Wednesday, May 23, 2018

What It's Like to be Queer

Pride Week is coming up in my city, and as an early event, last week my medical school hosted a group of transgender individuals talking about their experiences and answering questions.  Although it was a Friday afternoon and I was tired from being on call, I made an effort to attend, partly because I was interested in the session, and partly because as a queer person I feel a sense of responsibility to show up to all LGBTQ* events.  The session was hosted in the same room as my first-year medical school class, and as I pulled open the familiar door, I felt something completely unexpected.


Now, before I continue, I want to give some back story.  I came out as a lesbian when I was 16, and as bisexual less than a year later, so I have been out to the people closest to me for decades.  I brought my same-sex partner to a work dinner over four years ago, and I have been answering people's awkward questions about swingers resorts and polyamory at work ever since.  But when I was in medical school, having just returned to my home city after seven years away, none of my classmates knew.  Because I was still dating men at the time, everyone operated on the assumption that I was straight, and I did nothing to challenge them.

So my first thought, walking into my old classroom, was a reflexive "I hope no one sees me here and figures out that I'm queer."  Which...hello.  A little late now.  I work at a small university, and pretty much everyone who knows me also knows that I'm queer.

But there it was, nonetheless.  An almost instinctive desire to hide.  To pretend to be just like everyone else.

And it came up again last night.  The new girl and I went to a theatre show together, which was hosted by the company with which I volunteer, and my first thought was that I needed to hide the relationship from my fellow volunteers.

My fellow volunteers in a left-wing theatre company.  

There aren't a lot of spaces in this world that are more queer-positive than a theatre show, and yet that automatic response was still there.  Even though I live in a country where same-sex marriage has been legal for 13 years and where the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects LGBTQ* individuals, I still feel anxious about being out everywhere I go.

If my patient finds out that I'm queer, will they want a different doctor?
If my doctor finds out that I'm queer, will she want a different patient?
Can I hold my partner's hand in this alleyway at night?  In the elevator of my apartment building?  In the grocery store?

I am so lucky and grateful to live in a time and place where my rights as a queer woman are protected.

And yet.


  1. that knee-jerk reaction is hard to let go of! But let it go, my dear, as best you can. Be out, be proud, be loud ;)

    this made me laugh: "I brought my same-sex partner to a work dinner over four years ago, and I have been answering people's awkward questions about swingers resorts and polyamory at work ever since." Like, how does one go with the other? people do like a good slippery slope, don't they? And I'll take this opportunity to come out to you as a poly lesbian ;) But one definitely has nothing to do with the other!

    1. Strawberry! I still miss your blog. Hope your son is still doing well.

      I am working on it! My new girl (at some point we are going to have to get over ourselves and us the world girlfriends) is very out and active in the community, so I think she'll be a good influence on me.

      People ask me sex questions all the time. It is awkward and weird. Like...I'm just queer...not every non-mainstream sexuality that has ever existed.

      Thanks for coming out to me! You are the second person to come out to me this week. Must be because of Pride season.

  2. I relate to this so much! Even though I live in the super queer/queer friendly pioneer valley of Western Massachusetts....I always (still) bend towards hiding, I let people assume and allow their conclusions that believe I must be straight because of the way I look. I’m not a particularly feminine woman but people have decided I am “pretty” so I guess that makes me straight or something....I dunno, there is obviously more that goes into this. I get mad at myself though when my doctor, coworkers etc. just assume I date men. And I’m chicken shit in my 40s to say something. Or even date——->previous avian flu commenter.

    Anyway I have not done a good job in articulating but I am glad you wrote this.

    1. Hello Previous Avian Flu Commenter!

      I'm glad it resonated with you. Being out is hard. It's hard to navigate people's responses, good or bad; it's hard to reveal something so personal about yourself to people you may not know well; and it's hard to deal with the very real fear that you might be rejected (or worse harmed) if the person you're coming out to isn't queer-positive. Be gentle with yourself; it's okay sometimes to just want to talk to your doctor or co-worker without having to get into a long discussion about your sexuality.

      I hope that you will get over your fear of dating someday! I am terrified of meeting new people and putting myself out there, but even when it isn't going well, dating makes me feel more alive and whole as a person. And when it goes well!

  3. I find it interesting that you came out as lesbian first (and at 16 no less!) and then Bi less than a year later. I was the exact opposite, although I was 20 at the time - oh what I would have given to be able to be out in High School!

    As for the rest, I live in a sleepy little Vermont town - one I have lived in for 28 of my 41 years, and I am still coming out almost daily. My wife and I do not do PDA, and have only held hands in public maybe twice in our town - once in the dark and once in a remote field. Everyone assumes we are sisters, and they often ask. We gauge the situation, but it's always makes me a bit uneasy to say, "No, we're married," for fear of the reaction. Mostly people are embarrassed and go very quiet. Some stumble over their words and apologize. It's a funny thing, being queer.

    I get where you are coming from. I wish we lived in a world where it didn't matter in the slightest, but sadly it still does matter, and you never know when it might mean danger for coming out. Even though people are much less likely to have a negative reaction than say, 20 years ago, it's still scary!

    1. I am really lucky in that I've never felt any shame about my sexuality (yay for atheism!), so it wasn't hard for me to accept that I was a lesbian. I think I came out as a lesbian first because I didn't really understand that bisexuality was a thing. But then I kept having crushes on men and realized, oh...maybe I'm bisexual. Saying that I was out in high school is a bit of a stretch - my parents and a few of my friends new, but I certainly wasn't publicly out. I was really in my late 30s before I seriously dated a woman and came out to all of my friends/coworkers.

      I hate the repeated coming out and the worry over how it will be received. The girl wanted to take a selfie yesterday, and my initial reaction was "Uhhh....I don't know if I want it on Facebook". Part of it was "We've only been dating for two weeks, this feels so serious!", but part of it was discomfort at being so visible as a queer woman.

      (I recognize the irony that I will quite happily have sex with someone when I have known them for two weeks, but a selfie? Gotta think about that one.)

    2. Hahaha! I laughed out loud at your last two sentences :) Very true, and very funny :)

      As an aside, we had a yard sale this weekend, and one older man said, "Look at the two of you, sending the menfolk out and you stay here to do this." Or something to that affect. How do you react to that? We didn't, just laughed and smiled...and I felt so icky about it afterwards. She's my wife and I am not ashamed! I hate I have to make the decision when to correct someone...if they are safe. It sucks!

  4. This is so true! The woman I'm "seeing" lives in a neighborhood that is safe-ish, and we were walking a block from her place to a cidery and I had to ask her if it was safe for us to hold hands. She didn't know. She hadn't tried before.

    I live in a liberal city that also has an alarmingly high percentage of hate crimes against LGBTQIA folks. And yet, when we kiss in public, there is always tension about an assault. Always.