On Coming Out

A few years ago, I had the great fortune of meeting Erin Dreps when she began volunteering at the non-profit I work for. Very slowly, we became friends. She is one of my favorite people to receive an email from. Today, she comes out to the internet at large.

Dear Amy,

I came out today. I also came out yesterday, to a guy I was talking to at dinner. And I came out the day before that to my roommate at this orientation I’m attending. I came out the day before that to a doctor who was examining my possibly – though thankfully not actually – broken wrist (and I can’t even imagine why that was relevant). I came out two months ago to my soon-to-be supervisor who was interviewing me for a job. All I do is come out! I’m not in the closet, yet somehow I’m constantly emerging from it.

Not to say that I’m compelled to announce to everyone I meet, “By the way, I prefer ladies.” It’s just, you know, I have a partner. And that’s kind of a big deal in my life and it kind of relates to a lot of stories I tell, so it comes up. Plus, I’m phenomenally bad at coming out despite my 6 ½ years of practice. I’ve gotten better, but from where I started there was really no way to get worse. I had a lot of painfully awkward conversations, thankfully never because anyone reacted badly but only because I made it awkward. I didn’t know how to bring it up. I still don’t, really.

From there, I just started putting it off. Like, oh, I’ll tell them when I know them better. Or, I’d rather know how they might react first. And I could justify it because I’m not actually a super proactive “sharer” about anything else – so why about this? Do you remember when I came out to you? If you don’t, it’s because I never did. Someone did it for me, which I prefer in a way. But I feel bad that because of that, you didn’t know until a week before that I was getting married. I wanted to be friends with you and with Catherine, and I wanted to bond, and in order to do so I wanted and needed to let you in on this thing, this major part of my life – but I didn’t know how to bring it up. Given that omission, I’m still stunned by the quickness and the generosity of your responses and your readiness to help me celebrate.

As hordes of coworkers and friends can attest, I have a pattern of this same hesitation, this same awkwardness. It just comes back to the fact that I didn’t know how to bring it up. Or when, for that matter. When I first meet someone, or once I know him well enough that it might be relevant? When she mentions her boyfriend, or when he mentions his gay brother?

I’ve changed tactics now, which is why I’m announcing it every other breath. Maybe I should start wearing a sign. Maybe if I cut my hair even shorter and wear even more plaid it will announce itself. Maybe it already does announce itself, but people are too polite to verbalize their assumptions. Maybe I need to finally get the bad reaction, the bible-quoting bigot telling me I’m going to hell (which, in fairness, would be a bigger threat if I believed in hell – and I bet that’s another reason I’m sure to go there). Maybe I need to experience that, and go through it to the other side, so I realize that I can. So I don’t worry about reactions from new coworkers and soccer teammates, because there’s no way they can react worse than that one guy did. So it can’t touch me, so fear is not a factor in whether or when I come out to someone.

Of course, I say that like I want to be a badass or something, but in reality I’m eternally grateful to (and always relieved to encounter) the people who recognize the ultimate irrelevance of my gay-ness, who forgive my inappropriately delayed disclosure of the fact – who react like you did, in short. And, sidenote, I have to say that it confuses me when straight people use the word “partner.” This is how you introduced Jason to me when I first met you both. I want to own that word, because it’s how I come out subtly. I want people to assume when I refer to “my partner” that she’s a woman and that makes me a lesbian. So. You know. Stop it.

Your friend,

Erin

Dear Erin,

Well, now I am in the awkward position of having to come out to you. I call Jason “my partner” because I am gay and he is a woman. I do like to tease him about that, actually. Is that offensive? I hope not. It’s not that I’m teasing him about being a gay woman because being a gay woman is something to tease about. I’m teasing him because he’s a man who looks and acts like a woman. Not that I’m saying being a woman is something to tease someone about. Unless you’re a man? JESUS. I’m just going to stop now.

I’m happy to hear you’ve never gotten a bad reaction to coming out. For most things, I can see both sides, even if I don’t agree with them. (In fact, lately, I’ve come to understand the pro-lifers who are like, vehemently active about it – attending rallies, protesting. I mean, if you REALLY thought abortion was murder, how could you keep your mouth shut about it? How could you NOT protest? And so, in a surprising turn of events, I came to understand those crazy pro-lifers more. That said, I remain vehemently pro-choice. And I say that AS a mother.) What were we talking about again? Oh yeah, you’re gay.

