Contains confessions that some people might find confusing, insulting, or misconstrue as a joke, as well as the implication of a strong swear word.
"I want to break free" exclaimed Freddie Mercury in 1984, as his band mates nervously play along with his cross-dressing music video extravaganza. Don't we all, dear Freddie! And it feels like it might indeed be time for me to break free and come out... but come out as what? Christian, Discordian, drug-user, autistic, trans, bisexual, straight - so many options! Let's consider my choices.
It always felt like a big deal for me to come out as a drug-user - it was one of the reasons I was most nervous about publishing Chaos Ethics. Friends told me I was worrying unduly, I suppose because from their perspective this was no biggie. After all, a huge volume of entertainment media originating from the United States glorifies and revels in drug-taking, and has done for decades. Not to mention that the US exports vast quantities of mind-altering drugs like methylphenidate/Ritalin and fluoxetine/Prozac that have been conveniently labelled 'medicinal', and therefore legitimate for taxation. Still, of all the things I've already come out about, this one was the hardest for me, the one that most felt like 'coming out' in the way that gay people coming out in the late twentieth century meant the term - as confessing something intimate about myself that others would judge, or even persecute me for. Of all the things I've come out about over the years, this one was by far the most difficult for me, and in part because of my Christian childhood.
I suppose that's another option - come out as Christian - but there's not much point in this any more, since it's quite well-known that I identify as a Zen Sufi Hindu Christian Discordian, and of those five religions that I practice (often badly) coming out as Christian is the only thing that would have any impact, and I've been that all my life. Indeed, I already had to come out as a Christian when I was in my early teens, one of only three children in my rural Middle School in the backwaters of Great Britain to identify openly as Christian, to sing hymns in assembly loudly and proudly while the entirety of the rest of the school children flatly refused and giggled into their hands about me, singing alone...
Perhaps it is hard for folks in the United States to appreciate how difficult it was for me to stand up and be counted for what was in my heart while in middle school and high school, because they are so used to the relationship between Christian and atheist being the reverse of what it was for me in a provincial school in England in the early 1980s. After all, my future wife's high school experiences in Tennessee were the inverse of mine, taking flak from her classmates for not being Christian enough, as if that sentence were not in itself utterly self-contradictory! But nobody these days thinks Christians rational, which is ironic since our entire concept of what it means to be rational is grounded in Christian thought.
Or I could come out as the Acting Omnibenevolent Polyfather of the Virginity in Gold, and thus the worldwide head of the Discordian Society. But I already came out as this during my years living in London, a time when I rejected my Christianity as foolish nonsense and so embraced a religion that was foolish nonsense by design. But honestly, nobody cares about this, and they'd care even less about my Zen Buddhism that bridged the gap between the two, my Hindu theology that finally resolved all my problems with Christian theology, or my acceptance of the Sufi teachings as to the underlying unity of all authentic religious practice. And if no-one is shocked or (equivalently) proud of me for coming out as Discordian, if I can't inspire somebody else to have the courage to stand up as a Discordian, is there really any point in doing so...?
I suppose I could come out over some mental health issue. But I'm pretty sure I've already discussed my cyclothymia (a mild form of bipolar disorder) here on this blog, and that's the only diagnosis I have, and you can't come out on mental health if you don't have a diagnosis, such is the power of doctors in the eyes of my contemporaries. What I really ought to do if I was going to come out over mental health issues is to come out as autistic, since clearly the state of that diagnostic category is now sufficiently broad to accept me. Yet I don't have a diagnosis for any such condition and, worse, I actively resist attaining that diagnosis - and not because I'm ashamed of the obvious fact that I could indeed be placed on the autistic spectrum. On the contrary, I have such love and respect for the autistic people in my life I could never possibly feel any shame for being like them. It's just that I cannot truly understand or appreciate this situation where a doctor is a requirement for admitting or discovering who you are. It's why I did not pursue the process of diagnosis any further, even though the doctor who diagnosed my cyclothymia wanted me to do so. I don't want to give doctors anything like that power over my life.
