceived sexuality puts me in an uncomfortable position in relation to my co-workers and managers.

Things feel completely different in the corporate world, where the work culture I’ve seen is straight, male-dominated and pretty macho.

When I started there I found myself in the unusual position of un-outing myself, or at least of being seen to do so. Because my partner goes by ‘he’ I surprised a lot of my colleagues by referring to my boyfriend. I feel conflicted about this; undoubtedly most of my colleagues picture a cis guy in their heads when I refer to my boyfriend and think of me as straight, which is just a lie. But going out of my way to explain that my boyfriend isn’t ‘normal’ feels offensive (towards him) and just plain awkward.

Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary by Monica Nolan

Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary by Monica Nolan

It is definitely easier in some ways to let my colleagues make assumptions than out my partner as trans and me as, well, whatever that makes me. I imagine myself saying “my boyfriend, who’s trans, by which I mean a transsexual man (potential awkward explanation here)” and leave them to make whatever assumptions about us they’re going to make. It’s much easier for me not to include this addendum, which feels uncomfortably apologetic to me anyway. I feel like I’d be insisting on my abnormality, while apologizing for the complicatedness of my boyfriend’s gender. And, of course, it’s way easier to ride the wave of heteronormativity than consciously outing myself.

Of course, I am complicit in this misreading of my sexuality. And I gain heterosexual privilege from that. But all this makes me uncomfortable. After bumping into a colleague when I was with my partner and introducing him, I wondered whether her view of me had changed. Whether she felt I had lied to her in some way. Because this does feel like lying. Even with colleagues who are my age, I don’t want to out myself because it feels too awkward. And, of course, I fear their rejection.

Out at Work cat meme

Out at Work cat meme

Not to mention the fact that I feel I’ve let down the older lesbian at work. She immediately (correctly) pegged me as one of her own, and seemed disappointed when I started to talk about my boyfriend.

Maybe this is what all bisexual people feel like. They, too, are seen to be aligning themselves with a particular sexual group when they are in a relationship. If bisexual women refer to their boyfriend, they will be misread as straight. If they refer to their girlfriend, they will be seen as a lesbian. Both of these assumptions contain some element of truth, but both miss the whole picture.

Our understanding of sexuality is still so black and white. What happens to those of us who confuse these boundaries?

I’d be interested to find out how you juggle your queer identities at work. Do you feel comfortable or do you feel you have to hide parts of yourself? Can you share any strategies for coming out as LGBT and is it even necessary?

Food Justice in TO

In my last post I talked about the inherently classist structure of restaurants, gyms and stores that sell health food. My lovely roommate has now drawn my attention to this awesome video. Created by youth of Toronto from Lawrence Heights, one of TO’s large assisted housing projects, it draws attention to the lack of food in their community.

As one mother says, “you wanna eat healthy? Well, guess what, you have to pay a lot for it.” In response to the lack of affordable fresh food in their community, these awesome youth are creating their own projects.

But I can’t articulate any of this as well as they can, so take it away:

Orthorexia, the new eating disorder?

Laura Brightwell examines the trend in organic and fresh foods and argues that we are unhealthily obsessed with healthy eating.

Our eating habits have changed hugely in the past 10 years. Women on a diet no longer content ourselves with eating a salad and skipping meals. We have also started paying microscopic attention to the food that we do eat. Understanding more about the way chemicals in mass-produced and processed foods impact our health, we, as a culture, are turning to organic and fresh choices. Outside of supermarkets, our city streets are sprouting whole foods shops, raw and fresh restaurants and even our fast food chains are selling foods marketed at a health-conscious audience. But how much of a difference do these foods make? Are businesses that offer “healthier” choices just cashing in on our nutty obsessions?

Orthorexia nervosa may be a familiar term to some of you. For others, it’s totally new. But, the reality is, we are all familiar with the eating behaviours this term describes. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, orthorexia is an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating. From the mass-marketing of organic produce to the popularity of “fresh” restaurants, orthorexia and related eating behaviours are an accepted part of our daily food culture.

Orthorexia calls attention to a disordered relationship with food that is so often perceived as a healthy one.

The first time I read the term orthorexia (admittedly, in my favourite book on healthy eating for women), was an AHA! moment. It gives the name to a disordered relationship with food that is so often perceived as a healthy one. Orthorexia is, of course, not just eating well. According to the AEDA, “Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity.  They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and […] self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise).”

