If you thought that coming was a one time event, you were wrong. We are consistently required to enter and exit the metaphorical closet.
Two recent events reminded me that when it comes to letting the world know that you’re gay, you’re never truly “out”. The first incident was during a university lecture on E-Commerce. The lecturer was discussing self published websites and asked for all those in the audience who had their own blog to raise their hands. A small number of people responded including myself. The lecturer managed to lock eyes with me even though I was seated in the far back.
“Tell us about your blog” he instructed. Now, I’m sure avid readers have realised from previous posts that I’m very open about my sexuality but when it came to describing the nature of my “gay blog” to 200 complete strangers, I was reluctant.
“It’s about being a 20-something in the modern world” I sheepishly replied. At the time, I didn’t feel that it was appropriate for me to come out to a theatre full of people that I didn’t know so I omitted the most important characteristic of my blog so as not to reveal my sexuality.
The second incident was one that occurs on a recurring basis. I was seated next to an older gentleman at a work dinner a few months ago. Our conversation was brilliant as we transversed topics such as sports, politics and food. It was sometime during dessert when he brought up the topic of marriage and how his daughter (who just so happens to be in my E-Commerce class) was recently engaged to her long-time boyfriend. “Have you got a wife or a girlfriend?” he questioned.
“I’m single” I responded.
“What do you think about marriage” he asked, “is it on the cards in the future?”.
At that moment I could have easily begun my political rant about gay marriage and how although I would like to be married one day, as a gay man it is currently illegal in Australia. But I didn’t. Again, I did not feel that the situation called for my coming out.
“One day, I hope” I said and proceeded to change the topic back to a more neutral category.
Gay men face situations like these on a daily basis whether it be at university, family functions, starting a new job, making new friends or any moment when you’re introduced to someone unfamiliar. Society continues to presume that we all subscribe to the heteronormative roles that we’ve been unwittingly assigned and chances are that these views aren’t going to change drastically anytime soon. This means that we will constantly be placed in situations where we will need to choose how much of ourselves we reveal to others.
Sexuality is a private matter and I don’t believe it’s always necessary or even appropriate to reveal to everyone you meet that you are gay. Although I believe that gay pride is crucial to ensuring self-esteem, it’s important to realise that not every situation calls for a dramatic Jack McFarland entrance. Of course we must speak-up if we witness homophobic behaviour in our immediate environment and I believe that this particular situation calls for a degree of bravery that we may be unprepared for. Generally speaking though we should feel comfortable with whom we decide to share our sexual identity before we reveal ourselves.
While I honestly believe that we should always be true to ourselves, we must be prepared that our coming out did not end after we took those first steps out of the closet and it is our ongoing decision who we tell that we’re gay and who we don’t.
Image by Kwannam Chu
Pablo Bensemann let me know about your article. This is one of my favourite quotes
“If you dream of a world in which you can put your partner’s picture on your desk, then put his picture on your desk and you will live in such a world. And if you dream of a world in which you can walk down the street holding your partner’s hand, then hold her hand and you will live in such a world. If you dream of a world in which there are more openly gay elected officials, then run for office and you will live in such a world. And if you dream of a world in which you can take your partner to the office party, even if your office is the U.S. House of Representatives, then take her to the party. I do, and now I live in such a world. Remember, there are two things that keep us oppressed: them and us. We are half of the equation. There will not be a magic day when we wake up and it’s now OK to express ourselves publicly. We must make that day ourselves, by speaking out publicly –first in small numbers, then in greater numbers, until it’s simply the way things are and no one thinks twice. Never doubt that we will create this world, because, my friends, we are fortunate to live in a democracy, and in a democracy, we decide what’s possible.”–Lesbian U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., speaking from the stage of the Millennium March on Washington 2000.
Personally, I consider myself as “out” as any heterosexual person. My sexual orientation usually comes up if I’m dating someone, or if I happen to mention an ex. For what it’s worth from my ivory tower, I don’t think of myself “gay” as I’d rather not be defined by who I have sex with (which is ultimately what most people think of when they learn that I’m a ‘moe). I’m aware of my responsibility to the community to be visible to those in my circle of influence and beyond, to “de-exoticize” homosexuality. Because it shouldn’t matter who I hold hands with on the street, or kiss, or marry.
And yet, it does, since the majority of people in this country assume that I’m heterosexual when they see me. They assume that because I’m male and have a penis that I fit a certain set of criterion that they associate with my sex: that I like sports, drink cheap beer, am allergic to housework or cooking, and love having sex with women.
So I’m burdened with having to tell them that these assumptions are incorrect. And until nobody cares if I give my (future) boyfriend a peck on the lips when we meet in public, I will continue to be burdened with having to come out over and over to friends, family, coworkers, and perfect strangers. It’s not fair, but that’s life, I guess.
Thank you for sharing your perspective and experience David.
You bring up the interesting tension between wanting to be visible in order to promote change and not wanting to make your sexuality the most important part of your identity.
This feels so right to read such an article and comments ! You embrassed exactly my opinion about coming out ! There’s always that feeling of starting from grass when you experience a change of social environment ! And it feels good to be able to put words on that feeling !
Thank you !