“Coming out” of the kitchen

by Matthew Kirschenbaum

In June of 2009, I came out as gay (currently queer, for the record).

In May of 2013, I came out as vegan.

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The act of “coming out” is a problematic act in that its essential purpose upholds a “norm”, whether that be heterosexuality or carnivorism (among other privileges such as whiteness, masculinity, able bodies, right handedness, etc.). Heteropatriarchal society assumes that all are inherently heterosexual, and any who do not fit into such a paradigm are of a lesser morality. Such a norm causes individuals to feel the need to come out, as it is seemingly necessary to separate oneself’s identity from the “normal” sexuality, race, gender, diet, etc. The act of “coming out” is problematic in that it promotes a separation of a privileged norm and an inferior subversion.

Identities exclude, limit, and define possible acts by playing on a societal definition of an identity. Lesbianism may refer to a monogamous relationality between two cis-females. Bee-ganism may refer to a diet that does not consist of any animal products other than those produced by bees. Both definitions of lesbianism and bee-ganism are identical in that they provide parameters on what one can and cannot engage in. And because such definitions (many times societal) limit individuals from participating in a particular act, the act of exclaiming an identity problematizes an individual’s relation to the Self.

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I find the act of “coming out” (regardless of what the individual is coming out to) in that the act asserts an identity that prevents them from veering outside of that identity’s terms. For example, when I came out as gay when I was sixteen, I felt the restriction of only focusing my sexual energies on cis-males, whereas if I were to forgo “coming out”, I may not have felt such a societal pressure. The same confusion applies to exclamatory acts of diet (i.e. pescetarianism, veganism, paleo diets, etc.) because it induces the individual’s vulnerability by peers when eating a food that is against their imposed diet. There have been innumerable times when others have made such an effort to inform me that I cannot eat the scrambled eggs or chicken pot pie: Why can’t I make a decision for myself regardless of how I personally identify? Although the intent is sentimental, I think that I can ask for myself if I have doubt on whether or not I conform to a food’s ethics.

Privilege plays a huge part in all aspects of oppressive identities. Veganism is a privileged system of diet that assumes that all nonhuman-animal product production is ill-spirited towards the nonhuman-animal. Although I can’t speak with certainty on the non-Westernized animal production methods, I do believe that the Western slaughterhouses and farming practices do impose human superiority over the nonhuman. But of course not everyone is in a Western paradigm, so I can only comment about the difficulty of maintaining a balanced vegan diet in Western realms. Because not all have this privilege of food access, alternative diets may be deemed alternative due to limited resources and accessibilities.

Needless to say (or write), non-normative sexual identities are privileges in that not all have the option of identifying as gay, poly, zoo, lesbian, etc. Many regions criminalize such individuals using deviance as a rhetorical justification. It is a privilege to identify and to practice as queer. Think about Russia, for example: One can be persecuted and assaulted solely for appearing as non-normative. Because both non-normative sexual and dietary practices are privileges to “come out” as, such acts problematize the identities themselves and the individual’s relation to the Self.

It happens almost daily that I must tell someone that I am vegan, or that my colleague’s (problematic) assumptions of my sexuality are indeed true. When I deny a piece of cake at a work meeting, I am swayed to “come out” as vegan in order to clear up any confusion. When coworkers of mine talk about marriage and weddings, the topic of gay marriage is brought to the table and I am somehow “outed”. Veganism and queerness are undoubtedly intersectional.

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