Which brings me to coming out as trans. Like autistic, I could do this... I feel my feminine side extremely strongly, I'm very comfortable wearing a dress (I did so at my Discordian wedding at Alderly Edge in 2000, amongst other times), and I have great love and respect for my trans friends. But the trans identity as it is currently being practised depends upon a gender metaphysics (i.e. a set of non-testable beliefs) that I don't entirely share. Furthermore, since I am comfortable with both my masculinity and my femininity, and consider the fact of my having a penis to be one of the more incidental aspects of who I am, it doesn't feel like I should come out as trans. Indeed, I feel that it would be disrespectful to those in the trans community who struggle over gender identity issues for me to do so.
Funny, really, because I also feel like that particular political community is constantly trying to 'out' me as trans by insisting that if I am not going to do so I must come out as 'cis'. But cis has been defined as a position in which a doctor I never truly met had power over me by virtue of assigning me my gender or my sex, according to which set of gender metaphysics you've chosen to wield. For the very same reason I cannot in good conscience 'come out as autistic' I can't 'come out as cis', nor even really think that the concept of 'cis' is advancing the cause of trans liberty in the way it was intended to. I rather fear it has set it back, and precipitated the uncivil war between lesbian feminists and trans activists by bringing two rival concepts of gender metaphysics into vicious conflict.
At the very least, ought I not to state what my pronouns are, to show solidarity with the trans community? Well, on this I suppose I really could come out, as the most coherent statement I can make about 'my pronouns' would be "make your best guess, I won't be offended", which I feel confident some trans supporters would find deeply offensive. But I'm not going to come out as something just to offend people - that really would be a betrayal of who I am. And I seriously don't care if you call me he, she, che, or beep boop beep as long as you respect me and my ideas. If you feel its meaningful to share your pronouns, knock yourself out, but please don't force me into identifying as something that really doesn't describe me very well, whether its trans or cis, or anything else. I can respect your meaningful categories of existence without having to live in them.
There again, I could come out as bisexual in that I am capable of having sexual feelings for people irrespective of whether they possess a vagina while I quite evidently have a penis. Indeed, all my earliest stumbling steps towards sexuality were obviously gay, for all that the great love affairs of my life have been with women (and mostly unrequited at that, my wonderful wife notwithstanding). But bisexual is another of those terms that just doesn't quite ring true to who I am, and at best it has been a term of convenience to use while hanging out with the LGBT crowd at University of Manchester in the early 90s. And even then, I never really pushed any aspect of that as part of my identity. I wasn't hanging out with those wonderful people to find a lover, it was just that I adored performing karaoke with a community that sings with almost as much passion as black Christians.
I suppose I could come out as straight (are we allowed to do this yet...?), but again, since I have and can have sexual feelings for non-female people that feels like the wrong label. And now we have 'pansexual' as an option, but it's hard for me to read that word and not think it means "I'll f___ anything", which simply isn't true about me in any sense. I always strived to have sex with few people, not many, and my proudest sexual achievement was choosing not to have sex with a woman who wanted me but whom I did not respect, even though as a horny undergraduate I really wanted to get laid. Basically, I don't quite understand the concept of sexual 'conquest', since what I was seeking while I was dating was solace rather than gratification, a kindred spirit rather than a throwaway sexual partner. I love sex, but not enough to engage in it indiscriminately. Honestly, if there's a word in circulation that describes my sexuality other than 'human' I don't know what it would be.
Maybe I could come out with my trigger warnings. But I think I only have one, and its people talking about trigger warnings as if their prior trauma was a weapon to beat others over the head with, and not something to be approached with sensitivity. And I worry greatly about this shift from respect being something that exists between us as our natural state of being, as the Enlightenment philosophers once saw the matter, to becoming an excuse to turn to the law of nations towards enforcing behavioural norms that then inevitably become anything but respectful. I will be as respectful of your prior traumas as I can be, and I hope you can afford the same courtesy to me... but please don't try to order me about and claim it's a question of respect. There is enough of a shortage of respect these days without undermining it yet further.
So I guess there's only one thing left that I can come out about, something that I'm embarrassed by, something that others might identify with but would also never consider coming out as, because none of us have ever come out as this before, and there's a tangible shame attached to being this way. Something that I have been derided for, and that I might take further derision from coming out about. But it's the only thing left in my bucket of identities that I can hope to come out about, and it feels about time to break free and come out as something...
I am a person who pronounces 'melee' as 'muh-lee', not 'may-lay'.
