The Queer Questionnaire #10: Of Closets and Queerness

This week, I will answer two questions about lesbians and coming out. We asked you to share all your questions about lesbians, and here were the most interesting and common ones:

Q1: How do I know if a girl is straight or not without asking her?

This is always a very interesting topic to discuss because there’s a fine line between stereotypes and collective realities. On one hand, some people claim to have a strong gaydar and can “sense” or read if someone is gay or queer. On the other hand, there is no right way of being a lesbian, or a distinguishable trait that reveals that someone is not straight.

In women, cropped hair, undercuts, flannel, an interest in sports, and what not are often (mistakenly) seen as signs of being a “tomboy” or a butch woman who is into women. The problem with this is that while these stereotypes form from common realities of how lesbian women present, they can’t be taken as a rule that all lesbians must be the same. Another thing to keep in mind is that when baby lesbians first come out, they only know the mainstream narrative (read: stereotypes) of how to be a “proper” lesbian. And in that way, identities can be performative where they feel like they have to live up to the idea to be accepted into the community. So these forms of presentation may or may not be accurate.

Having said this, a lot of lesbians have a strong “gaydar” or a way to sense if someone around them is also a lesbian. This often comes from being able to identify the effects of having experienced similar truths and sharing experiences in an otherwise heteronormative world. It’s like saying how do you know if someone is Indian when you meet them in a foreign land––for the most part, as an Indian, you would be able to tell, simply because there are a thousand shared experiences that have shaped you. But there is no hard and fast rule saying that all Indians must be the same.

TL;DR: While stereotypes have a foundation, not all lesbians look the same, or fit into the same categories. The most accurate way of figuring out whether someone is a lesbian or not is to ask them with a simple, “Hi, I was just wondering, are you straight?” and also understand that they are under no obligation to answer you. So make it clear that you were wondering, but also if they feel like it is too personal a question, apologise and don’t insist on an answer.

Q2: I’m bisexual, but I have discovered that I feel more attracted towards women than men. I am really scared of coming out, or asking anyone out. I am worried that my friends or family won’t accept that. How do I get over this? At some point, you or someone you know must have come out right? How did you muster the courage?

First of all, thanks for reaching out. The hardest thing to do when you’re in the closet is to reach out and assert your existence as a gay/bi/queer person. Fearing that your friends or family won’t accept you is (sadly) normal and (again, unfortunately) a very real fear.With the rampant homophobia, especially in Indian communities, it is not surprising that you are anxious about this. I, personally, have come out to my family, and do know other people who have. I can’t say that my family took it well, and my friends definitely needed some time to adjust to it. In fact, I have also lost friends over being gay.

I know this doesn’t sound very encouraging, but you have to find what’s best for you. And as someone who has seen a range of reactions to coming out, it is not always the safest option. You need to prioritize your safety and also think of why coming out and living your reality is important to you. In an ideal world, you should be comfortable and safe coming out. Sadly, we don’t live in that ideal world. Your fears that your friends and family might be less than welcoming are valid. And I would love to tell you that you shouldn’t worry and just be yourself, but that ignores the reality you live in.

You need courage to come out, that is true. But you also need to make sure that you have contingency plans and are careful about your safety. Keeping that in mind, I would start with talking to your friends and family, especially the more “liberal” and open minded people first, about queer people. Maybe talk about Pride and how so many families turned out in support. Talk about the state of gay rights in India and around the world. And when you are comfortable, take that theoretical discussion to a more real one and come out. Try to do it in situations and environments where you feel safe, on your terms, and with your own back up plans.

Learn to prioritize your safety––even if that means coming out and living your reality and dealing with the backlash. Unfortunately, in the world we live in, living your reality means dealing with bullshit that you shouldn’t have to. And while we can work on changing that, we also have to live with that in the meanwhile. So, do it. Come out, ask someone out, be yourself––but only do it in ways where you can be safe.

As for how I mustered the courage––I came out to my parents at a time when things were already tense and I felt like I had nothing left to lose, so one more “problem” wouldn’t be as much of a problem as if I had come out some other time. Needless to say, they didn’t take it to well. And I don’t think I would recommend that to anyone.

I’m sorry if this is not very encouraging. But coming out shouldn’t be our goal as a community. It should be to be happy (whatever that means to you) and safe. So prioritize yourself. (I know I’ve said that a hundred times, and I’d say it a hundred more. We forget to prioritize our own needs so often that it is an important reminder.)

That’s all for this week folks. I’ll be back next week, talking about lesbian porn, sex, and the other nitty-gritties of the lesbian life. As usual, write in/comment with your questions, and remember to take care of yourself!

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Jess is a genderqueer, polyamorous pansexual. They write about mental health, polyamory, gender & sexuality, and people in general. When not furiously typing away at their laptop, they can be found at hidden food spots around Mumbai.

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