Ramblings on Intersectionality and Being Out

I keep having lots of ideas for blogging lately, but they magically disappear as soon as I actually sit down at a keyboard, so I shall try rambling as a method for getting something written. For some reason I have been thinking about intersectionality, so I will write about that.

So. I am trans, and also ace, and also an atheist, and also have recurrent major depression. These things interact with each other.

For one thing, not only do I get to deal with all of the usual things allosexuals say to dismiss people’s asexuality, I also get to deal with my trans status and/or mental illness being used to dismiss my asexuality. “It’s probably just your depression” they say, or “Maybe it will change when you start hormones.” The first one mostly seems like yet another way for people to conflate asexuality with low libido, but that second one is really vexing. Some people do report a change in their sexual orientation when they transition, and it’s really hard to find clear information about how common this is, or how it usually happens when it does happen. But the thing is, even if my sexual orientation does change (which I rather doubt will happen), that wouldn’t erase what my sexuality is now. So in a way, I guess this is a trans specific version of the usual “maybe you’re a late bloomer” type of excuses. But I found it much harder to argue against, and it feels much more dismissive and erasing.

Another thing that happens is that sometimes I feel like being depressed makes me a bad atheist (or at least that I could never be a poster child of atheism). There are a lot of stereotypes about atheists. We are often considered to be angry people, or nihilistic, or unhappy, or evil, or something. People don’t seem to understand how someone could be happy and ethical and find purpose and meaning in life without believing in god(s)/religion/the afterlife/whatever. I personally know that my atheism is not the cause of my depression, but when I am in a situation where I feel like I am representing atheism somehow (e.g. blogging about atheism for an audience of theists, or doing tabling for my campus atheist/agnostic/etc club), I feel like I need to hide my depression because if people knew about it, I would be making atheism look bad and reinforcing the stupid stereotypes that people have.

Having all of these identities also makes coming out… interesting. Coming out as trans and coming out as ace usually both involve a lot of education. When I came out to my parents, I decided to prioritize education about trans stuff over education about ace stuff. It does make sense to combine these things somewhat, though, and my coming out as ace and trans were intertwined. It really, really didn’t make sense to throw coming out as an atheist into the mix though. For one thing, I don’t want anyone to assume that I am an atheist because I am queer, or that I “decided” to be queer because I am an atheist (and therefore have no morals or something).

Another thing that is scary is the way my parents’ religion informs their ideas of what is right and wrong. I was terrified to tell my parents that I’m trans, but they somehow managed to square that one away with their faith (though they are glad I am asexual because they’re not sure what their god counts as same-sex sex for me–and I might’ve intentionally neglected to mention that being asexual doesn’t necessarily mean that I will never decide to have sex). I really can’t see how they could possibly reconcile my atheism with their faith, though, so I am still a closet atheist, at least when it comes to my parents. Which got kind of interesting one time when my dad made an absolutely cringe-worthy comparison between asexuality and atheism (managing to misunderstand both of these things at the same time). I bit my tongue and just said, no, that’s a bad comparison, and tried to explain asexuality better. But it absolutely killed me to let the misconception about atheists lie. It’s also really hard anytime I am excited about anything to do with atheism (like, say, joining the campus secular club), and I have to remind myself not to say anything about it when I am talking to my parents. I dread finding out what their reaction will be if I accidentally slip and say stuff like “oh my gods” while they are around, even though I normally revel in using non-normative deity-based swears (since I can’t kick the habit of using deity-based swears, I might as well have fun with it).

Another thing I find interesting about coming/being out is that I find it very easy to mention certain of my identities whenever relevant topics come up in conversation, but not others. Mentioning my trans status is something I specifically avoid doing in a lot of situations. I don’t want people to know that I am trans before they have a chance to get to know me, because I don’t want to be seen as trans before I am seen as an individual. I don’t want to be “the trans person” to them. I want to be Midori, who happens to also be trans. I also avoid telling people that I am trans in my classes, or even talking about trans issues in classes, even when those classes are about sociology (and the day’s lecture is about gender) or about prejudice (and the powerpoint slide entitled “Violence Against LGBT People” only mentions gay people).

