The Contextual Coming Out

The scene in which Shirin is speaking to her mother, and finally decides that it’s time to come out was particularly interesting to me. In this scene, her mother is dressing her wound that she got from being burned. After a moment of silence between the two, the main character decides that was the time that was appropriate to tell her mother that she was bisexual. She says “I’m a little bit gay”. Two things were noteworthy to me and both of them have to do with the notion of coming out and what that entails.

First, I think it does a really good job of showing that all coming out moments aren’t the same. There’s a lightness to it, a humor when she calls herself a little gay. And often coming out is perceived as this heavy and solemn thing that teens have to do for their conservative parents but this subverts the common conception of coming out (in my opinion).

I think this scene is also important because it portrays how coming out can be contextual. Earlier on in the movie her ex-girlfriend pushes her to come out on different terms. However, the dynamics and relationships between the main character and her parents are very specific and are admittedly different than those of her ex.

In a way this scene really highlights the intersection between cultural identity and sexual orientation. At first it seemed peculiar to me that the mother simply dismissed her admittance of being gay, but upon further reflection I think that this reaction of her mom is a particularly real one. In some cultures, coming out isn’t perceived or taken the same way that mainstream media portrays the American coming out. And certainly this mother’s reaction isn’t the stereotypical reaction of anger or complete  acceptance. And I think that’s important, because typically in the media we see a polarization of responses to coming out that don’t consider other factors. Often portrayed in the media either a harsh rejection of the person coming out or a complete acceptance; the ambiguity of her mother’s response is a way of breaking down that stereotype that’s presented in the media and also acknowledging the integral part that culture plays in the perception of sexuality. Personally speaking the conversation of coming out in the context of Indian culture would certainly mirror the conversation that occurred within the movie.

It may at first indeed seem that the mother subverts her coming out moment, because when you acknowledge something you do give credence in power to it (which is sometimes the beauty of coming out; it can validate an individual). And I think that the mother knew this and that may be a part of why she reacted the way she did. But I think it’s also necessary to acknowledge that when this conversation was taking place the mother was physically taking care of her daughter, and dressing her wound. Perhaps this is mirroring the conversation that happened, and perhaps this is her way of taking care of her daughter in an emotional sense and bandaging the wounds that were caused by the tumult of her being closeted sexual identity.

I also admittedly don’t know that much about the specific culture, but in cultures that exist within the United States, a lot of times the community itself it’s easier to be open and honest with close family members, but that does not mean that the community itself is accepting in every situation. For example, if I were to come out to my parents, I know that they would still except who I am as a person, but they do recognize that things would be more inconvenient for me in my community if that element of my identity was not only recognized but was vocalized.

And insofar as this is the case I don’t think that the mother was rejecting her identity rather she was trying to shield her or protect her from the perception that other people would have of her: it would be more of a kind of personal level of acceptance rather than a complete embrace of her daughters identity. I do think that it’s particularly noteworthy that the mother did not respond in a negative way in terms of her disposition. Perhaps she had suspected something from the beginning, and whether or not she was expecting this conversation, the lack of judgment is in and of itself a form of validation.

 

Questions:

Do you think that Shirin’s mother undermines her daughter’s coming out? Does she accept it? Was she inoculating the confession for a specific purpose (like protecting Shirin from backlash)? What do you make of this particular scene?

To what extent does culture intersect with sexual orientation, and how do the two function in constituting individual identity?

Do you believe that coming out necessarily entails being public with one’s identity?

This may be a kind of weird question, but… is coming out always a good idea? Do we think it can ever be a “wrong” decision?

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4 thoughts on “The Contextual Coming Out

  1. I really enjoyed this post! Shirin’s identity is rich: she is not just bisexual, she is Persian. The way her family interacts with each other is special (and I don’t mean that in a ‘oh she’s not like other girls she is ETHNIC and UNIQUE and not white!’ kind of way; personally, i hate the whole ‘oh you’re so ethnic you’re so interesting!!!’ narrative). Shirin engages with her world in a unique way (just like everyone else. we’re all special snowflakes. etc. I’m rambling.)

    I didn’t interpret Shirin’s mother’s response as one that is undermining. Dismissive on the surface, yes, but you’re right, it should be noted that it wasn’t a negative reaction. While I’m not as familiar with Persian culture, I am familiar with Korean/Filipino American culture. That intersection of customs and culture does shape the way family members treat one another! In more ways than one, this scene reminds me of when my uncle came out to the Filipino side of the family. I’m wary to draw too many parallels, because I don’t know if Filipino and Persian cultures are too similar, but I do know that my grandparents were quick to brush off my uncles sexuality at first, because they wanted to ‘protect him’ (their words, not mine) from the unkind words of others.

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  2. As Stephanie said above, i really love your post. I like how you mentioned about how coming out is portrayed as either some really good experience or some really bad experience, never in the middle, and addressing intersecrtionality because this film is made by a Persian woman who is bisexual. With the scene of her mother dressing Shirin’s wound and Shirin coming out at that moment, I think even if her mom kind of brushed it off to the side, she continues fixing her wound as like showing her unconditional love to her mother even she is seen as not accepting this part of her daughter. However, I do not think with her mom brushing her daughter’s coming out to the side undermines it because it seemed like her mom was addressing the time and place and how Shirin’s coming out does not really fit in that. In addition, that scene shows what is missing of most narratives of coming out in the mainstream; coming out is an ongoing process and does not stop as Shirin said she will bring up the coming out thing again to her mom in a few months. To address your question of culture intersecting with sexual orientation, I think culture greatly intersects with sexual orientation. I am not Persian and not speaking of how Persians approach sexual orientation, so I am speaking from my experience as a Vietnamese American. In Vietnamese culture, sexual orientation is not something to be talked about, and in a linguistic point of view, the word “gay” in Vietnamese literally translates to pervert, heavily impacting me of choosing whether or not to come out to my family because they have this negative predisposed idea about LGBTQ+ identifying people.

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  3. I really like your analysis of Shirin’s coming out. You’re very accurate in saying that every coming out is unique. Besides her coming out, Shirin also has a pretty unique experience with her queer sexuality. I think she her relatively reserved nature strongly contrasts and makes an interest foil with the queer expression of her ex-girlfriend.

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  4. I think that your post highlights the notion of how “coming out” is portrayed in the media, and how this film diverges from what has been traditionally presented. While Shirin’s “I’m a little bit gay” is comical, and supports her characterization as quirky and maybe a little off-key, I think that it is a novel representation of how many people come out. Shirin has just come out of her first lesbian relationship. While she is interested in men, she has decided for herself that women are another group of individuals that she enjoys engaging with on a sexual and emotional level. Her “I’m a little bit gay” is pretty honest, if you ask me. I do think that her mother’s response was undermining, and I found it frustrating that she could not find any form of validation from her mother. However, this is a very typical experience of most people coming out, and I think that by incorporating this interaction between Shirin and her mother, the film was decorated with some additional humor, but most importantly- another dimension of realism that makes this movie so great.

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