What the hell, you may be thinking, you cannot possibly be serious! But I am. Thanks in part to Nintendo's Smash Brothers franchise, almost nobody today is mistaken about how 'melee' is supposed to be pronounced, yet I still say 'muh-lee', and I do so because I learned 99% of my vocabulary from reading books, and when I read Tom Moldvay's Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons in 1981 my French was too rudimentary to recognise the expected pronunciation of the word. So I said 'muh-lee', and still do. And this is embarrassing, of course, because it's not the done thing, it's not what everyone else does. But it is also who I am. I am a person who says 'muh-lee'.
And saying this, bringing this out into the open, I feel a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders, and I hope that I live to see that others have the courage to come out as a person who says 'muh-lee'. I hope and pray that some day the lexicographers who maintain the Oxford English Dictionary (a colossal two volume 'Shorter' version of which has pride of place on one of my bookshelves) will include this pronunciation as an accepted alternative, and recognise the thousands of us tabletop role-players who say 'muh-lee'... But it probably won't happen, since we are an endangered species now that reading books has been replaced with watching videos, and tables have been replaced with mandatory screens. This vital aspect of who I am is perhaps already incomprehensible to a great many people.
Although I write these words in jest, I do so in utter seriousness - as a Discordian, I understand that jokes can be serious, that serious things can be funny, and that humanity has a giant stick up its butt that we not only cannot remove we don't want to. And that's hilarious, and tragic, and wonderful, and terrible, and much more besides. Because to be human is not to be just one kind of thing, and any attempt to reduce the immense diversity of human experience to preconceived boxes to check or uncheck is either vile or naïve, and every set of prescribed labels we make is ultimately just a means of excluding yet another way of being human, indeed, all those other ways of being we have not even begun to think about.
I deeply and wholly desire we could just respect one another as fellow equal beings and not as some preset political identity above and beyond 'human', not because political identities aren't important - they surely are! - but because replacing our diversity of experience with preset political identities is damaging to the human experience. Perhaps worse is exporting those preset identities around the world as gospel truth, and even asking those in other countries to pay for the privilege of being exposed to our narrow view of how things must be via entertainment media. This is a terrible way of building political communities that can negotiate between the conflicting conceptions of a good life that inevitably collide when we assert our own truths as necessary categories that others must adopt in their thinking.
The truth is, I am many things, probably many more than the things I have chosen to talk about in this piece. And you are too. Yes, you may need to come out, especially if you have found some truth about yourself that is painful to admit, but even more painful to deny. That, after all, is why in the late twentieth century those who knew that homosexuality was an essential part of who they were had to come out, they had to do it in order to be true to themselves, and to encourage others to do the same, so that they could show solidarity with one another. But please don't come out just to draw attention to yourself, and try not to come out in a way that fails to respect the diversity of those around you. Come out because you must, not because you don't know what else you can do to get noticed.
I remember being utterly disgusted in 1991 by the fuss that was being made about Freddie Mercury when he came out in his dying weeks as gay... I think it annoyed me at the time (it does not now), because he was hailed as heroic even though the stakes were so low at that point in his life it seemed to dilute any viable concept of heroism to do so. But more than that, I came to realise he didn't in fact come out as gay at all. Indeed, he never adopted any such identity in his lifetime. He came out as having HIV and of dying of AIDS, and the press drew their own conclusions, especially since he was in a long-term relationship with a man. They had to fit him into a box. But they could have instead put him in the box marked 'Parsi' or 'Zoroastrian' (another persecuted minority, and one with far less political power than the gay community), or the box marked 'South Asian' or 'Non-White' (he was born on the island of Zanzibar as Farrokh Bulsara) and no doubt much more beside. But the press, or the public, should never be the ones to try to assign someone their identity. The process of establishing who we are is personal to ourselves, and always must be.
Be who you must be. Testify as to who you are if you need to - and especially if you know there are others who need the inspiration of your courage so that they too can be who they must be. But please, stop wielding identities as weapons to beat your neighbours with, and please try to curtail the extent that national law intrudes upon what has always been - what always must be - a deeply personal matter. I am a person who says 'muh-lee'. But that is not all of who I am or could be. Respect me, first and foremost, the way I respect you: as a fellow human being. If we can do that, perhaps we might yet find a way of living together.
Are you a person who says 'muh-lee'? Consider coming out! At time of writing, there is only one person in the world to whom this identity applies to.