western closets and silent stories
October 31, 2012
Recently had a discussion with voz concerning the ‘closet’ and how it is not only ill-suited in a gender context, but also ill-suited for really conceptualizing the complex reality of poc gender and sexuality. This is a post that I thought I wrote during last year’s national coming out day (and, hey, I found it, but it doesn’t really express all that I have to say about the subject because it was prompted by a specific situation).
First… what does it mean to be ‘out’ in terms of your gender? To a certain extent, I don’t really get how this framework surrounding sexuality is applicable to a gender thing (actually, I don’t really get how it is meaningful for sexuality either, but leave that aside for a moment). I maintain a general belief that you perfectly embody your gender. Always. Regardless of what that body is or what you may have done with your body to feel like you better embody your gender (ie., whatever you needed to do to alleviate dyshporia didn’t change the fact that you already embodied your gender).
I’ve been pretty vocal in the past about rejecting the label of ‘trans’ since I have my own frameworks in which to understand and articulate my gender/sexuality. What does it mean for me to be out? To even attempt to answer this question requires me to accept far too many western centric notions about gender/sexuality than I have any interest in really entertaining, at this point. Moreover, answer the question requires that I reify the closet as a central component to my personal narrative and to how I conceive of gender/sexuality.
I mentioned during the twitter discussion that ‘coming out’ had been translated (well, I originally thought it was just an alternative term but I was wrong) into swardspeak as ‘unfurling the cape.’ As translation, it is clear that it fails in several regards. 1. It removes the spatial metaphor so key to the closet construct 2. it challenges the notion of an public/private distinction so key to western identity/politics/life.
Note that if one unfurls their cape, you are doing nothing but, perhaps, increasing your visibility. You already have the cape (and it is obviously not the harry potter invisibility cloak or whatever). You already have the cape and you are wearing it: thus, you are already yourself and living your life as yourself. To unfurl, then, just acts as an intentional signal that you know/understand who you are. It underscores what is already visible and existent: but it does not create a ‘new’ state of being.
I’m only discussing this as a means to further highlight that even in translation, the ‘closet’ must be changed/subverted if it is to have any meaning for people like me. As one of the tweets I posted quotes: “coming out is a [white] american drama.” It is a drama so uniquely white american that even though I grew up here… I ended up both unfurling my cape and coming out (only possible by growing up as a colonized subject in a global diaspora).
But what does being ‘out’ or living ‘openly’ or whatever else is on the positive side of closet dichotomy have when, your default understanding of acceptance is predicated on a foundation of silence? That silence, rather than being an oppressive and horrible fate (as understood by white americans), can be comforting, loving, and an expression of acceptance and love?
Importantly… how will we ever get to a place of decolonization and understanding ourselves free of whiteness, if we continue to frame our experiences within the terms/metaphors/standards set by whiteness? And there is a danger in translating concept like the ‘closet’ into our own languages (even if they fail to really translate the full meanings or social constructions). This danger is also inherent and visible when bakla is (easily, if falsely) translated as ‘gay.’ This danger is to, again, centre the experiences/metaphors/concepts of a discourse constructed not only to exclude, but also to destroy and eliminate.