Originally published in Darkest Timeline Discozine Issue #1. If you want to pick up your copy and support the DIY and queer music scene in the UK, you can do so here!
“But what’s the point if you’re married to a woman?” – That was the question that was levelled at me the first time I attempted to come out as not male and not straight. It’s also one of the external factors piled on with many internal battles that delayed my acceptance of my own identity as Queer. It was only after not being married that I allowed myself to actually talk about the fact that I was genderqueer/non-binary or pan, as it was the only time I felt I could externally legitimise my own feelings and not feel like a giant imposter. Someone who didn’t belong in the LGBTQ+ community because they passed as straight and cis-gendered.
Straight-passing is a complicated thing. I’ve definitely felt it be used dismissively. Like I wasn’t a fully-fledged member. Kind of like how bi folks just ‘haven’t made their mind up yet’. Or the concept of ‘questioning’ as a sexuality (that’s a topic for another day). I’ve also heard it be levelled in a similar way to accusations of cultural appropriation…
And I understand it.
Straight-passing or cis-passing is a huge privilege. I express in a relatively male way most of the time (I’ll unpack that later). While I strongly identify as non-binary, it still means that I can easily walk down the street without fear for my safety, fear of judgement, or being seen as an Other. Similarly, I am now in a relationship with a cis-gendered female, and, as a result, I present as a heterosexual man to most people. This means that it’s unlikely that I’ll be subject to homophobic abuse or violence. I have immense privilege because of this compared to a lot of other trans folks and people in queer relationships.
My ability to ‘stealth’ parts of my identity is a privilege that’s not afforded to everyone. As I mentioned, I still express relatively ‘male’. Why? I’m not sure, and I’m still unpacking. There’s a psychological safety that comes with it, but there’s also a whole lot of gender dysphoria sitting inside too. I only realised this recently when I discovered that feeling a full disconnect between your head and body isn’t as ubiquitous as I thought. In contrast, putting on a dress for the first time, and wearing it in a safe space (the DIY queer emo scene is amazing), made me feel such euphoria and comfort with myself. I’m pretty sure that a lot of the way I express my gender is wrapped up in how much anxiety I’m allowing myself to feel, which then keeps me relatively closeted regarding gender-expression.
And there’s the cost. While straight-passing affords a level of psychological and physical safety, it can also wear down your sense of identity. Your sense of belonging. Your resilience. How much of your authentic self you’re able to express in the world, and knowing that you’re not going to have that expression be trivialised if you’re not ‘expressing’ enough. Feeling welcome amongst people you identify with.
And when you’re consistently made to feel like you’re lesser or not entirely welcome, it erodes your sense of self. It slowly erases your identity.
The whole point of Queer is an embrace and celebrate that people are uniquely different. While we need to be aware of the privilege afforded us, it’s also important to take up some space and share our stories. That way, we might be able to help someone else embrace who they are, and allow them to be more of their true self in the world.