Organic Coke by Koert van Mensvoort

Organic Coke by Koert van Mensvoort

For me and, I suspect, for many women, this description of a dysfunctional relationship with food sounds all too familiar. Although I recognize that orthorexia, along with other eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, is a serious illness, like these other eating disorders, aspects of orthorexia can be seen in many people’s diet and eating habits.

For media and the collective subconscious, “healthy” is often shorthand for “thin.”

This new term calls attention to a disordered relationship with food that is so often perceived as a healthy one.People who exhibit orthorexic behaviours are often publicly praised for eating healthily. A person with anorexia who eats little may be lauded for their ‘restraint’ and dedication to their health. In a culture that values thinness over health, women are praised for unhealthy eating behaviours. For media and the collective subconscious, “healthy” is often shorthand for “thin.”

Other aspects of orthorexic behaviour include a feeling of superiority to others as your self-esteem becomes wrapped up in your eating habits. We often use moral terminology when we talk about to the food we choose. We say that we have been “good” when we follow a diet and “bad” when we don’t. Needless to say, thinking of all eating as “bad” and not eating as “good,” is inherently unhealthy. If we are unable to eat a cookie without experiencing a desire to purge or punish ourselves, how much of our attention to food is about our health at all?

The face of organic culture is undeniably young, white and thin.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do believe there are benefits to eating whole foods over processed, but the whole foods/organic/fresh trend of recent years seems, for many people, less about eating well than losing weight. The obsessiveness behind our eating highlights the problem with our new healthy habits. It is worth asking ourselves why we choose the foods we eat. Do we choose healthy food to feel good and nourish our bodies, or do we aim to do both these things while secretly hoping that we will lose weight?

Healthy or not? Cafe sells organic fast food in NYC

Healthy or not? Cafe sells organic fast food in NYC

For me, the understanding of orthorexia as an illness sheds light on our emotional relationships with food. When I eat a carrot, I feel good about myself. I feel in control of my environment, my body and my life. When I eat several cookies, I start to feel that my body is my enemy and my life is out of control. The desire to eat healthy food is, unfortunately, less about being healthy, but more about controlling my body, my desires and my weight.

Is it worth asking ourselves who has access to our “healthy” spaces and at what financial and emotional cost.

The face of organic culture is undeniably young, white and thin. I would also argue that it is predominantly female. As Christi-an from Kula yoga in Toronto says, the litmus test of norms comes in what kind of bodies are welcome in certain spaces. It is very easy to see who does, and who doesn’t belong in a space. When I walk into a yoga class, or vegetarian restaurant I anxiously look around to find someone as fat as me.  Unless I am represented in a space, I am unlikely to feel comfortable in it.

Although it might be tempting to dismiss my discomfort as neurosis, this exclusion of non-normative bodies has been well documented. The absence of fat-positive yoga studios for example, has led Kula yoga studio in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood to create a fat-positive space, as well as brown girl and queer yoga classes. I would, of course, argue that this exclusion stretches to the majority of health and well-being services.

Is it worth asking ourselves who has access to our “healthy” spaces and at what financial and emotional cost. If I, a young, white, middle-class, feminine, able-bodied, albeit fat and queer, woman feel uncomfortable in spaces that sell health, how would a queer person of colour feel, or someone who Is differently abled? And all this is not to mention the fact that such services are often expensive, thereby excluding those with low incomes.

If I’m not allowed access to a certain lifestyle because I don’t feel or look thin enough, then how much is this lifestyle about my health? Organic, fresh culture seems disproportionately focused on the way we look and far less on improving our mental and physical health. To take it even further, as this article argues, could our eating habits even be a way of proving our social status?

But, where does all this leave orthorexia? What’s so wrong, after all, with a preference for fresh, organic food over processed junk food? Although a fastidious attention to produce and freshness could be perceived as a healthy habit, as with all eating disorders and worrisome habits, the problem lies in the thought process behind, and the excessiveness of the behaviour. If we, as women, or as a culture, can’t ever enjoy a burger or a donut without feeling compelled to purge or punish ourselves by excessive dieting or exercise, then there is something tragically wrong in our relationship to food. This is undeniably unhealthy.

I’d like your input to help me work this moral foody conundrum out. Do we live in an orthorexic culture? I’m especially interested in how our gender dictates our relationship to food. Women often have a hugely complicated relationship with nutrition and our bodies. Is healthy eating, for you women readers, just a way to stay thin?

Is burlesque just a fancy word for stripping?

As you know, I’ve joined the ranks of featured bloggers at Rabble.ca. Come and check me out there as I will be publishing exclusive content on both ye olde blog site, and ye newe conglomerate host. As always, please let me know what you think as ask:

Is burlesque a new-wave feminist performance or a throwback to a misogynist tradition? I try to pin down the pin-ups and find out if burlesque really is just stripping.