I am also rather picky about who I tell about my depression. It’s annoying when people equate a mental illness that can be disabling–or even fatal–with being a little sad. There’s a lot of stigma about mental illness, too. The stigma is actually something that motivates me to talk about my depression more, though, because I want to fight against the stigma, and I am inspired by people who talk openly about their mental illness (like JT Eberhard). I’ll usually talk freely about the fact that I have a mental illness with friends or acquaintances, but I don’t talk about it in classes or with my professors.

I have almost no reservations about being open about my asexuality or atheism, though (with the one exception that I don’t want to tell my parents I’m an atheist). In my English class, I picked asexuality for the topic of a paper without a second thought, and saw the fact that it would be peer reviewed as a bonus. And as for atheism, I’m positively giddy about the prospect of putting up flyers or doing tabling for the atheist-ish club on campus, even though I know there are bound to be a few people who will tear down the flyers and be deliberately antagonistic to the memebers of a secular club doing tabling (because apparently the mere existence of atheists is enough to offend some people, especially if said atheists have the audacity to not hide their atheism).

In general, I do like being open about these sorts of things, because hiding things takes effort and is not fun. But I have learned, through unpleasant experience, to be very cautious about who I tell about certain things, especially my trans status and mental illness. Last year, for instance, my “friend” and roommate Alice said some very nasty things to me (which made me fear that I would be kicked out of my home for being trans), and when I retreated to my room to have a panic attack, could not stop crying, and left to stay the night at my brother’s (specifically to avoid HER), she blamed my reaction on my mental illness (because she was just “pouring her heart out”–it couldn’t possibly be that she had actually said terrible things and that I was having a valid and appropriate reaction to that). She asked me several times (before she would get out of my way so I could leave and get the fuck away from her) if I was planning to “hurt myself”*, and she wouldn’t believe me when I said no. She even told my school she thought I was suicidal (because I didn’t respond to a fucking text asking if I was ok–of course I was not fucking ok! she hurt me and I didn’t want to talk to her! but I was not suicidal at all).

Oh look, I still can’t talk about that incident without getting emotional and using lots of swear words. Little wonder it’s made me more cautious about divulging the information that was used against me in that incident. There’s also several phrasings that have become red flags for me specifically because she used those phrasings (for instance, “I’m just pouring my heart out”, or using phrases like “a he” or “a she” to talk about gender/trans-ness–I’ve no idea if other trans people find those last two phrases objectionable, I just know I don’t like them because she used them, and the things she said with them were not respectful).

There are other reasons I’m cautious about who I tell that I am trans, though. Like that one therapist who would bring up my trans status out of nowhere for no apparent reason, because apparently being trans is my main feature, and we can’t talk about unrelated things without him trying to imagine what some thing must be like for me as a trans person, even when that thing is exactly the same for me as it is for a cis person. Or that one friend who always compliments me on some aspect of my appearance, and how it makes me look masculine (I’m sure she does the same thing with all of her cis male friends! oh wait…).

So… to sum up, I really like being open and out about things, and not hiding bits of who I am. Except when my spirit has been crushed thoroughly and/or repeatedly. Or when being out would just be such a monumental effort because everyone will demand that I educate them right now. Because apparently no one knows how to use google or wikipedia, or carries a smartphone with them at all times that could be used to look things up on the internet.

This post took a turn for the snarky somewhere…

*Side note: If you are worried someone is suicidal, ask them a direct question about it, using unambiguous wording, such as “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” or “Are you feeling suicidal?”


One thought on “Ramblings on Intersectionality and Being Out

  1. “Which got kind of interesting one time when my dad made an absolutely cringe-worthy comparison between asexuality and atheism (managing to misunderstand both of these things at the same time).”

    *shakes fist, angry grumbling*

    I definitely hear you on the whole wanting to be out except for when you fell like you’ll be punished for it, though…


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