By MASC. DOM. TOP & FRANCIS ABERNATHY
For a few, there could have been a number of counts against him. He was introverted; he got high too often. He was an engineer; he was Floridian. My close friends cautioned me against him, not because of the expressed traits above, but because of the point that went unexpressed. He was closeted. They honestly believed that seeing him, sleeping with him and dating him would hold me back, revert me to a lesser version of myself — indeed, pull me back into the closet.
This was not my first (nor my last) time receiving advice from friends that warned against those who were questioning or not “out.” On countless occasions I can recall them saying, “You need someone who has it figured out” or “It’s not fair nor healthy for you to go through all of that with him.” And again on countless occasions I found myself spewing the same advice to friends, cautioning the pitfalls and pain of affiliating intimately with someone whose identity doesn’t exactly match your own. In any other circumstance, that advice would be taken as absurd and prejudiced. Why do we think it is excusable in reference to the closeted?
Now, I’m not going to say that relationships (be they sexual and or romantic) with closeted and or questioning folks are easy, because (A) no relationship is or ought be easy and (B) there is, of course, an added layer of patience and perseverance that comes with the territory.
However, I really think we should step back and examine our aversion to those who are questioning, those who are still forming their own identities. Shopping in the closet is often a lauded practice, pursued under the pretense that closeted men are rawer, realer men, men that are more masculine for hiding in the far back of the walk-in under the drape of a trench coat. Perhaps that fetish is held more by queer men who still long for the closet itself, and who feel as though their avowed homosexuality compromises their masculinity.
First, I do not believe that anyone is ever fully secure in themselves. Our proclivities, passions, ideas of the world and of ourselves are constantly in flux, perpetually redefining themselves in both a beautiful and cacophonous negotiation.
The idea of an immutable identity is a naive one. We are continually constituting and reconstituting our understanding of ourselves in our everyday performances of them. That practice has been integral to queer negotiation of unwelcoming spaces, imbuing queer people with a strong history of public acquiescence and private contestation alike, from within the bootcamp of heteronormativity that has sought to smoke us out. Embracing the fluidity of identity performance as a mode of subversion and ultimately of overcoming is the arch of queer history. To create an imperative for queer people to calcify their identities into one tidy, presentable whole is to disrobe our rich history and to disavow a powerful practice in our canon. Perhaps counterintuitively, “closeted” individuals may represent queerness more fully than static, “out” queer individuals, as their lives are predicated upon the artful and knowing practices of identity multiplicity and conscious performativity.
Second, fearing and thereby avoiding those who are not fully defined, who are still exploring themselves, is purely a testament to our own insecurity.
I’ve found myself clinging to “gay” and the assumptions built in and around it because it was stable, so that I did not have to think any further about myself in the arena of sexual and romantic pursuits. Stripping away every lexicon we use to define, delimit and organize ourselves, we are bare. We are vulnerable.
To be sure, I do not disparage the personal power and significance of identity, but I call into question the rigidity with which we prescribe it.
For the sake of giving others a chance, for the sake of giving ourselves a chance, be open to questioning. It is only through shared vulnerability that we can access and thrive in the beauty of our true selves. Exploring, doubting and questioning our homosexuality, bisexuality, romantic or sexual interests does not make us lesser, it makes us human.
Masc. Dom. Top is a student at Cornell. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Anal Retention appears periodically this semester.