Sunday, May 27, 2007

Political vs. personal

Last Saturday I gave a phone interview to a reporter with the Bay Area Reporter, who is doing a story in the Pride issue (to be published June 21) about bi visibility. We had a forty-minute discussion about being out; her first question was whether I had been out at work, to which I answered both yes at some places and no at others. That led to her second question, which was how it felt to be out at work versus in at work. Her last question was if I thought it was important for people to come out. I said yes, because the more people come out, the more people who think they don't know any queer people will know that they know queer people. That will lead to a liberalization of attitudes, which will make it easier and safer for people to come out.

For me, it was a pretty productive conversation, having to articulate things I've felt for years about coming out and not coming out. I definitely have this strong feeling that people should come out, including myself, for political reasons, like the one stated above. On the personal side, I feel that each person should do what they feel comfortable with, coming out to the people they choose when they choose, also including myself. I recognize that it's safer for some of us than it is for others, and I don't believe that people should be yanked out the closet (much as I wish they would open all the doors in Hollywood and on Capitol Hill). I often feel guilty about not coming out, because the political angel on my shoulder tells me I should, at the same time that the personal angel tells me I should do so when I feel safe. It's a big struggle for me, and has gotten much worse since I married, due to feeling defensive about protecting my husband and my marriage from other people's stereotypes.

Later that day I sent the reporter an email saying that I wasn't comfortable with her using my whole name in the story. I acknowledged that this might mean that I can't be part of the article, but explained that an acquaintance lost her job because her employers discovered she is bisexual. I also explained that a friend who had been positively profiled in a local paper was slaughtered in an online news"paper" due its very different slant on the same story. It would be different if the BAR was a paper paper, but it is on the Web, too, and coming out in this article literally means coming out to the whole wide world, without being able to control any of it.

I do not feel good about the choice not to come out in the article, though it was supported by Zirpu, who has been stalked and who is more than 50% responsible for my use of nicknames, and by a friend who has more than one presence online to keep her vocational and her avocational lives separate.

The reporter and I finally talked today, after I left a voicemail message following up on the email I sent. She said, and I wasn't surprised, that she wouldn't be able to use my remarks because I'm not willing to use my whole name for the story. She quickly added that that is BAR policy, which she hadn't mentioned at any time during the interview last weekend, but was especially true of the Pride issue, which only made me feel worse. I did not engage her again in my reasons for not using my name, and said I was sorry for wasting her time (I was annoyed that she hadn't mentioned the policy until over a week later, so it came out passive-aggressively. Oh well). She said I hadn't and thanked me for participating anyway.

I was really disappointed. Sure, part of it was because I wasn't going to be in the story, but also because I felt like I had some valid things to say, and because of the irony that I didn't want to be named because of homophobia.

Shobi-wan and I talked about it. She is currently out as bi at work, though, like me, she has worked places where being out felt comfortable and where being out didn't feel comfortable. She supported my decision to be unnamed and therefore not in the story. She said that she and her husband have a friend who was stalked by someone who read his blog about having and receiving treatment for cancer. She said it turned into a big ordeal that their friend had to endure while going through chemotherapy, and his blog was about cancer, not about sexuality. She feels that coming out online is a potentially unsafe thing to do, and said I did the right thing.

I'm still not sure. I did the right thing, the personal angel says. The political angel says I did the hypocritical thing, especially in the face of a person who is totally out online. I feel better than I did before I talked to Shobi-wan, but the political angel has a very loud voice.

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