There is a great clip floating around the internet by Ash Beckham who recently spoke about her experience of being asked by a four year old if she were a boy and the universal experience of coming out of a closet. In our culture the term “coming out of the closet” is often used to refer to one’s sexuality but as Ash said in her talk, the truth is we all have closets. While the piece is hands down, a feel good piece, I found myself thinking about the fact that for all the feel good moments and platitudes around how we ought to come out of our individual closets, society really is not terribly supportive when we make that attempt to come out of our closets.
For the person coming out of their closet, whatever their closet is, there is generally a point in their life when living in the closet starts to become too much. The price to maintain our personal closet exacts a high toll on our psyche. Just like when a physical closet starts to overflow and we can no longer force the door of the closet to stay closed; that is what happens when we are dealing with a situational closet.
Over the course of the past several years, I have used this space to talk about some of my own personal closets, and while many have been supportive there has also been a fair amount of backlash. In many ways using online space to work on my closets has been far more supportive than working on them with my offline connections. I was reminded of this last night when I found myself on the phone with a family member and not in a mood to put on my mask or step back in my closet and spoke my truth and was met with a less than satisfactory response. I ended the phone call reminded that breaking down the closet door is not always safe. Hence why some of us never come out of our closet, it simply isn’t always safe to exit the closet.
As more activist women of color use online spaces as a way to break down the doors of our socially prescribed closets, the push back has reached a fevered pitch for many. Not a day goes by now where I don’t hear from at least one of my peers that it no longer feels safe to speak out and to speak our truth. For some of us coming out of our closet becomes a matter of harm reduction and thus we aren’t allowed to truly break free of the closet. It’s like that shoestring you want to throw away that is tangled up with another item in the closet but you can’t find the end of it, so you can’t fully clean out the closet without literally going through extraordinaire measures to fully empty it out and you just don’t have the energy to do so.
If all a closet is is a hard conversation, why do so many of us struggle to have those conversations? Why are we so quick to try to stuff others back in their closets when they are attempting to live authentically and break out of the closet? Why are only some of us allowed to freely exist out of the closet and live fully and completely?
It isn’t enough to pay lip service to hard conversations, we need to actually be able to do the heavy lifting and engage in those conversations. The harder the conversation, the more uncomfortable it makes us feel, the greater the likelihood we need to assist in tearing the door off that closet.