For National Coming Out Day: Queer Heterosexuality and the Tyranny of Labels

Me, marching in the 2006 Pride Parade. Photo by Michael Draga.

by David Wraith

Today is National Coming Out Day, so in the spirit of the occasion, I am going to come out. That’s right folks; this is a Sex Positive St. Louis exclusive. I, David Horatio Wraith, am a heterosexual. Whew! There, I said it. I feel like a weight has been lifted. Done and done. That closes that topic forever. On to bigger and better things.

Okay, so it’s more complicated than that. It always is. First there’s the whole notion of “coming out” which suggests coming out of a closet. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been in anybody’s closet. I hate a closet. I get dressed out of the laundry hamper, I hate closets so much.

Then there’s the question of why I would come out as heterosexual when the very notion of coming out is usually associated with being gay. Well, people have assumed I was gay since I was a teenager and I never felt the need to correct them until the issue got put on the table. Joining ACT-UP right out of high school, serving on the Pride committee and giving PowerPoint presentations on New Queer Cinema, I became accustomed to people doing double takes whenever I mentioned my girlfriend. The Keith Haring tattoo on my right shoulder didn’t help much either. Once, at a conference, a woman who wrestled in the Gay Games asked me to co-found a lesbian survivalist group with her. After staring at her incredulously for a moment, I respectfully declined on the grounds that I was not a survivalist.

About a year ago, a meet-up started for the queer BDSM community. I really wanted to go, but I was heterosexual and had never embraced the word “queer.”  It was always a term I took to be a catch all for the LGBT community. Then, it occurred to me that I was a polyamorous, sadomasochistic, exhibitionist. Aside from the fact that I was a guy who had always been into girls, I was as queer as a frog with a mustache. So I went, and to my relief, I fit right in. No one asked to see my papers or stamp my queer card. No one took one look at me and said, “Please leave, cock-man oppressor!” So I was queer, if only by association, and I was comfortable with that.

Then, about six months ago, it got more complicated. I started dating a man. A transgender man, but a man none the less.  I had dated trans women in the past, but in my mind these were heterosexual relationships.  Now, at 36-years-old, I was in my first gay relationship; walking down the street hand-in-hand with another man and kissing a man in public.

One of my girlfriends asked, “So are you bi, now?” No. “Well, what are you?” Off the top of my head, I said, “I’m a heterosexual man with a boyfriend.”  This label, in addition to being lengthy and confusing to people who aren’t me, has its own problems. The term “boyfriend” is both inadequate and inaccurate. Lee sometimes refers to me as “the guy I’m seeing” which is fine, but it has too many syllables. We have since settled on “lovers,” but when I refer to him as “my lover” to people who know me as heterosexual, I feel like I’m hiding behind gender neutral terminology. Of course, the fact that his name is “Lee” and not “Brian” or “Mark,” confuses matters even more.

It was Lee who, after we’d started dating, pointed out to me that my FetLife profile still identified me as “straight.” Another word I have problems with and have mostly stopped using to describe myself. Out of respect for my relationship with Lee, I have since changed it to “heteroflexible,” another word I don’t particularly care for.  Have I mentioned that I am a graduate student of English and therefore more acquainted with the futility of labels than just about anyone save for professors of Linguistics?

People continue to argue this point with me. They tell me that I’m bisexual and just in denial. I think by denial, they are implying that I’m in the closet about my bisexuality. Earlier this year I rode a bike fifteen miles through the streets of St. Louis, completely naked. This year marked the first time in a decade that I watched my town’s gay pride parade rather than marched in it. As I alluded to earlier, it’s hard for me consider myself in the closet about anything. The fact is, it just wouldn’t feel right to call myself bisexual. It would feel like letting the culture, for reasons of simplicity and expediency, define me with a label I was uncomfortable with. While linguistically accurate, it would feel like a lie.

So, here I am: a kinky, poly, nudist, heterosexual identified man who dates women, trans women and trans men. Or, a queer heterosexual, for those of you who are down with the brevity thing. There it is. The only things hiding in my closet are latex clothes I can no longer fit and back issues of Celebrity Skin.

Happy National Coming Out Day. Come out, come out wherever you are.

Bye sexuals.

Wraith

Posted in David Wraith and tagged .

8 Comments

  1. I know what you mean about the label feeling wrong. I had the same issue when people kept insisting I’m straight, just because I was married. Always the response was “well, how many girls have you kissed?” Then the answer was zero, so I reluctantly let them call me straight. Now it is greater than zero so people finally will call me queer, but don’t feel any more queer on the inside than I did before.

  2. @The Nerd: I know, right? I was just having this argument the other day. People think you can’t be gay until you’ve been with someone of the same sex, and that it’s this choice you make, but no one thinks you’re asexual when you’re a virgin and that one day you choose to be straight.

    I remember telling someone after I started dating a man, I don’t feel any gayer than I did a month ago.

  3. A lovely post. I always say I’m straightish, or sometimes I say “kinda curvy” since I don’t exactly know where I land. Queer, I suppose.

    Love likes to fuck with labels. Yeah?

  4. Oh wow this was an amazing post! I learned a lot about you, David. Someone took issue with me Coming Out yesterday as a Kinkster, but I’m in your camp – I’m bisexual, polyamorous, BDSMalicious, exhibitionist, sex positive – so I think I’m safe to come out without offending or disrespecting other minorities, too.

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