22 April, 2007

Revolutionary Acts and Calculated Risks

Or, Notes From My Activist Self

I often say that happiness is a revolutionary act. My experiences in this world could have left me unable to take joy from anything. Many people who live with the scars of childhood abuse, or who struggle to cope with debilitating physical illness, or, honestly, who are unable to come to terms with their sexuality, kill themselves. Others numb themselves with addictions, or they cut themselves off from life to cling to the pain they have known. They are unable to move past what happened into the possibilities of their futures. To continue, not only to live, but to take joy in life... that is revolutionary.

Happiness is not just accepting those occasional moments of grace, when joy bursts through you unexpectedly. It requires work. To get real happiness, and not just the ability to put a smile on your face regardless of how you feel, you have to be at peace with yourself.

To do that, you have to come to a point of self-acceptance. And one aspect of self-acceptance is being willing to be seen by other people. Which leads to coming out.

I have been coming out for what seems to be my entire adult life. I came out as a pagan. I came out as a lesbian. I came out as a survivor of childhood abuse. I came out as a spanko. I came out as a person with an invisible physical disability. I came out as a person who grew up poor and on welfare. And then, when I thought I had finally gotten done with coming out, I faced coming out yet again, as a person with Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Am I out to everyone I see, about everything I am? Of course not. Sometimes coming out isn't relevant, and sometimes, while relevant, it's a risk I (or W. and I) are not willing to take.

However, as much as I can, I push my comfort levels to be as visible as I can be. It is always a calculated risk. I have grown accustomed to adding up the positives and negatives of a particular moment of coming out, and deciding whether to say something. Or not.

I believe that self-acceptance is vital in this process. If I whispered, ashamed, "I am _________," and then hurried away before someone could reject me... they would reject me.

I do my best, instead, to say confidently, "This is who I am. I accept myself." And then to be open to hearing the other person's response. To make it easier on myself, I choose the people I come out to carefully. I don't go up to someone preaching on the street and tell them about my deep pagan beliefs (okay, I don't often do that). I don't tell the person ranting about how "all those people using benefits cards should get jobs" about growing up on welfare. I am as out as I can be, but I take care of myself (myselves).

Even with people I know well, whom I trust, it can feel mind-numbingly terrifying to think of coming out. The point of a calculated risk is to weigh the difference between what I fear will happen, and what, on cooler reflection, I actually think will happen. I ask what I have to lose by saying one particular thing, at one particular moment, to one particular person.

When I am sure that, objectively, nothing that bad will happen, I take the perilous step of trusting someone with who I am.

Visibility is a revolutionary act. I come out, not only for my own comfort, but so that other people will need to hide less of themselves. I come out, not only to tell my own story, but to allow other people like me to know they are not alone. I come out, not only for others who are like me, but so that people who are not like us will learn that we are just as human as they are.

1 comment:

Natty said...

I think that last line really sums it up. So much prejudice is simply based on the unknown. Once people actually start having friends who are gay or black or Muslim, it's much harder to turn them into the Other.