Thursday, 17 May 2012


How many times did you come out today?

It’s a question I often ask myself. Because, like it or not, coming out isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime-finally-lift-this-weight-from-my-chest thing, and out I am. Breathe.
After you’ve done your big ones: you’ve come out to yourself, your parents, your friends, your co-workers and sometimes your soon to be ex heterosexual partner… then you start the daily coming out routine. You come out at the newsagent’s, at the grocery store, the hospital, the post office. Or at least, I think you should.

Visibility is to us like the air we breathe, vital. Not because we are inescapably flamboyant and ostentatious, though there is nothing wrong with that. Not because we feel compelled to “shove it in people’s face”. But, literally, because if we are not visible we are dead. Our relationships don’t exist, our lives don’t exist, we don’t exist.
Yesterday I went to have my legs waxed (yes, contrary to popular opinion even lesbians sometimes do that) and the lady at the parlour told me: “Your wife came last week, she’s lovely”. She made my day. I don’t mean because she said my wife is lovely, which she is, but because she said YOUR WIFE. Not your “friend”, not “the other girl”, not “is that your sister?”, but wife!

Words are important. They are the way we get closer to understand each other. It is not just wrong word = wrong message. Wrong word and the further away we are slammed from one another.

One of the reasons we got married was that we wanted my grandmother to understand what we meant to each other. Marriage was something she could understand, it was in her language.
She couldn’t make it to the wedding in Amsterdam, but my then 89 years old, Italian, catholic, conservative grandma’s present to us were the embroidered bed sheets of her wedding night.
“Partner” is too modern a word for an 89 years old lady, but with “wife”, you can’t go wrong.

Words are important and words are alive. Every time I come out saying I am married and I have a wife, the word marriage blossoms with new meaning.
Sometimes when we say “my wife” we get a sort of comedy of errors effect. It doesn’t just cause surprise, it makes people uncomfortable. Sometimes people ask “are you the man then?” – “Nope…”. And the dismantling of heteronormative, patriarchal discourse begins, while you are buying vegetables.

A word in the wrong place? No, a word in a different place.
So marriage equality is not about being all the same, it’s about being all different.
In a great strip from Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For Sydney proposes to Mo: “Will you do me the honor of paradoxically reinscribing and destabilizing hegemonic discourse with me?”
We put it on our invitations. We found it hilarious. Most straight friends didn’t get it. But, hey, education is a process!

Every time you come out you are educating someone, you are making things better.
Is it exhibitionistic? I really don’t think so. Sometimes it is fun to shock people, you get some truly remarkable reactions. I have a whole collection. Hysteric laughter from the real estate agent, “well done” from the baker, a discouraging amount of questions about sexual mechanics, general embarrassment, and some people just flee. Most of the time coming out again and again is difficult, tough, annoying, possibly even dangerous.
Visibility is hard work, not only does it make you vulnerable in many ways, it also wears you out. Tell a story, explain, explain, explain.

I understand that there are people who have very good reasons to stay in the closet. I accept it. I don’t respect it.
When I got married a dear friend said she couldn’t come to the wedding because other people might realize her homosexuality, by association. You go to a queer wedding, you must be gay. My visibility threatened her.
On a personal level I accepted it, though it hurt, on a social and human level I never will.

Each and every out LGBT person has paid a price for their visibility, the consequences of their so called “lifestyle”. It has never been easy for anyone, but thanks to all those who came out before us and come out every day, it becomes easier.
In this sense every silent closeted gay or lesbian is a threat to our life in much the same way wailing bigots are. I might feel differently if I lived in Uganda or in Saudi Arabia, or in any of the countries where gays and lesbians are killed, imprisoned and persecuted for their sexual orientation. Precisely because I don’t live in one of these places, coming out is a duty.

Precisely because I live in Italy, coming out is a duty. In this province of the Vatican state homophobia is rampant, tolerated and at times endorsed by representatives of the institutions. Visiting the Netherlands, our former Prime Minister, swamped in sex scandals, could think of nothing better to say than that his “passion for girls was better than being gay”.

When we got back from the Netherlands, proudly and happily married, we dared not go right away to our town hall to ask for the transcription of the wedding on the Italian register. We didn’t dare to because we knew it couldn’t be done and we weren’t ready to hear that no, we were not married, not so soon, not yet.
Six months later we were walking back home from the register office, waving a piece of paper. It says that the transcription of our marital status had to be refused because it’s “against the public order”. The officer who had to put a stamp on the piece of paper was sincerely sorry and puzzled, and even if she hadn’t been, we would still have made a difference.

How many times did you come out today?

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