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Zip it

So, I had an interesting run-in with privacy issues recently. People seem to think that “out” is an all-or-nothing deal, like you come out and everybody gets to know right away. This could not be further from being the case. I am out to a handful of people at my university, a group that I have been around for a while, gotten to know, and is generally accepting. Some people have mistaken this “out” for a variety of “out” where they can tell people I barely know about my identity. This, obviously, is a problem. So I’ve devised a few rules for people on how to deal with people they know who are “out”.

1) This is someone’s life, not juicy gossip, not a conversation piece, not a route to boast about how open-minded you are for knowing someone who is X. If the topic doesn’t come up on it’s own, no matter how “out” the person is, just don’t bring it up. It’s not your place to talk about it. Even if you feel that it is “awkward” to avoid the specifics of discussing someone, just don’t. If whoever you are talking to doesn’t already know, then they don’t need to.

2) It doesn’t matter how well you know the people you’re telling. You can think that they are the most open-minded and accepting people on the planet, and know in your hear that they won’t have a problem with whomever you’re outing. Doesn’t matter. It’s not your place to make that determination. One of the big struggles with coming out is that you have no idea how people will react, even one’s you’ve known for a while. Some issues, like being trans, don’t come up in conversation enough to gauge people’s opinions, and sometimes otherwise accepting people freak out when they have to come face-to-face with an issue they claim to be “OK” with. People come out when they feel that the potential benefits outweigh the negative consequences, or when the balance of those two things is acceptable to them. You are not in any position to know what the boundaries of this balance are for anyone but yourself.

3) It doesn’t matter if you think they already know. Some people are perceptive, that’s fine. We don’t confirm their suspicions until we damn well want to.

4) If you don’t know how “out” someone is, ask. It’s hard to know what assumptions people are making when they give out information, so if someone doesn’t explicitly tell you who you can tell, ask them rather than assuming it’s everyone. Take a minute to learn what level of risk they are willing to take.

5) If someone says not to tell a group or a particular individual, for fuck’s sake don’t go and do it anyway. You’d think this would be a no brainer, but this is the situation I happen to be in, and I can’t possibly be the only one. Seriously.

6) If you found out about something in some way other than the person actually telling you (e.g. someone outed them to you, or you for some reason were researching your friend or S.O.), then tell them you know and don’t tell anybody else. If they don’t know that you know, then they’re going to be very surprised when the town gossip finds out.

The reason for all this is that being out is a dangerous business. Once you tell people, the knowledge could get to someone who doesn’t like X, someone who would do you harm. People are attacked, people are ostracized, people are blackmailed. Coming out is a calculated risk, we tell the people we think will be fine with it and who we think will keep their mouths shut about it if need be. The only person capable of taking that risk is the person to whom the risk actually applies. This does not extend to acquaintances, friends, relatives, S.O.s, or anyone else. You do not have the right to distribute anyone else’s information unless they give that right to you specifically. Otherwise? Keep your lips zipped.

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  1. March 24, 2011 at 20:35

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