It is the time of year when many LGBTQ+ folks are considering whether they can go home for the holidays. For some safety concerns will, sadly, mean they cannot. Many others may be considering a compromise, a choice between what feels like deception and authenticity to get through the Christmas season.
This is one of the times where I believe the concept of inviting in can help people. What is inviting in I hear you ask? First lets look at the conventional narrative of coming out, to understand how inviting in differs, and may work better for some.
The common narrative of LGBTQ+ people is one of deception and concealment. The queer person is described as “in the closet” as in hiding or concealing their identity until, and unless they announce themselves as queer. This is even more the case for gender diverse people, with trans women described as “traps” and the trans panic defence excusing murder in a number of countries. Whilst historically coming out was intended to mark your “debut” into queer society it has come to mean a disclosure of your identity to wider society. It has moved from the idea of acceptance of oneself, and by your peers, into a kind of announcement, based, I believe on the idea cisgender heterosexual people have a right to be informed of non cis het genders and sexualities in their midst. Which is not to dismiss how powerful and positive affirmations received when coming out can be. However often people have a narrative that if they are not out they are somehow lesser, or not authentic.
When working with clients I have found the concept of inviting in to be very helpful. Whilst all of the coming out models contain the importance of self acceptance and acknowledgement of your own identity, they then go onto emphasize the comfort of the cisgender heterosexual majority, and the need to inform them of your queer or other non normative identities. Inviting in, as described by Darnell Moore challenges the othering process of coming out as described by Langdridge in the wonderfully titled “Are you angry or are you hetrosexual”
Are LGBTQ individuals symboled as the presumed “other” in the “coming out”/”closet” paradigm whose senses of self and identity and behaviors are always defined in relation to the normative heterosexual? If so, might “coming out” be understood as a practice that is, itself, heteronormative?
Moore argues that the choice to enter queer spaces, the original coming out has been replaced by a pressure to name a fixed identity imposed on queer people. Whilst he recognises the importance of visibility to the political struggle for LGBT rights, he questions whether the narrative of coming out should have such primacy in the lives of individuals. Also like Langdridge he asks where the space is for genderfluid and bi people, and for those who are BME, who may have to navigate different intersections of oppression.
He therefore proposed “inviting in” as a counter to coming out. Building on the paper by Sekneh Beckett Moore asks if we can instead speak of the powerful choice to allow others into our “club”.
“inviting in” is a process that encourages one to explore or refuse categorizations. It is a process that frustrates heteronormative hierarchies and binaries. Where “coming out” seemingly encourages one to exist on one side of the secrecy/revelation, invisible/perceptible, reticence/articulation, and shame/pride binaries, the process of “inviting in” understands that context is a valuable factor that influences the ways we negotiate these potentialities daily. Lastly, where “coming out” calls/demands one to name her sexual identity–as if one presenting oneself to the public, the process of “inviting in” encourages an individual to make a choice to educate/share with another–to literally extend an invitation, or not, to another to sojourn in her life-space.
I have found working with GRSD clients reframing it as inviting in, and creating a space which allows them to realise they have the choice, can be incredibly liberating. The deceptive/out binary has become so pervasive in our society that people can feel shame around not being out, or about having fluid identities which mean they need to constantly come out. Reframing it as an inviting in, and giving space to explore the flaws of the coming out narrative can be a way to tackle the shame and the belief they are doing queer wrong. It also accepts as valid fears about abuse, rejection, and the reaction of others, and honours a client’s power to invite in only those who have earned admittance.
This can be incredibly useful around family visits, especially at times such as Christmas, and other culturally significant holidays. Asking oneself the following questions can break down the imperative around both attendance and disclosure;
- Is it safe to return home, emotionally, psychologically and physically?
- Is it safe to be out?
- Are there individuals I can “invite in” who can support me?
- Are there other spaces, such as online ones, where I can be my whole self, if I choose not to invite those around me into my world?
It is painful to realise that the answers to these questions is no, especially if that leads to family estrangement. Talking over with those who you do feel safe with, be that friends, chosen family or therapist can help. However no one should feel that they must be out, or that if they decide to keep part of themselves back that they are in any way lesser or deceptive by doing so. When we choose to invite someone into our world we are making a powerful statement, we are saying you have earned our trust and respect.