The Bear In The Closet

Nobody goes into the closet alone.

The thing that all queer people share is the experience of being pushed into the closet, feeling the pressure to hide the contents of their heart or experience stigma, shaming and isolation.  We feel that just being out will create resistance and push back, understand that hiding our queerness is what is demanded of us.

But nobody goes into that closet alone.   We always take with us the voices that we felt called us into the closet in the first place.  They are always there with us in the darkness, reminding us of why we need to hide, why we need to stay safe locked away, why we need to avoid being exposed, always ready to run back into the closet at any time.

We didn’t choose to be in the closet because we felt safe, happy and welcomed.  We ended up in the closet because we felt threatened & scared, because we believed that unless we kept part of ourselves hidden away we would be dehumanized and denied.

All the voices and fears that pushed us into the closet, though, start to melt together when we get in there, inside our own head.   We build the voice that polices our own gender behaviours, that melange of all the of the taunts and humiliations we have over what someone like us should and should not do, what others will find attractive and what others will find repulsive and ugly.

The bear in the closet is our own special companion, the big, furry, smelly beast who reminds us that being inside and hidden with them is always better and safer than being outside where anything might happen.   Better the scary animal you know than the humans you can’t know, we end up believing.

The growls of our bear are always in our ear, always pushing at the fight, freeze or flee response when we come into unknown territory.   The bear is always there, inside our head, ready to remind us of why we built the damn closet and the bear in the first place, ready to pull us back in if we get too complacent, too relaxed, or, God Forbid!, too happy.

The bear just can’t trust happiness or vulnerability.  The bear is our guardian, protecting us from evil, no matter how much he sounds like our ego, speaking from fear and demanding that whatever we do we must avoid loss at any cost.

No matter how much our spiritual practice tells us that it is only by engaging and opening to other people that we can get the affirmation, affection and respect that we need, the bear is always on duty to lure us back into the closet, back into that bear hug we created when we felt threatened and under attack.

It is the voice of the bear reading stories to us which fills our head, all those tales of bad things that happened to other people, reminders of when we felt scared and sad.   The world that the bear in the closet reminds us about is terrifying and small, with no possibility of change.    In his cooing voice, bear reminds us why hope is a fool’s errand, something that we, as a hidden queer, just don’t have the luxury of ever having in our life.

Every bear tells us to defend his cave in different ways.  Some growl, some hibernate, some attack, some play small, and some just rationalize.  All forms of fighting work, as long as they let us keep our nature hidden and our heart defended.

The most powerful thing about bear is that he isn’t wrong.   The smarter we are, the smarter that the bear in our closet is.   The bear knows us better than anyone, because he is us, intimate with all our fears, connected with all the touchstone stories which drove us into the closet in the first place.   The bear uses our real life to glean terrifying examples of when we felt hurt and damaged, creating fables that both scare the bejeezus out of us and have real components of a real life.

If you have never lived with a big shaggy bear who keeps dragging you back into the closet, time and time and time again, then you have no idea how incredibly hard it is to tame your own bear, the one who lives inside of you.   Even if you want to help people who are wrestling their own bear, you stand a good chance of missing the point, of trying to attack the bear with logic and dominance.

Attacking the bear in the closet never works.   Being attacked only proves that he was right to pull us into the closet in the first place.   Attacks prove that people just don’t understand how damaged and tender we are, how we need to find safety and solace in the arms of a big scary — and scared — bear.

Allies who don’t understand the power of the bear in our closet will never understand why we ended up in the dark with a bear, and why we often feel that bear is our only friend and protector.   It is a brave act to defy the bear and allow ourselves to be vulnerable and seen in the world, tender and timid, feeling the call of the bear to defend again in every moment.

Bear taming is an art.   It’s an art that demands that someone else distract the bear while you do your tricks to move past him.   Bears are powerful and sly because they are part of us, the part that knows what it is to be hurt, humiliated and alone.

Defeating your own bear all alone is almost impossible, because your bear is you and being alone with him just gives him more power.    After all, you ended up in the closet with the bear because of your experience with other people who wanted to silence, hide and modulate you.

No one goes into the closet alone.  Our trusty bear is always in there with us, always ready to remind us why hope and happiness will always be denied to us.   Every time we venture out, we will get new reminders of why we decided to live in the cave with the big fear bear in the first place.

The best we can hope to do is get past the bear, to give him less power in our lives by finding someone else who can help us get out of the clutches of the bear in our closet.