Every time you think you’re done coming out, turns out you’re not.
Maybe you bump into someone at the grocery store whom you haven’t seen in a few years, who asks you, “So what’s new?”
Or… maybe you get a Facebook message from someone you forgot was on your friend list, who happens to see a blog post of yours where you were being all Out and Proud, who writes you a sarcastic note saying, “Dude, thanks for keeping me in the loop.”
Or… maybe you’re teaching a roomful of college students, and in the context of a class discussion, a student innocently asks you a question you can’t just shrug off — and before you even realize it, you’re telling 30 young people that you’re gay.
All three of these things happened to me recently. The third situation took place this week, and it’s the one that I’m still thinking about. Here’s how it went down:
On this particular day, my students had brought in drafts of an essay they were working on, and we were about to engage in a workshopping process where they’d be reading and critiquing each other’s essays. Before the workshop began, I was talking with the class about the value of having a good reader for their work. I made some cavalier remark to them, something along the lines of: “If you find someone who’s good at reading your writing and giving you helpful feedback, hang onto that person! Never let them go! Maybe marry them!”
Ha ha ha ha ha. Good-natured chuckles all around.
One student in class raised his hand and asked in a sincere voice, “Is that how you met your wife?”
Oh. Um. Erm.
I’m sorry I didn’t catch that didn’t quite hear you I think the A/C is on too loud sorry wow look at the time we really should wrap this up why don’t we just move on then ok good.
I could’ve sailed us all right past the moment. It wouldn’t be hard for them to assume I was straight. I’ve mentioned my daughter in class before. The students see the Commitment ring I wear on my left hand. They could easily think I was straight, and I could easily do nothing to correct them. I could’ve said, “Yes! Sure! Let’s say that!” and moved on.
Clearly, my personal life is my business and doesn’t need to be brought into my classroom. I rarely talk about my non-teaching life unless it’s relevant to course-related subject matter. However, simply nodding and smiling away a direct question like that is the same thing as lying about it. Which I vowed not to do when I came out in the first place. That was sort of the whole point.
The student’s question might’ve been innocent. Or maybe he saw an opportunity to do a little fishing, and answer a question that might’ve been circulating about me before now. It really doesn’t matter. The fact is, he asked.
“Well,” I replied to the student, “I’m actually gay, but my partner is definitely a helpful reader who gives me great feedback.”
Easy, truthful, and related to the discussion at hand. Done.
The great part of the story is that no one in the room seemed to care, truly. It didn’t faze anyone. No one acted like I’d shared something unusual (“Also? I really like to dress up in a giant beagle suit every full moon and howl from my roof until the cops come and pull me down.”) This is a generation of young adults growing up in a culture that, increasingly, no longer sees being gay as something exotic, weird, or perverse. After class ended, I thought about it and realized that the vibe I got from the entire room was one of non-reaction. To them, learning I’m gay was about as impactful as learning I’m left-handed.
The only one in that room who felt uncomfortable when I told the class I’m gay was… me.
But why? I know plenty of straight teachers who talk about their families and spouses pretty frequently, whether it connects to the day’s lesson or not.
It could be because I’ve only been out a few years and I’m still waiting to be on the receiving end of homophobic treatment, whether it’s passive-aggressive bigotry, or in-my-face discrimination (which hasn’t happened yet, thankfully). Or it could be because I’m usually careful not to share anything truly personal in class beyond stories that actually relate to our curriculum, and this was a moment of accidental vulnerability in an unexpected place.
Or it could be because, for all my public bravado about the value of coming out, about being honest and authentic and truthful… I’m possibly not as completely totally galactically awesomely well-adjusted as I want to be.
A good friend of mine who’s been out for decades once told me that no matter when you come out, you’re never actually done doing it. There’s always someone new who asks, always a new situation where you’re called upon to make a choice: tell the truth, or don’t. Be yourself, or don’t.
So I’ll just have to keep on being.