Hiding in plain sight

I like taking pictures.  I'm not a professional photographer, but it is a hobby I enjoy.

Someone meeting me on the street wouldn't know this.  Most of my coworkers don't even know this.  Heck, many of my friends haven't seen my photos.  Every time the subject of photography comes up, I have the option of mentioning that I do photography.  Occasionally, someone else who knows will say it for me.

Now, photography isn't really a controversial topic (unless you're in a media class), so the question of whether or not to out myself as a photographer isn't really important to anyone but me.

(And yes, you may see where this is going, but bear with me.)

There are many facts about ourselves that we choose to reveal or conceal in different environments, most without impact beyond ourselves.  The choice is (mostly) ours on how much we wish to include others in our lives and how much of our lives we wish to include in our relationships with others, be they coworkers, friends, family, lovers, or anything else.

Some facts, however, are far more controversial.  Sexuality is an obvious one, and one with which I'm very familiar, but it's not the only example: mental or non-visible physical differences, disabilities or disorders are another (do you tell someone you have a hearing aid? that you take prozac every morning? that you have a sixth toe?); another might be transgenderism.  Even things like marital status or level of education can be points of conflict in different environments.

With respect to sexuality, there are active social forces in many places including the United States that are very against anything other that basic man/woman relationships.  These forces are (at least in the US, but I see it elsewhere as well) losing power slowly, but they remain major sociopolitical factors for the moment.

There's an argument often made, especially by individuals in the gay community, that anyone who is gay ought to come out: it's often framed as a kind of debt, that such people owe it to society to be visible and proud and such.  The argument is legitimate: the more gay persons are visible in society as regular, everyday people, the harder it is for the opposition to demonize the group as a whole.

I have a couple of problems with this.

The first is an emotional/boundary problem: it's my sexuality.  It's part of who I am, as an individual.  To whom I express or reveal that part, and how much, and when, is entirely a decision that only I can and should make.  No one has a right to force me out of the closet (no, not even if I'm a raging hypocrite - sexuality is not a weapon to use against someone), even with the best intentions.

The second problem, though, is one that goes back to being a photographer.  It doesn't matter how many times I tell people I'm gay: there's always someone new coming along who doesn't know.  We often speak of "coming out" like it's an event, a touchdown or a party (or a disaster), but it's not.  It's a process that has to be repeated over and over and over.  Coming out never ends.

Do you realize how much of a burden is being placed on someone by insisting they must come out?  For someone like me, who isn't "obviously gay" and is regularly assumed to be straight, should I wear a button that says, "Hi! I'm gay!" everywhere I go?  Do I need to preface every initial meeting with someone with a detailed description of my sex life?

Even for me, it's a burden.  I frankly don't care if people know that I'm gay - no more than I care if they know I'm a photographer.  I'm not ashamed or hiding the fact.  But the effort it takes to constantly be coming out, to constantly be answering the questions that everyone asks (and they're always the same questions), is huge.  That effort is more than I care to make most of the time; most relationships just aren't worth it.

And it's just as true, if not more so, for all those other hidden facts about people.  I don't tell everyone I know that I'm ADHD, or dyslexic, or OCD, or slightly sociopathic, or allergic to alcohol and strawberries, or...  All of these things come with an added degree of effort to maintain any relationship in which they're mentioned.

I understand the sociological context of the "come out, come out, wherever you are" mentality.  And I very much want the world to be a place where people feel they are safe to come out, whether it's about being gay or diabetic or transgender or Autistic or even a photographer; that "want" bears with it a social burden that must be born by someone in society.  But I don't think that anyone - anyone - has an obligation to come out in any scenario, nor that anyone has the right to "out" someone else in any scenario (with the possible limitation of something life-threatening).