It’s the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and the UN is urging people to share their own stories. Here’s mine.
I love that meme. One day we won’t come out, we’ll just say that we’re in love and that’ll be all that matters. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Straight people don’t come out as straight, cis men don’t come out as men, or cis women as women. The world makes certain assumptions, and in most instances they’re correct. But you know what they say about assuming, it makes an ASS of U and ME, and it makes it all the harder for those of us who don’t fit the pattern.
Here’s the thing: I lived that meme. I feel like I’ve known I was gay since forever, but I always say I came out at fourteen. And by ‘came out’, I mean my best friend asked me and I said yes. Other friends asked me, and I said yes. My sister asked, and I said yes.
My parents never asked me, and so I said nothing.
Quite frankly, we’re all way too English for that whole “Mum, Dad, sit down, I’ve got something to tell you” conversation. I still cringe thinking about doing it. I know most people do, and I know it’s a momentous occasion in their lives and I’d never cricitise anyone for going that route, but me? Hell, no. I don’t discuss my feelings. Not ever.
That doesn’t mean I was in the closet. I never hid who I am (hence the steady procession of other people doing a lot of asking), and as I got older I got more confident saying it up front. I’ll correct strangers when they make assumptions about me. I was out, I just never came out.
One day I took a girl home and said I was in love. My parents said they were happy for us, and life continued as usual. It is possible, it does happen, and I think those stories, as mundane as they are, are just as important as all the rest. Perhaps even more so.
Whenever we think of the act of coming out, we usually associate it with a single (traumatic) event in a person’s life. Often it is, but not always. For a start, there is no single act of coming out. You don’t say the words ‘I’m gay’ (or bi, or trans*) once and never again. It’s something we keep doing over and over on an almost daily basis. People make assumptions all the time, and then those of us for whom the assumptions are wrong need to make a decision about coming out all over again, often on the fly, often with people we’ll never meet again. Making small talk with the barista in my local Starbucks. Speaking to the woman behind me in line at the supermarket. The people we work with, or meet at the pub, or sit next to on an aeroplane.
Especially for those of us for whom coming out to the people who matter (friends; family) was a traumatic experience, being confronted by the same decision time and again from strangers can be harrowing. You’ve got a choice of trusting a stranger not to respond negatively, or lying about who you are. Neither is much fun, and going through that over and over can make even the thickest-skinned of us overly-sensitive.
The simplest solution would be for people to quit with the assumptions. Just because someone doesn’t ‘look gay’ (whatever that may mean) doesn’t mean they aren’t. Not all people in heterosexual relationships are straight. A stranger’s genitals are nobody’s business but their own.
But let’s go further than that. Not all women want (or can have) children. Not all young men are louts. Not every young mother is a bad parent or sob story waiting to happen. Not all divorces are someone’s fault. Not everyone who’s overweight eats too much, and not everyone with a disability wants to be pitied.
Everybody in the world has at one time or another had a wrong assumption made about them over something. Assumptions are nothing more or less than snap judgments, and these days I correct them whenever I can. At twenty-nine, with a supportive family, that’s easy for me to do. Not everybody has the luxuries of experience and assurance I have. So rather than put the onus on the person being judged to defend themselves, let’s all agree to stop judging and start listening, because it’s what people say about themselves — not what other people think — that really matters.