Hiding vs. Survival: When Being 'Out' Isn't Safe
When I first began “dating” as a teenager, I was always conscious and slightly paranoid about how I behaved with the other person in public, and not necessarily PDA. This was about knowing whether anyone I knew would be around, lurking, and accidentally seeing me. If I were anywhere close to home, I could risk a nosey neighbor seeing me “misbehave in the name of God” and tell my mom. Can you relate?
I still have this same problem today. Not because I’m going around doing unspeakable things with a significant other, but because I’m gay and enjoy goodbye kisses with my girlfriend. In some neighborhoods, I don’t feel comfortable “being gay” with someone. I’m not even a huge fan of PDA, but it also sucks to feel like it isn’t an option in certain neighborhoods.
Some places simply feel unsafe.
Some places have conservative family members living in them.
Some places have conservative neighbors.
Some places are new and you’ve not yet evaluated the social climate.
Some places have homophobic banners too loudly displayed.
This is only coming from one of the privileged of the LGBTQ+ spectrum. As a cis-gendered, femme presenting, and often straight-passing queer, I can perhaps brush off the noise around me in certain places. I’m not saying things should change or that our mentality should be prouder, so we can be ourselves anywhere and everywhere we go-- This is unrealistic. I’m saying it’s okay to continue to lay low. It’s a form of survival. Why should I rush into being obviously gay in my parents’ neighborhood, when I know the situation is complicated?
I’ve had some friends share with me how they cannot be too lovey-dovey with their significant other when they visit their family. I get that. Some parents would explode at the sight. They’re not ready. Mine certainly are not. I’ve also had partners express their frustration with the baggage that comes with visiting my family. They don’t want to have to “straighten” their outfits. They want to be able to hold my hand. They hate when family members call them a "friend". I understand these partners’ frustrations. I get frustrated with these things too-- But there is a reason why things are the way they are.
So if you ever go out with your significant other and after stepping out of the car, you two exchange a look that says ‘not here’ – I get it. Or if you exchange a look that says ‘it’s safe here’ and you two run to hold hands like normal and share that thrill of happiness that comes from being able to be free to exist, yup, I get that too. It sucks to have to have to hide in certain spaces. It sucks to beat yourself up for feeling afraid after however many years you’ve been comfortable with yourself, too. It sucks to feel as though all that work you did on boosting your self-worth as a queer woman or validating your existence within the family and friends in your life has been taken away in an instant. However, that’s not the case and it shouldn’t be. All that self-confidence work is still valid. The world isn’t perfect. As someone who has a terrible “gay-dar” (though, to be fair, I don’t think that even exists!), I’d rather be good at scoping out safe neighborhoods than be able to scope out whether someone is gay or not.
Survival. Survival is important.