Coming Out: The Explanation
Welcome to another edition of Queering the Narrative! Today I’ll be continuing my series on writing coming out scenes with a topic I’m going to call “The Explanation.”
Coming out can be a challenge, and sometimes there are nuances that merit explanation. This might be the finer details of a lesser-known identity, details that your queer character wants the other characters to know about them, or answering questions that the person your character is coming out to might pose.
This can be a great opportunity in your narrative to help people learn more about a queer identity without having to bother a queer person irl for an explanation. This is powerful and important, but make sure that you actually KNOW about the identity before you explain it. And, if you’re going to do this for an identity that you’re unfamiliar with, get a sensitivity reader!
There are a few ways to approach an Explanation. However, be sure to note that this is just a part of a character’s coming out scene. Check with some of the other discussions in this series to figure out what sort of coming out you’re writing, and which of the following makes the most sense in that context!
The Friend Defense
Let me tell you: it sucks to explain your identity to someone. I can guarantee that within a few months of coming out, a queer person has explained themselves so many times to so many people (and received so many different levels of understanding) that they just want someone else to take that burden on so they don’t have to do any more explaining.
Luckily, since your queer character is surrounded by a network of supportive and loving friends (RIGHT?), there should be plenty of people who can explain/defend them! Preferably, this secondary character is an ally, not someone who shares that person’s exact identity (or else you’re kind of missing the point).
This method is particularly effective for less understood identities such as genderqueer, ace, bi, etc. These identities can benefit from an in-fiction explanation, as a reader may not be immediately familiar with them. Setting the example that a good ally takes the on burden of explanation for their queer friends is a powerful thing you can do with your fiction!
If you want more information on this, as well as an example, check out my post about Introducing Nonbinary Characters.
I Want To Say This
Sometimes when a queer person comes out, they decide to share some information that they feel is relevant. This is normal early in a person’s coming out process (maybe during “The First Time”), and may also occur later on as part of a “ casual” coming out (such as when a bi, ace, trans, or genderqueer individual comes out to a potential romantic partner).
It’s important that, for this situation, the person/people you character is coming out to don’t demand an explanation. If they want to invite the queer person to say more about their identity then they can say something like “what do you want to tell me about that?” The queer person then explains as much of their identity as is comfortable for them, and then the person they came out to accepts it.
If you’re not sure what sort of things your queer character may or may not want to talk about in regards to their identity, check out my Art of Introduction series. If something you want your character wants to say is listed as a “bad” way of introducing their identity, then tread carefully!
I Don’t Understand
There are times when coming out goes wrong. This is a harsh reality that many queer people face, and is the source of a lot of the anxiety attached to coming out. The person you’ve come out to demanding an explanation of your identity is just one way that the experience can turn sour.
This is distinct from the previous point because the queer character is being put on the spot, which is a pretty uncomfy situation. Someone demanding an explanation for your identity — even from the guise of concern or confusion — is a pretty negative experience. Because of this, you should either be cautious when including this in your fiction OR have your queer friend bring a buddy for moral support and utilize the Friend Defense!
However, the Friend Defense isn’t always a realistic option. Often, the only person who can explain their identity is the individual who is coming out. Many queer people go into a coming out situation ready to answer this question, especially if they’re anticipating an uphill battle or a negative reaction.
Make sure that your queer character has someone to go to for comfort (a close friend or a found family) if this situation really goes south. If someone demands an explanation of a queer person, there’s a reasonable chance they won’t actually hear it (at least, not right away). Even if you want a heavier story, try and make sure that your queer character has someone to turn to. There’s already plenty of bleak queer fiction — do what you can to create a positive, hopeful queer narrative.
Explaining yourself sucks, but there are ways to make it suck less. Treat your queer characters with kindness, and make sure that they have the emotional support that they need to make these explanations. Most importantly, DO YOUR RESEARCH. If your queer character is going to have to explain their identity, make sure that you know enough about it to explain it!
That’s it for this week! I’ll be back again next week for another installment of my coming out series. Until then, stay safe and stay healthy!