The Quiet Queer: Pulling Back Into the Closet

Photo by Kirill BalobanovUnsplash

Clara Barnhurst

I expect most queer people have evolving boundaries about their queer information. Its sometimes hard to know how out is out enough; when external circumstance doesnt dictate the boundary, were left to discover our own comfort zone. The water mark is different for each of us, and sometimes we discover we are too out for comfort. When that happens, we go through social adjustments that can be similarly disruptive as coming out in the first place.

When I first came out, I dove headlong into a new culture without much thought. I was fortunate to not suffer any violent shifts in social standing with friends and family (divorce notwithstanding), though certain people did fade away without a word. Im blessed that those who know me best stuck around. However, my close associations became a living thing. Mostly because I knew more people. And such variety in them! Getting to know everyone required a lot of energy; I became selective about who I invested in.

This is all healthy stuff, especially in view of the fact that I escaped an isolating relationship and was in dire need of expanding my social circle. Some were lost, one or two I still miss, but on the whole I gained. I count myself lucky.


Once things settled down, I found myself too out for comfort. The t-shirt wearing activist look wasnt for me, and I found the meet ups less engaging than I did to start. Perhaps I needed them less, maybe it was because I had plenty of cishet friends that kept in touch. Maybe my lack of rejection from the outside world kept me from feeling the need to find safe spaces. My circumstances were charmed compared to many.

My blind luck led me to withdraw back into the closet. I could try and attribute it to other things, but I did nothing for my privilege. I didnt need to be out, and I found I was too out. So I withdrew.

Our visibility is about comfort. For some, being totally open and visible is where they find the most comfort given their circumstances even if it isnt a choice. Others find total obscurity most helpful. A few would show up to meetings that had total obscurity and actually decided they were not out enough, which shows that this isnt just about external forces. It also shows that our comfort zones evolve as we do.

As I withdrew back into the closet not all the way, but a distance I found my friendship circles changed again. Some saw my withdrawal as a form of betrayal. Some saw it as an elitist move, as if to say my privilege meant I was somehow superior. Many of the people I knew a year ago have faded into the periphery. Some have made an exit, and not always quietly.

Its like coming out all over again. Yet again I must gauge how it will be taken. Once more I find myself finding opportune times to establish a new boundary. That question wasnt really appropriate earlier, I said to an acquaintance that asked me if the surgery I mentioned was trans surgery. He was respectful and started giving me looks to see if raising something about my status was OK. After a conversation where the answer was repeatedly no, he stopped trying to broach the subject.

He dealt with it perfectly, but the similarities with coming out to a person is striking. Find the moment, regulate the boundary, make it clear how much or how little you will talk about, hope others respect your boundaries. Who knew going back into the closet would be so similar complete with lost friends.

That some queer folk find withdrawing back in as a betrayal is of particular note. I cant help but draw parallels between those that react to a withdrawing individual in that way with those who are violently opposed to that same individual being queer. The truth is, most of us operate on some ground between absolute visibility and total obscurity. The largest population of any LGBTQ+ group isnt out there with glitter all over their faces. Theyre not totally in the woodwork either. Theyre just queer and it comes up when it matters.


My queerness rankles when others make it my defining characteristic, but I also enjoy discussing queer issues. Its paradoxical that this quality of mine is counted as the most boring, yet it creates so much conversation. Ive had to discover how to discuss the things that interest me in a way that keeps me out enough for comfort. I learned to be out, and Im learning how to not be too out.

Of course, my out enough is different from everyone elses. I have no model to follow when finding my comfort zone. In fact, the only model we have seems to be out and proud, when maybe were just out and getting on with life. Or maybe just getting on with life and proud. Why is there no decent model for the quiet queer?

Perhaps the model isnt visible because all the quiet queers are busy living life quietly. Being a model for other queer people is definitely too out for me, at least in meatspace; my comfort zone excludes being visibly queer enough to model quiet queerness. Its hard to imagine Im not alone in that feeling.

We all need to find our own sweet spot in our outness. There are no wrong answers to the question of how out is enough, but the messages we get are dualistic and often unhelpful. The process of withdrawing from or entering further into a culture will inevitably create shifts in social circles, but the community has proven unhelpful. But really, the same rules apply for coming out: take joy from those that support you, understand its not entirely in your control, and be ready for rejection.


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