Twitter informs me that it’s National Coming Out Day… so obviously I’m spent twenty minutes this morning taking all of my sex-positive artwork down. I also hid my bisexual pride flag and my Eroticon mugs. Why? Because I still censor myself for my parents’ approval, even though I hate myself for doing so.
Content note for suicidal ideation and discussion of my relationship with my parents, which varies from very supportive to fairly abusive depending on who you ask.
It makes sense to tidy away your sex toys before your parents are going to be in your flat. The Doxy under my bed, the dildos on my desk, and the gorgeous suede and leather flogger hanging on a hook on the back of my bedroom door – all of those go into my sex toy box. I do a quick double check of my room and hide away my lube as well.
It might even make sense to hide my most blatantly sex-positive artwork, right? I hide the beautiful framed line drawing of a vulva and the kinky embroidery a friend gave me. The Alice in Wonderland print can stay up, but what about the postcards that are covered in queer slogans? They get taken down, along with the photos of me with my partners and of me at Eroticon.
I’m not ashamed to have these things on my walls – I love that I can decorate my space in a way that reflects who I am. But my parents find even the tamest of my political slogan t-shirts uncomfortable, so I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be ok with card featuring a topless snowball fight. I tone down the parts of myself that they’re uncomfortable with, hating myself as I do it.
Then I open Twitter and realise the irony of having made my flat look ‘appropriate’ on National Coming Out Day.
I thought coming out to my parents would mean I could stop censoring myself. Once my parents knew I was queer, I didn’t mind who else did – I wanted to be loudly and proudly bisexual, to normalise being queer and talking about being queer. My parents are more ok with my queerness in theory than in practice. They asked me to hide the parts of me which were visible queer, and it really hurt.
Today, to avoid conflict, I hid those parts of myself without being asked. My parents know I have sex – in fact they know more about my sex life than I ever wanted them too. The shame from them finding my sex blog still burns in the back of my mind, and I can’t quite shake it off. To avoid the kind of conversations that end with me crying, I scoured my flat for anything that could make my parents feel uncomfortable.
I’m often provocative in my everyday life – an outwardly queer, sex-positive feminist who will call out misogynistic and transphobic bullshit. If who I am makes folks uncomfortable or challenges their world-view, I think they need to have their world-view challenged. I’m not proud that I make an exception for my parents, that I will do my best to hide those parts of myself when I’m spending time with them.
It feels like my parents tolerate my queerness, which (in my opinion) is the bare minimum for the people who tell me that they are the only ones who will love me unconditionally. We fight about whether I’ll struggle to get a job if I’m openly queer on social media. We disagree on whether or not I need to talk about my queerness. We clash over what I wear and the ways I flag as queer. I hate it.
I don’t need to be able to discuss my latest threesome with my parents, but I’d like to tell them about the cute human I’m dating without worrying that they will invalidate their gender and my sexuality. I want to be able to share a post on Facebook for National Coming Our Day without dreading their next phone call and the guilt they would lay on me. Maybe if I made my boundaries clearer they would understand that they have to accept my queerness if they want to continue having a relationship with me. As it is, I carry their disapproval with me, and it hangs over every conversation I have with them.
I have walked away from interactions with my parents with suicidal ideation before, because of the things they have said to me.
So I hide all of my sex-positive artwork, so there are no tits or vaginas on display when they come into my flat later. I try not to feel ashamed that I’m not braver, that I won’t tell them that my queerness is non-negotiable, and that it’s important to me to be openly and visibly queer right now. It’s National Coming Out Day, and I’m doing the opposite of coming out – I’m hiding inside myself so I don’t draw my parents’ attention to the parts of me they’d rather ignore.
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Quinn Rhodes (he/him) is a freelance journalist, sex writer, and professional transsexual. His work focuses on dismantling shame and queering sex.