Being in the Closet(s)

IMG_5451Yesterday I read this excellent article by Aggie at Solopoly, about being in or coming out of the poly closet. You can read the article for yourself, but – in a nutshell – it discusses the pros and cons of being in the closet, and seems to conclude that being in the closet is hard on the people around you, but ultimately we all have to make our own choices. I like it. It is almost exactly the way I operate: I gather all my information, weigh up the data and make my own free choices. And actually, whether you’re talking about the poly closet, the gay closet, the kinky closet, or any other closet, Aggie’s general observations seem apt.

I don’t quite identify as poly, but I’m not in the closet about being non-monogamous; nor am I in the closet about being kinky; then again, the fact that I like to be tied up and beaten doesn’t tend to come up very often in polite conversation and these aren’t details about myself that I’m likely to offer up unprompted. In fact, I rarely offer up any information unprompted; it usually just seems unnecessary. Having said that, I am listed on Facebook as being “in an Open Relationship” and if something I believe in needs me to fight for it, I will.

The closet I am more concerned with at the moment is the ‘sex writer closet’. I have recently been given a new job. It doesn’t start until September, but it’s with a company I have previously worked for, and so when it comes to social networking I am still connected with some of my past and future colleagues. Although I came out in December, and made this blog accessible to anyone who cared to look, I don’t think a great many people have done much research or clicked many links, and in the seven months that ‘Harper Eliot’ was in brackets beside my (slightly doctored, for playful reasons) Facebook name, only one loving, fun and liberal cousin seems to have noticed that I lead something of a double life. However, despite the incredibly underwhelming response to my step out of the closet before Christmas, I still feel a little irritated at having to step back into it. Because really, coming out wasn’t for anyone else, it was for me.

I came out for several reasons, the main ones being, 1) I don’t like segregating my life, and 2) I truly believe that the more people there are in the closet, the harder it is to come out. With this second one in mind, I couldn’t help but feel guilty as I deleted ‘Harper Eliot’ from my Facebook profile and scrolled back to make sure there were no stray ‘(It Girl. Rag Doll)’ posts on my page. With any other company, this might not have been necessary, and I did dream of having a job where I could be out and it wouldn’t be a problem. But for this job I have to be in the closet. If not for my sake, then for the sake of my colleagues and even my family. The backlash could be too harmful for me to put anyone at risk.

But here’s where I’m lucky: as a sex writer, being in the closet is unlikely to be destructive to anyone else. Neither my friendships nor my relationships are going to suffer because I won’t tell the woman at the next desk that I write about sex. I have never, and doubt that I will ever, introduce my friends to my colleagues; I have just never been the kind of person who mixed the two. Not because I am keeping them apart in order to maintain secrets, but simply because London is a big city and I’m unlikely to run into a colleague in the middle of Soho at 11pm on a Saturday night. And even if I did, I think that person would probably be all right with my writing. If it even came up!

As for the non-monogamous and kinky closets? Well, even if I was the most straight-cut, monogamous person on earth, clients of the company have no business knowing about my sex life or my relationships. As for colleagues? I doubt the details of my kinks are ever going to come up. They just aren’t those kinds of people. And when it comes to non-monogamy, I am more than happy to be out. I am not going to be fired for having multiple partners, and I consider being out as non-monogamous something of a political statement. Monogamy is a status quo I am happy and proud to challenge, and I already have one slip up I would like to rectify in this area.

In March I was doing some cover work, and found myself in the kitchen with one of my colleagues. I was in a bad mood, and she happens to be a colleague I have, once or twice, had tea with after work, so I shared the reason for my bad mood: my period was late. She raised an eyebrow and asked me if it was possible that I could be pregnant. I shook my head no, and explained that the only person I’d had sex with recently had had a vasectomy, and that I’m very careful anyway. I’m not sure quite how I put it, but it came out as quite cold and clinical, as though this person was a near-stranger and she looked a little uncomfortable, so I explained, “He’s really lovely”, and then, in my tired, pissed off mood, added “So is his wife.” As her eyebrows scraped the ceiling and she escaped with her cup of tea, I realised that what she had probably heard was “I am helping this man cheat on his ‘lovely’ wife”. I kicked myself for this moment of terrible communication, but when I saw her later it seemed an inappropriate subject to raise again.

There is a high chance that, like me, she remembers this somewhat awkward and rather questionable conversation, and if that is the case, I hope I get the chance to properly come out to her once we are working together next year. Then she will hopefully realise that this lovely man’s lovely wife is perfectly aware of the situation, and I am far from being a homewrecker. And if I ever get the chance to introduce her to said couple, I will do it with pride and a glint in my eye.

As for sex writing? That will have to remain my secret for now. But I think I can make my peace with that: we all have to pick our battles.

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4 Responses to Being in the Closet(s)

  1. Brigit Delaney says:

    I so feel your pain on this. I have a very conservative day job – and if I was ever “discovered”, my career would likely be over. I choose to remain anonymous and use a pen name – for everyone’s sake. It’s too bad we have to be so undercover. Writing about sex isn’t a crime, but it’s easy to feel like a criminal when people look at you like you rape puppies for a living when you admit that you write about sex and live an alternative sexual lifestyle. Maybe the world will change someday.

    • Harper Eliot says:

      I think the only way forward is for people to come out; and given the difficulty of coming out for some of us – I don’t have a very conservative job, but I work with children, which, as you know, ups the stakes – I think the people for whom there is less risk, will have to lead the way on this. I just hope it happens in the not too distant future.

  2. Jane says:

    Closets are tricky things, aren’t they? I’m kind of half-in and half-out of mine – mainly because, like you, I worry about my family being negatively affected. On the other hand, I don’t really want to deny or hide who I am; if questioned directly about my sexual preferences, I’d be extremely reluctant to fudge. Great post!

    Jane xxx

    • Harper Eliot says:

      Yeah, that’s the other thing: I will omit truth, but I won’t lie. So I have to be careful how I talk about it. However, I suppose I am more out about it than most; it’s just this one area – work – where I have to be extra careful.

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