How often do you come out?

By | 2011/09/29

Christopher Banks (aka @bipolarbear) has a great article, David Farrier: Sex with dolphins and the gay agenda, where he takes to task the notion that being closeted is in some way easy. In particular, referring to a New Zealand journalist, David Farrier, Christopher says:

To be fair, David isn’t the kind of guy who regularly shoves his sexuality down the throat of his readers.  But I’d like to see him try the following psychological exercise – and perhaps for some of you non-gay readers out there as well – to attempt to live a whole week without making any reference to your sexual orientation whatsoever.

I strongly recommend you read the above story – particularly when it comes to what Christopher says about how a heterosexual might go about walking in the shoes of a closeted person for a week. It’s 100% accurate, and 100% disturbing.

Closet door

However, it reminded me of a conversation I had with a close mate recently. He’s straight, has a bit of a wild-boy past, and is probably one of the most accepting people I’ve ever met. Pretty much nothing fazes him; indeed, he was one of the first non-gay people who found out Darren and I were in an open relationship – and he didn’t give a damn.

When I mentioned to my mate that I was having issues with depression, after the initial part of the conversation he remarked something along the lines of:

That must have been like coming out for a second time.

We had a bit of a discussion about it then, but it’s actually a common misconception amongst heterosexuals that gays and lesbians have a big coming out of the closet moment, then it’s all done and settled from that moment onwards. It’s certainly true that a lot of us will have a big coming out moment – usually to parents, relatives, or close friends (or some combination thereof), and this is indeed something that can be anything from amazingly positive to massively traumatic.

Coming out doesn’t stop there though. That first coming out is almost your own way of saying “I believe I am what I am”, but by no means is it the be-all and end-all for most gays and lesbians. We don’t just come out once – those of us who are able to live openly face coming out on almost a daily basis. Personally, I do think this leads to some people putting on affectations of campness, either in behaviour or speech, in order to short-cut the process.

Coming out can practically be a daily experience. In consulting, any time I go onto a customer site I’m likely to need to come out. Why? Because people naturally ask questions that come down to sexuality or relationship status. Here’s probably the most common questions I get asked of a non-technical nature during my first day on-site at a new customer:

  1. Do you have kids?
  2. Are you married?
  3. What does your wife do?

There is, quite simply, an implicit assumption amongst most heterosexuals that the people they meet are similarly heterosexual. When I was much younger, I’d generally answer the questions in a reasonably obtuse way:

  1. No, no kids.
  2. I’m partnered.
  3. My partner is a graphic designer.

Over time, as I became more comfortable with at least that part of me, and I became more confident in my career, I found it easier to answer:

  1. No, no kids – and never will.
  2. Not married, but I’ve been with my partner for 15 years.
  3. He’s a graphic designer.

Some would argue the second answer is still a cop-out, but in actual fact, it simply reflects my aversion for using a term that isn’t legally applicable (i.e., husband) – i.e., it’s not a case of me being closeted, it’s a case of me being anal retentive about language.

(First person to make a joke about being gay and anal retentive gets a withering glance.)

Outside of our jobs, we tend to be put in situations on a daily basis where we have the option of coming out. I don’t know how many times shop keepers have asked if Darren and I are brothers – or even twins! Even the most basic things – going out for coffee, or putting groceries down together at the supermarket provokes the classic: “Are you paying together?”

There are, quite simply, hundreds of little questions or comments or assumptions made by a large number of people each day that someone new they’re dealing with will be heterosexual. I want to make it very clear: I strongly believe that in 99% or more of the time, this is a subconscious situation. They’re not actively thinking “This person is likely heterosexual so I will …”

It’s because of those assumptions that discussing my depression wasn’t like coming out a second time; sure, it was akin to coming out, but I’ve come out so many times I’ve lost count. And I’ll likely continue to be coming out up until the day I die.

How often have you come out today?

3 thoughts on “How often do you come out?

  1. tim

    “How often have you come out today?”

    I’m not sure I get your point. When people speak of personal matters to each other – especially if you know little about each other – they are volunteering something of themselves that most likely will run counter to your assumptions. More plainly – I don’t consider stating my boyfriend is an accounting “coming out” as gay just as I don’t consider someone talking about their kids as “coming out” as a father or a mother. You’ve just learned something new that you didn’t know before. Congratulations. Perhaps more confidence in yourself is in order?

    Furthermore – when we eventually go through an official ceremony – my boyfriend becomes my ‘husband’ – whether its legally recognized by the state or not. The state doesn’t have a monopoly on the word ‘marriage’ or ‘husband’. Husband has an obvious meaning to most people – partner does not.

  2. PMdG Post author

    My point is that if you disclose to someone who didn’t previously know you were gay, in any way, that you’re gay, you’re effectively coming out to them. Sure, you’re not saying “By the way, X, I’m gay”, but you’re still coming out.

    I’m personally unwilling to describe my partner as my husband unless there’s been a legal ceremony. The state, in actual fact, _does_ have a legal monopoly on the word ‘marriage’ and the words associated with it. Using them incorrectly is using them invalidly, and typically leads towards rejection.

    If you want to describe your partner as ‘husband’ in private circles, go right ahead. On official documents? It won’t fly.

  3. Stephen

    I think it can be too easy – for me at least – to give up on trying to explain a different sexuality where it comes up in situations outside of my circle of friends. In this case, a Coming Out day is a good reminder to try.

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