The truth is, I sort of, I guess, assumed you were gay? In all the stereotypical ways you pointed out. Because you have short hair. Because you wear a lot of plaid shirts. Because you don’t own make-up. (All things, incidentally, that you have in common with my husband.) This is not to say I would have been surprised to find out you had a boyfriend. But the point I’m trying to make is that it was, to use your word, “irrelevant” to me. It just didn’t matter that much.

Which is not to say it isn’t a big deal. I mentioned offhandedly to my mom once about how I hoped that my kids were gay. She seemed shocked, but I just felt like, it doesn’t make a difference to me. Let ME be the one with the gay kid, not the super-Christian family down the street. And my mom pointed out that gay people have a much harder time than straight people. Which I suppose is still true (although certainly not in the way it was when my mom was my age). So it IS a big deal, and I recognize that.

What I don’t understand are the people to whom it’s a big deal. What I started to say before, about how I see both sides of most issues? I DO NOT SEE the other side of this. Why does it matter? I have heard that it’s because it’s unnatural, because a woman and a woman or a man and a man can’t make a baby (without help). (For the record, I have a lot of straight friends who needed help making a baby.) That really, at base, seems to be the only difference. Do you need ALL couples to make babies? What if a man and a woman decide not to have babies? Is that unnatural too? Or does that just qualify as untapped potential?

So, here’s the deal. If Violet is gay, what’s the best way to impart to her that we’re cool with it? Like, without being like, “Hey, we love that you’re gay,” and “Any ladies in your life?” (nudge nudge) and “Want to go shopping for plaid shirts?”

 “Partner.” Girl, it’s yours.

Your friend (and ally),

Amy

Dear Amy,
Two things:
1. As long as Jason isn’t offended at being likened to a woman, I don’t see why anyone else should be offended on his behalf. And let’s face it, he and I DO have quite similar wardrobes. If he’s not sure how he feels about all this, then perhaps he can take some consolation in that at least he most resembles a rather tomboy-ish woman.
2. Not that I would wish gay-ness upon a child, but your point about it being better that your kid turns out gay than the homophobes next door is a valid one. I can safely say that whether or not Violet is gay, she’s lucky to have parents who will just be excited to find out, one way or another. And the unconditional love and support you’ll surely extend to her whether she’s Violet the Pilot or Violet the Pet Psychic will go a long way toward conveying the point that she’s perfect however, whatever, and whoever she is. But for a practical suggestion, I would say this: Avoid gender. Don’t ask if she has a crush on any boys (or any girls), just ask if she has a crush. Don’t promise she’ll meet a great boy someday, assure her that she’ll meet a special SOMEONE. Movies and music and television and magazines do a good job of telling us to like boys, and in fairness, the majority of girls do. But – and I say this not as a mom, of course, but just as a gay woman who used to be a closeted gay girl – parents can maybe be a bit more neutral about it all.
Your plaid-clad friend,
Erin
Erin is a longtime volunteer and aspiring friend of Amy’s. Among other things, she considers herself a nature enthusiast, book lover, soccer fanatic, and lesbian. She lives with her partner, with whom she is firmly undecided about whether to ever become a mom (or sometimes firmly decided, but only for brief intervals). Whatever the future holds for the pair, one thing is for sure: there will be cats.
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One thought on “On Coming Out

  1. Frances says:

    What an awesome momandnotmom post! Erin, you are so great—I want to be receiving regular emails from you again just so I can enjoy your wonderful writing style more often. Also Erin, I have another note. While in the social work program, I learned from peers that “partner” is the progressive term for allies, as well as LGBTQ folks, to use because it de-emphasizes gender as the most salient part of a relationship and reduces heteronormativity. I feel kinda weird using it (but for other reasons, I think the level of commitment it implies) but it is interesting to hear your point of view, one I hadn’t considered before. I’ll do some more thinking about it, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. This all reminds me why I love words so darn much. So much meaning bound up in some letters smooshed together!

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