For today’s Community blog post, we’re excited to feature the voices of a diverse sub-group of folks connected with Generous Space. Some are gay, some trans, some queer, bi, or pan, but they share one thing in common: they tend to be mistaken as straight and cisgender at least partly because of the people they’re married to.
Their relationships are sometimes referred to as “straight-passing” or “straight-presenting,” though these terms can seem to wrongly imply that they’re trying to slip under the radar, when in fact, they’re not. Their statements below reveal that the assumptions made about them afford them a complex mix of privilege and erasure.
Part 1 of this interview series is below… and you can find a link to Part 2 at the bottom of this post.
(For brevity, we’ve condensed responses and/or chosen a representative selection from among the responses for some questions. All emphases/bolding are ours.)
1. What prompted you to come out and connect with LGBTQ+ community?
I was prompted to come out publicly by the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando…. I had been out to a number of close friends and family members for a few years, but after that event I realized how important it was to be visible as a member of the queer community. I wanted people around me to know that they did know a queer person so they couldn’t say “oh issues like this don’t affect me or anyone I know.” (Anonymous)
I was a theology student who wanted to figure out what I believed about gender and sexuality, and as I did that, I wanted to hear from LGBTQ+ Christians, since I believe that people on the margins know more about these things and have stuff to teach everyone else. I initially wasn’t sure whether it was “legit” to claim my place in the LGBTQ+ community as a bisexual person, since I am in a straight-passing marriage, or if I should present myself as a straight ally (even though I am not straight and that didn’t feel honest). (Tara, bisexual)
Well, I haven’t entirely come out. The majority of my close and trusted friends know that I’m queer, but my family doesn’t. I chose to come out and connect with the LGBTQ+ community as much as I did because I discovered I was queer! I had never even considered that I was queer because I was attracted to men. When my theology around LGBTQ+ inclusion changed, I suddenly had the space to consider my own queerness. In discovering I wasn’t actually straight, I immediately felt the need to connect with people who would understand and who could help me begin to process. (Aileen, queer)
My partner has always known about my “same sex attractions” even before we entered into a relationship with each other. At that point, I thought my attractions would change upon entering a union with a woman, but they did not… I had thought I would be able to “ride this out” for the rest of my life, but that could have been farther from the truth. I had reached a point in my life and relationship where I could no longer “pretend” that I was straight… Looking back, what has prompted me to come out and connect with the LGBTQ community? Self preservation, survival, keeping my family safe, filling a need I have always had, facing my greatest fear, ridding myself of shame and internalized homophobia, grounding myself back to how God created me – to love others (and I didn’t know it at the time, but discovering that I am loved so very dearly loved too). (Jordan, gay)
When I finally came out to myself, I wanted to come out to my friends and family so they could know me more fully, and also because I truly believe that relationships are the most immediate way to tear down prejudice… I want to be known as queer. I don’t want my acquaintances, friends, and family to think they don’t know a queer person. For myself, I want the community and “seenness” of connecting with other queer folks. I LOVE IT when I am in a space that assumes queerness first. It is so validating. (Marie, bisexual – see photo)
2. What factors do you consider when making the decision about whom to “out” yourselves to today?
I’m very public about being bi/pan/queer, but in those cases where people are unaware…
I will come out if they are also queer and would feel safer knowing;
I will come out if people are genuinely asking meaningful questions on the topic;
I will come out in some cases where people are being publicly malicious about sexuality/gender identity, as an attempt to offer an alternate voice to those listening. (Jamie, bisexual)
My spouse and I have an agreement that it’s okay to out ourselves to other 2SLGBTQ+ people. He’s been clear that he doesn’t want to be treated differently by my extended family because he’s trans, so has chosen not to explicitly come out to them (he’s out to my immediate family), and I respect that… Safety, our relationship with a person/group, necessity, and visibility are all factors in whether and when we choose to out ourselves. (Erin, bi/pan)
Being out to me is partly about living my authentic self and partly a political statement. I’m not quiet about my queer identity at work or in my personal life. If you want to get to know me, you’re going to know that this is a core part of my identity and how I move through the world. (Anonymous)
My partner and I only recently came out publicly, but I feel like because “Mixed Orientation Marriages” are not very common, I have discovered quite quickly that we get a lot of questions and some are not very appropriate. So with that in mind, I am personally quite guarded who I come out to, but the person usually needs to be someone I trust or someone I know that is open or understands what a Mixed Orientation Marriage is (I use this term, although I personally don’t really like it and haven’t found one that I feel encompasses my relationship). I also don’t tend to bring it up unless it can flow into a conversation, my relationship and my sexuality is a part of who I am but it isn’t all of who I am. So trust, a pre existing relationship or understanding of circumstances, and relevance to conversations are my main factors. (Aleesha, queer)
Factors I consider are:
1) How am I feeling? Do I feel ready to have this talk?
2) How important is this person in my life? There are people who can just “find out”, and there are people who I want to tell personally, even if they’re non-affirming (e.g. my parents).
