(10) 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: The Coming of Out

For today’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign , we are featuring lolan buhain sevilla‘s thoughts on political community work, liberation across the queer-spectrum, and challenging you to be a better straight ally.

The Coming of Out
lolan buhain sevilla

Coming out. Ideally, it’s a process that ends with the liberation of one’s queer self within the context of their everyday life. Or does it? End, that is? As I sit here writing this, I’m struggling with how to go about exploring the complexity of the coming out process, the layers of lesson and of loss, and the loving in-between. The difficulty lay in the fact that for as many LGBTQ people there are in the world, you have as many experiences for coming out.

My own coming out process didn’t end with some culminating experience where I suddenly heard harps, and lived life happily ever as “a gay.” Yes, I was absolutely liberated, but liberation looked more like the stepping into an awareness and responsibility to struggle through hard moments, rather than the end-all be-all defining moment of queer celebration. My coming out actually meant committing to the lifelong process of continually engaging in the re-outing of myself, in every path I choose to follow in life. The process may have began with close friends and family, but has since grown to include every single job I’ve held, simple tasks like going to doctor appointments, artistic communities I’ve been a part of, as well as the political spaces I’ve organized with.

For the most part I do my best to live every day as a happy, queer & out butch, but would be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes it feels burdensome, the having to constantly worry about entering new spaces: disapproving shoe store owners refusing my patronage, dancing at clubs where straight men make it a point to walk in-between me and my partner as if to challenge my butchness. Also hard are Filipino spaces, where thewhispers and stares from aunties or smirking uncles feel alienating from a place that should feel like community. Particularly paralyzing? The situations addled with fear, not knowing if the people I love most, like my mom and sister, will know or understand how to have my back as straight allies; and then having to be the strong one who doesn’t let my disappointment and shame be the forces that drive me away when it turns out they actually don’t.

On the good days, though, when I can walk into job interviews, all suit & tie shoes-shined, and feel in my fullest of selves. Or being able to take stage with an audience to bear witness; the privilege of Expo in the Phils with a partner; of getting to be brown & butch on the page; my list definitely can go on and on so it’s not like being out doesn’t have advantages.

But its when the weariness sets in; the continual need to stake claim in my political community, where the roles of queer-spectrum folks are only just beginning to enter the collective consciousness, never mind the nuance of gender identity or expression. This makes a couple things difficult: one, oftentimes being the only self-identifying gender-queer butches in a women’s organization, and two, the trial-by-error struggle of having to be the one who must step into the role of educator for straight allies; not to mention the pain of replication, of familial dynamics and relationship.

The challenge I’d like to pose to non-identifying LGBTQ folks, is to push your analysis and practice around what it truly means to be a straight ally. Acceptance and love of the LGBTQ people in your life are but the first steps in your own process of learning how to be an ally. Perhaps a next step could be asking yourselves how to be active participants in the creation of spaces safe enough to hold the complexity and integrity of queer-spectrum identities. Whatever that step may be, don’t be afraid of uncomfortable situations or awkward dialogues that can only lead to stronger relationships and deeper trust.

Lolan Buhain Sevilla is a queer butch cultural worker who strives for her art, whether on the stage or page, to always be rooted in community, study and practice. She’s a member of Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment, author of Translating New Brown, and co-editor of Walang Hiya … Literature Taking Risks Toward Liberatory Practice. She truly hopes the love she feels for her communities is reflected in the body of work she creates in order to honor it.