Sunday, April 01, 2007

On the Importance of Coming Out Stories

The week-long whirlwind of family-related activity ended yesterday morning with the departure of the last of the uncles and parents. Then I promptly hopped in the truck and drove up to Phoenix to meet up with an old school friend I haven't seen in over twenty years. Got home last night tired but exhilarated. Now this morning I have absolutely nothing to do for the first time in nine days and am feeling a bit lost.

The friend lives across the country but was in Phoenix for a vacation with her parents and siblings, so sure, I said, I can go up and meet you for lunch and a drink. I had wondered what the hell we were going to talk about after 22 years of no contact at all, but as soon as I walked into the lobby of her hotel, bam, we were both instantly 16 again, jabbering away like it had been a week or maybe a month.

The conversation took care of itself. After maybe half an hour of catching up on the chronologies of our major life events, she carefully asked, so... you're out, but you had that whole marriage thing, and, uh, how exactly did that happen? I gave the short answer, which boils down to it having taken a while to find my way past the expectations and cultural norms I grew up in enough to be able to recognize some fundamental truths about myself. And she replied that she was going through a similar process of figuring things out herself.

She's out to only about three other people. None of them are family members. She wasn't asking for advice, I think, so much as to hear my story so as to find some commonality of experience. Her siblings will be okay with it, she's sure. Her mother, she's sure, won't be, despite knowing and fully accepting other gay people. She fears it will be different for her mother when it's her only daughter who's coming out. She is weary of not being fully open with the people she loves the best, of having to hide her relationships to protect the identity status of a closeted ex-girlfriend, of showing up to these family gatherings alone.

We share the experience that most of the people we've come out to have not acted surprised. The friends she's told have said they already knew she was gay. She finds it as annoying as I do--for chrissakes, when you screw up your courage over the span of a few months or a few years to tell someone something you thought was that momentous, it's pretty damn deflating when their response is, uh, yeah, I know that, so what's your news? While the responses have been uniformly positive, at least on the surface, at least one guy--who I assume thought he was being supportive--told her there are two kinds of gay people, those who are born that way and those who choose to be that way, and he figures she's just choosing and isn't really gay.

That doesn't help. Really, it doesn't.

She talked about going over her high school and college years in her head, trying to find the signals everyone else saw so clearly while she stayed oblivious. For the record, at the time I was as oblivious to her orientation as I was to my own. Midwestern girls at a Catholic school in a socially conservative town. We never had a chance.

We chuckled over the names we came up with of girls we had thought at the time we just liked for other reasons but who, looking back now, we probably had crushes on. Shook our heads at being aware of the stereotypes of gay men but never quite conceptualizing the existence of lesbians, much less the possibility that we fell into that camp ourselves. Talked about one of the obviously gay guys in our class who was murdered in LA after we were out of college, how the hometown newspaper said he'd taken a wrong turn in a bad neighborhood instead of reporting the truth that he was the victim of a bigot with a knife. Wondered how anyone can think we chose this. How anyone can think that telling us we chose this is a good idea.

This won't be the week she comes out to her parents or her siblings. She doesn't want to gamble a too-rare vacation together on the chance that their response won't be we know but rather we can't accept this. At the end, my only advice was to be prepared for the possibility that even the people she feels safest with, and whose support she is most confident of, might react negatively--but to carry the hope that with time and effort, they might come around. She knows it's a chance. She also knows that she can't continue living this way, hiding an essential part of her life from the most important people in her life. I hope I helped her find the courage to find her voice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In response to the guy who said there are two kinds of gay people; "Yeah, and there's two kinds of straight people, those who have half a brain and those who lack even a single brain cell."
I believe that the hardest thing is to face our own reality - after that everything else is easy (by comparison).