3) How “safe” is this person? Which means, how accepting, and not only accepting, but truly happy for me, is this person likely to be? This helps me gauge how much emotional effort this conversation is going to take. My husband, who is wise, reminded me that it is other people’s job to make themselves known as safe people to tell. It is not my job to make them safe people or to treat them as safe when they give no indication. (Bethany, bisexual – see photo)
I walk this life today with no hidden agenda and almost no shame, I don’t hide it… I don’t share it right and left either. I choose based on the conversation. If the conversation is at all touching on queerness and queer experiences, I happily share and usually say casually “as a queer trans person, my experience has been so & so …” never making it the center or making a big deal out of it. Seeing peoples’ reactions to this is priceless. (Caro, trans/queer)
3. Can you describe how you feel when you’re in LGBTQ+ communities and spaces? Does your partner also connect in these spaces, and if so, how do they feel?
I often use gender neutral pronouns when referring to my partner in queer spaces. I guess there’s a part of me that worries I will not be seen as a legitimate part of the community if people knew I am in a “straight appearing” couple. That said, both my partner and I are queer and get a lot out of being in queer spaces and interacting with other queer folks. (Anonymous)
I feel happy most of the time, especially witnessing the younger youth embracing who they are and ready to live up to the “better life” they are called and made for. (Caro, trans/queer)
I often wonder if the people around me consider me to be a legitimate part of the LGBTQ+ community, and I worry about being slammed for having “straight-passing privilege”. There is privilege – but it’s the “privilege” that comes from being unseen and having false assumptions made about me (so basically being in the closet), and I don’t enjoy being in the closet any more than other LGBTQ+ people do! My partner does not connect in these spaces. He would not see himself as being part of the LGBTQ+ community – it’s my thing, not his. (Tara, bisexual – see photo)
Oh man. It’s a great feeling. I’m not often in queer spaces (like, I can count the times I’ve been in a queer space on one hand), but when I am I have had only positive experiences. I feel very safe, and free, and seen. I went to my first Pride parade this year by myself and had so many feelings it was hard not to weep on the sidewalk. I went to the Generous Space retreat in Ontario even though I didn’t know anyone (basically an introvert’s worst nightmare). I really wanted to find queer Christians and I was willing to do whatever comfort-zone-abandoning thing it took to find them, and it was truly life-changing. 10/10, would recommend. My husband is incredibly, unequivocally supportive and loving, but he has a crazy work schedule as a medical resident and has so far been unable to come with me when I’m in queer spaces and communities. But I think he would love it. (Bethany, bisexual)
If I’m being honest, I feel a bit out-of-place in LGBTQ+ communities and spaces, or at least a bit on the outskirts. Not for lack of welcoming on the part of the community members, but because I know my partner and I look straight. Whether or not it’s true, it feels like it’s assumed that I’m straight because my partner and I look like a cishet couple. I can’t let people know I belong to this community by who I’m with, so instead I have to speak about it somehow. I often struggle to find appropriate moments in conversations to make it clear that I’m queer. I often have this bizarre desire to just yell, “I’m queer!!!” so that people know I’m part of the LGBTQ+ community too. (Aileen, queer)
We both experience a mixture of connection, love, safety, and wariness (related to experiences of horizontal oppression) in these spaces. Because we’re reasonably well known in the Ontario GS community and the Hamilton 2SLGBTQ+ community, people are generally aware that we’re a queer/ trans couple, but this hasn’t always been the case. There have been moments in the Hamilton 2SLGBTQ+ community when we’ve been treated with suspicion, because an assumption’s been made about our identity as a couple and as individuals. I’m grateful that we haven’t experienced this kind of mistrust in the GS community. (Erin, bi/pan)
I feel loved most of all. I feel belonging. I feel a sense of family. I feel comfortable and at home. Experiencing being present in these spaces feels almost nostalgic, like this is what I should have been experiencing and what I have been missing for most of my life. I feel safe and protected. In regards to how my partner feels in LGBTQ spaces, I think it is dependant on the setting. (Jordan, gay – see photo)
I guess it depends on what the LGBTQ space it is! I personally feel more at home in faith based communities, so in Generous Space settings I feel right at home to fully be myself. In more secular LGBTQ settings, I feel a bit more out of place, like I can’t fully be myself as I have to try and explain why I am there and justify my relationship. (Aleesha, queer – see photo)
Because I am in a “straight-passing” relationship, I am still very cautious in most queer spaces because bi-erasure is still quite prevalent. While the more overt prejudices have reduced, the micro-aggressions are still very common. My wife, who is straight, is less comfortable, in part from hurtful assumptions made about her and our marriage by both straight and queer people. (Jamie, bisexual)
Oh there is a range! Most of the time I feel free, seen, understood, authentic, real, open and affirmed in 2SLGBTQIA+ spaces. I am also frequently challenged by my own lack of intersectional experience/sensitivity. Sometimes, I feel misunderstood, inauthentic, and rejected, because I am not “queer enough”–that is not the norm, though. (Marie, queer)