Talking Circles Around My Queer Identity

Photo by Tony Ross

Clara Barnhurst

I’m not out exactly. I mean, of course I’m out on some level or other. But I don’t maintain my outness. Writing for Transgender Universe is one of the only things that keeps me coming out to people; it’s just not a topic in my life. Until it is. One side effect is how people perceive me less as a member and more as an ally.

Outness is a thing that you have to maintain. People assume everyone they see is cisgender, heterosexual, allosexual and monogamous. Even when they don’t always make those automatic assumptions, they will usually assign those assumptions to things about your life. Many of my queer friends who know better have assumed that my two stepfathers were both my mum’s husbands, for example.

I’ve written before about how I find this automatic woodworking quite useful; it means I don’t have to sit there and talk queer all the time. In some ways my queerness is obvious: I’m engaged to marry a woman. I wear an ace pride ring. I have green hair, which isn’t in itself an explicit queer signal but crazy coloured hair is ingrained in queer culture to the extent that it may as well be. It’s not like I’m hiding here; people just assume.

An interesting side effect of my tightening boundaries is how I have shared deeply with friends without coming out to them. I’ve discussed in detail my past, my body issues, how difficult puberty was, how I had to relearn how to live after my marriage ended. That I was thrown out “for coming out”, but not saying what I came out as. Nobody asks.

That’s the thing: it doesn’t come up. Nobody asks, and it’s clear that they probably know. Anyone who digs through my writings or scrolls through my social media long enough will know exactly how queer I am, in what ways and how I’m doing with that. I have considered swapping my identities to a pen name just to free my personal life of that specific information, but so far it’s just not brought up unless I bring it up.


Many of my friends in transgender circles choose the word ‘deny’ when I talk to them about this phenomenon. They say they see no reason to deny that thing about themselves. It makes me feel like I have to justify my decision to not discuss it. As if me keeping my business my own is somehow a deception.

I like being approached as an ally. I like that my status isn’t part of my discussion of what’s right. I like that actually, what I am and whether I’m part of the oppressed group in question is irrelevant: we’re fighting oppression and that I’m there helping is what matters. Who I am and how these things affect me is unimportant.

And actually, that I function as an ally rather than a member solidifies the idea that we’re talking about human rights. Everyone. I don’t have to share my details to protect my human rights and my decision to keep my details to myself is not a denial of anything. It’s just subtle (or not so subtle) shaming tactics. My business is mine. Omitting things about me I don’t want on show is not a denial, it’s me keeping myself to myself.

Photo by Jana Sabeth Schultz

What we choose to share, how and with whom is our right. My human rights include my right to disclose. Choosing not to disclose is not some kind of denial of what I am. It’s not anyone’s business. Someone else might see it as some kind of denial, but that’s them and what I’m doing might not work for them.

Humans appear to have this bizarre habit of framing the actions of others in the context of their own lives. This happened to me when I came out as ace: people kept relating my asexuality to some abusive situation they remembered. I hate that people have suffered in that way but there is no link between a former partner using sex as a weapon and someone being asexual. The same is true for me keeping myself to myself: it’s got no relationship with how much denial I might be in.


“Can you tell me once and for all about this whole trans/non cis thing. For real.” A message from an acquaintance. We hadn’t discussed this explicitly before. My internal reaction was one of confusion: I didn’t mind talking about it, but I didn’t know what context they were asking from. When I pressed, they finally said, “You seem to have a good grip on it… and you have green hair.”

This was after a rather strange exchange where I discussed ‘this whole trans/non cis thing’ for real but in the context of what I shared with her previously, which is largely nothing. We then spent some time talking around each other, as if she was waiting for me to just come out there and then, but didn’t want to suggest what I was without my doing that. Meanwhile, I wasn’t cooperating.

It’s a bit like someone coming to me for my personal reaction to a problem related to a disease, say diabetes, without me ever mentioning or making obvious that I was a diabetic. What would my personal reaction mean without that information? How would that knowledge be relevant to the rest of our relationship?

One common way people seem to want to fish for sharing is to spout aphorisms about how we should all be accepted. As though I will just come out there and then because they worry about acceptance. I don’t get it: maybe the reason I don’t come out is because I don’t want to talk about it. Perhaps the aphorisms are exactly what keeps me from sharing, well meaning or not.

At the end of the day, it’s our information. How queer we are, in what ways, and what that means to us is not for public consumption. And not all of us will want to share on a regular basis. Nor should we. Stop quietly shaming those who keep themselves to themselves by implying there is a denial happening. Stop fishing for information. Just let us be. When it matters, the information will come out. Or not! Either way, that’s for us to decide.


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