What's it like to live in the closet?

Dec 15, 2016

What’s it like when you have to live in the closet?

As some of you know, I was in the army for five years as a psychologist and overall, I really loved that experience. I think that the person I am today - the leader, the psychologist - are all the results of my experiences in the army. I grew way more and in way different ways than I could have without that experience. But one of the things I didn’t love about that experience was that in some ways, it forced me to be in the closet.

I am someone who is polyamorous. I am kinky. I am queer and when I first entered the army in 2010, "Don't ask, don't tell" hadn’t yet been fully repealed. I was still working my way through a divorce. So I was legally married and as a result, when I first came in, I couldn’t be open about being bisexual. I couldn’t be open about being polyamorous. I couldn’t even be open about the fact that I was dating, because when you’re still legally married, that’s considered adultery in the army.

Now while I’m really glad I have my experience in the military and I’m glad that by the end of it, I was able to be a safe space for others to talk about the ways that their sexuality didn’t feel the military mold, in a lot of ways, my experience of being in the army was one of having to make sure that I kept just enough information secret so I didn’t get in trouble.

Coming out in the military

For those of you who aren’t familiar, the military is governed by what’s called the UCMJ, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and in that book, there are a lot of laws about what behavior is and isn’t OK for people of different ranks.

As an officer, if people in my unit were to find out that I was polyamorous or that I was kinky or especially that I had started a practice serving kinky, polyamorous, queer people, some of that could have been viewed as conduct unbecoming of an officer and that charge is one that can lead to a discharge from the military.

So I was in a position where my job was literally reliant on me keeping my identity secret enough that no one had to make an issue of it.

So when we talk about coming out, National Coming Out Day was two weeks ago on October 11th. Coming out is something that is a really loaded topic for me because while I fully believe in being as out as I possibly can for me, I make that decision now knowing that I have enough privilege in certain areas, that I can make that decision.

I work for myself. So I’m not going to lose my job for being out. I have enough economic security that I don’t have to worry about if clients decided they don’t want to see a poly-queer woman. I am white and I pass as straight enough for most folks.

Coming out as a disabled person

Most people don’t know that I’m disabled. Most people don’t know that I’m queer by looking at me. So I can be much more open and out about my identities that are marginalized because I’m not going to take a strong hit for being out.

I have friends however who have to be very careful about who finds out that they’re polyamorous, about who finds out that they go to sex parties, because they could lose custody of children over that. They could have their jobs taken away from them and it’s very complicated. So while I do strongly agree that people who can be out should be out, I also think that we need to find a space of compassion for those who can’t, that while we are fighting this battle to get those identities recognized and to get them normalized, there are necessarily going to be some casualties on the frontlines.

I volunteered to be on the frontline in more ways than one in this metaphor. But you don’t have to. If you want to be out, I am behind you and I support you and I’m happy to help you find ways to make that congruent for you. If it just not possible for you, then I understand and I see you and I support you and I know that is a tough decision.

If you’re stuck living in the closet, like I was, there are a few ways that you can help yourself feel as sane as possible.

4 Ways to make living in the closet easier

Find a community you can trust, whether it’s one friend or a handful. Make sure that there’s someone who knows the full story of your identity because if no one ever sees you, that is so much harder. So see if you can find even one or two people who you can trust to know who you are.

Find good supports. Maybe it’s those friends. Maybe it’s a regular yoga practice. Maybe it’s getting into taekwondo. But find a way to help support yourself and keep yourself healthy and sane when you’re having to hide parts of you.

Third, figure out what’s important to you. Could you go to a different job if you had to? Can you move to a different city? Not everyone can. Not everyone has those choices. But if you have that ability, it’s worth at least considering whether there are changes that can make it easier for you to live your life.

Finally, get a therapist if you need one. Being closeted is really, really hard. It's a lot to carry on your own and you don't have to. You can find a therapist who will care about you and support you exactly the way you are and hold those secrets for you while you have to hold them.

So for me, being closeted was luckily a short-term thing. There was an end date. I didn't have to stay closeted forever. but if you're stuck in the closet, know that there's support, and know that people care about you. Know that people love you even if you stay closeted forever.

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