When Dita von Teese was asked if burlesque is just a fancy word for stripper, she replied, candidly, yes.

Often touted as the mother of a movement that has been lauded by fourth wave feminism as ‘liberating’ and ‘empowering’ for women, for von Teese to equate burlesque with stripping flies in the face of many of her female fan’s pro-burlesque arguments.

Burlesque is, for feminism, a controversial issue. Feminists of the anti-porn persuasion might argue that taking your clothes off in public means you are buying into the illusion that women only gain power through the lens of male objectification. Sex positive feminists might counter that by taking control of the ‘male gaze’ the burlesque performer is cultivating her* own subjectivity. As she determines what sexual  image she presents, she is the agent. The latter is the viewpoint of a fourth-wave feminist audience who are eager to claim that burlesque is anything but stripping.

My own view of burlesque is a bit more ambivalent. I don’t think burlesque is inherently feminist or inherently sexist. I have been to well-known burlesque clubs in London (the European one) and Berlin, where i failed to find much that is feminist in the performance. On the other hand, seeing performers with various body shapes and genders create performances around fraught subjects such as fat, eating and the politics of hair removal, I found their burlesque intellectually stimulating and 100% bona fide feminist.

© Sara Svartan Persson.Simson Petrol

© Sara Svartan Persson.Simson Petrol

Personally, I’ve found that the difference between a conventional strip and a feminist performance often lies in the appearance of the unexpected. As an audience member, I often find myself wondering if the performer is reproducing stereotypes of femininity, or exploring gender and making me see it in new, unpredictable, ways.

Another ingredient that can turn sexist assumptions on their head is the appearance of the performer. If she has a non-normative body or chooses to present it in a non-normative way, this can challenge the expectations of the audience and thereby convey a thought- provoking message. Performers with bodies that are culturally scapegoated, such as fat people, trans* folk, or people of colour can use these to present a new glimpse of what sexy can be. Performers with culturally “normative” bodies can present them in an unusual way (by strapping on a dildo, for instance) and thereby challenge our notions of gender, sexuality and a “woman’s place.”

It would, of course, take a PhD level of inquiry to explore the distinction between burlesque and stripping satisfactorily, and I just don’t have space to do that in 1500 words or less. However, it is safe to say that burlesque goes beyond a purely titillating performance when it is naughty in other ways. The radical nature of this burlesque lies in its cheeky challenge to sexist norms.

Now, if you’re a really radical feminist, you might be wondering “What’s so wrong with stripping, anyhow?” My, and most people’s, use of the word stripping implies a moral judgement. Stripping is for stupid women and those who don’t have any other choice. Stripping is a bad thing, a last resort.

For the purpose of the article (and perhaps because I am chicken), I haven’t been trying to make a moral distinction between burlesque and stripping. As Dita von Teese said, things are more messy than that, and where’s the fun in being PC anyway?

© Sara Svartan Persson/Simson Petrol

© Sara Svartan Persson/Simson Petrol

Many feminists’ desire to distance burlesque from stripping is symptomatic of the ideological messiness that von Teese argues is inherent to the medium. Not only is burlesque an art form, it also is stripping. Perhaps even the most radical feminists won’t be able to argue away the sexist conventions that are upheld even as they are parodied on the stage.

However there is a difference between burlesque and stripping. If for nothing else, the difference between the two can be boiled down to class. As my very wise partner said, burlesque is a privilege. And as I am very wisely going to elaborate, that means it is a choice. Every single burlesque performer I have met does it as a hobby. There may be a few well-paid professional burlesque dancers out there, but the majority do it purely for fun. I doubt anyone would perform in a strip club for free. Stripping is most definitely work, and burlesque is something only the privileged can afford to do.

As much as I would like to tie up the loose ends of this article in a neat little bow, I don’t have the recipe for what makes a burlesque performance feminist or not. As an amateur burlesque performer and a stringent feminist, I hate to hear that other feminists consider my performances inherently sexist. Although I agree that aspects of the burlesque tradition are sexist, I think these conventions can also be turned upside down to give the audience a new idea of what sexy can be. Burlesque, it seems, is hard to pin down.

N.B. I sometimes refer to the burlesque dancer as “she” in this post. I realize men, genderqueer and trans* folk can and do perform burlesque, but I have chosen to address the sexist dynamics of burlesque mainly in relation to its female, cisgendered performers.

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