What was that, my coming-out conversation?

Originally posted on my private blog on 28 February 2008.

I just had the most terrible conversation I’ve ever had with my mom. I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but I think I feel worse right now than I do after the screaming matches, the hysteria, the bleak depression and the exasperation of the two hour-long circular conversations.

Because on the way home in the car tonight, my mom asked me if my Facebook profile is private. She assumed it was public, because she assumed I just like to be as open and exhibitionist and unsafe about myself as possible, and that I wanted to let everyone in the world know what books I read and what movies I see. Sorry, I’m being unfair to my mom with that. I’ll tone down the resentment. She was just concerned that I might be denied a job in the future, or hurt in some other way—not because there are any pictures of me doing anything illegal or irresponsible on my Facebook, but because Story of O and Coming to Power are listed in my favourite books.

So we had to have a conversation. A very, very awkward, beating-around-the-bush conversation, about my “signalling”, her “notions of what constitutes privacy” versus mine, and how people “will put two and two together”. She said she didn’t judge the content, just the openness. But to me the two go hand in hand, and now I feel wrong. Just, wrong. I tried to justify myself, my actions and my identity. Mom said that she didn’t base her identity on sexuality, and it almost seemed like she was criticizing my sense of sexual identity. I tried to defend that, saying how that sense of collective identity is important for any minority. I said that I wasn’t ashamed of anything on my Facebook, that no one but my friends and people in my high school network could see it anyway, that I know how to be safe and responsible online, and keep private what should be private, and what seemed very important to me, that I am theoretical and dispassionate. I tried to imply (of course not in so many words) that this had nothing to do with porn, what turns me on, whatever. This is to do with literature, with cinema. This is to do with the fact that there are certain things I, unusually, see as normal—and so that doesn’t disqualify certain good pieces of writing and film from making it onto my lists.

But now I feel judged. I feel wrong. I feel like I’ve made mistakes. I don’t want to go against my mom’s wishes, against our family values, whatever it is. I feel like the right thing to do is to take all my giveaways off the Facebook, that if my mom says to hide it that’s the right thing to do. I’m trying to tell myself that my belief in not living in secret is wrong, that my desire to share my favourite books is just disgusting exhibitionism, that what I am is inappropriate for public and maybe even inappropriate for private too. I don’t want to disappoint my mom. I don’t want to be inappropriate. I must be wrong in thinking that I have a good handle on my privacy, the difference between theory and TMI, and all that real-world stuff. I should be trying harder at delineating sexual topics as taboo. I should be reinforcing those societal norms. If I have to do it, I should do it in the privacy of my head and offline and in the dark, furtively.

That’s not the way I want to live. That’s not how I think anyone should live. I don’t think it’s healthy, I don’t think it’s right, and fundamentally I don’t see a real problem with me being me. I have the inclinations I have, and I like to analyse myself, understand myself, and be open about this process. I also like to instigate dialogue, teaching moments, and a whole new range of innuendo. I like to open people’s minds. I like to insinuate. I never go round to random strangers and get in their face about sex. I don’t even like to discuss my bisexuality at GSA, for crissakes. I just like to insinuate, drop hints, and not be scared to hide my books. Matter-of-fact. Not embarrassed. And if I want to read a book that’s, um, non-mainstream, why shouldn’t I? It’s not like I have sexual responses. It’s not like I’m jacking off in public. It’s literature. And I know people don’t understand that. But to me, if porn isn’t funny, it’s academic. And the books on my favourite books list aren’t funny and aren’t quite academic. They’re enthralling, psychologically mesmerising. But they’re books. They’re my books. And why should I hide them?

Oh? Then why do I have a backpack filled with verboten books under my bed?

I’m hoping someone is going to reassure me that there is nothing wrong with what I have on my Facebook profile, and nothing wrong with me. I want someone to tell me I’m not a gross pervert or whatever because there are books with omg sex! in them on my Facebook. I want someone to tell me that writing “Story of O” on my Facebook doesn’t constitute describing my fetishes in graphic detail to random strangers.

But I’m scared of what you will say. I’m scared you will tell me I go to far, that I need to be more circumspect, that sex—and especially my “version” of what sex constitutes—isn’t appropriate for high-schoolers and Facebook. I don’t want you to tell me that my mom is right. But I’m scared you will. I’m scared there is something wrong with me, more fundamental than my repression and my body image issues and all that normal stuff. I’m scared to be twisted. I feel like I should be apologizing. But if I think about it, I don’t really quite know why.

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5 Responses to “What was that, my coming-out conversation?”

  1. oh honey, your instincts are right. Your mom is scared for you, but she’s making a mistake in trying to reverse what are your true “family values.’ Your impulses come from deep within yourself and your family experience, and thus from your mother too. There is no way to be safe from life!

    I suppose if I heard this whole thing from your mom, I might see something different, since I am a mom too, and always feel like I’m being “misunderstood” by my daughter. Or sometimes I want to bring something up “small” and it just explodes into a giant worry fit.

    You are soooo intelligent, and I’m sure whatever “job” you have in the future will be either with cool people who love your mind and aesthetics, or you’ll be happily dishwashing with others who dont’ give a fuck!

    Oh, and can I be your Facebook firend? ;-)

    Susie Bright

  2. Thanks so much, Susie. Seriously.

    (My general policy is to only Facebook-friend people I know in real life, in order to keep my name/location/all that good stuff private. I mean that in the nicest possible way though.)

  3. I saw you’d linked World on a Slant, so I came by to see what your place was about, and read this, like, a month later, but hey. I wanted to leave you a comment.

    Closets are hard. Some people can do them, and some people can’t. It sounds a bit like you’re one of the people who feels cut-off and erased in the closet; I’m one of them too.

    When I was your age (I can’t believe I just said that), I was kind of ferocious about being not-closeted. These days I’ve sort of mellowed out; I don’t need to assert it loudly, but I’m not going to hide it, and people who have a problem with that can go pound sand.

    I’m not going to say that there aren’t people who will find a way to make trouble for you if they know, but my experience is that in many areas at least so long as you don’t do inappropriate sharing, people will leave well enough alone. And while being out is a risk, being closeted is also a risk. I’d say: Pick the risks that don’t flay your spirit.

  4. Thank you; I take that advice very much to heart.

  5. Yeah. This is something I struggle with almost every day. What’s too much information? What books can I safely have on my shelf, for people to see? What marks can be left on my body? How should I answer a roommate who asks where I’ve been when I’m coming home from a flogging workshop?

    It was a huge step for me to put all my sex books right next to everything else on my bookshelf, and to feel comfortable with letting friends browse my collection without trying to hide the kinky stuff. To me, this is totally different than talking to them about the hot scene I had last night. If they’re uncomfortable by what they see in my bookshelves, they can just stop looking at my books. And I don’t think it’s any different for a Facebook profile. I wouldn’t worry about that.

    As for putting two and two together…maybe. I’d certainly err on the side of assuming people will think you’re kinky if you list “The Story of O” as one of your favorite books. And if that’s a problem for you, I’d take it off. But I certainly don’t think this constitutes any sort of inappropriate behavior on your part, or TMI for your friends.

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