This week, I've seen two different television shows’ special "Coming Out" episodes. Both shows seemed "off" to me, because when a character came out, his/her friends always reacted in the same fashion: a perplexed look, a surprised, "Oh!" and a casual, "Okay then." And that was it. It seemed so easy.
That’s not how it happened for me.
I will never understand the measure of bravery it must take to tell another person you’re gay. I personally almost hyperventilated when I told my parents I was moving out; I once told them I was in a relationship like this, by email: "Dave thinks we should be more than friends. We’re trying it out," when what I meant to say was, "I’ve been dating Dave for three months. We’re in love and we’ve discussed marriage."
I didn’t know any openly gay people until I was in college. Previous to that, I was all up in the You’re Going to Hell Camp. It’s easier to judge when you don’t have a personal connection to a specific issue.
Justin was My First Gay. He was cute. He was funny. He was a genius. He did not try to have sex with every guy he met. He was the total opposite of what I expected a homosexual to be. Justin never came out to me; I sort of heard through the grapevine that he liked boys, and since we didn’t hang out much, I didn’t give it a lot of thought. In fact, I was a little surprised by my lack of moral outrage.
The first time I heard the sentence, "I’m gay," was the second day of my sophomore year.
"Mei," Lisa said, "This is Duane."
"Hi," he said, "I’m gay."
I didn’t know how to react, what to say, where to look. I was completely flummoxed. I drew on the strength of my Southern upbringing and somehow managed to smile and say politely, "It’s nice to meet you." I didn’t know if I meant it. I remember wondering if I should respond in kind; Emily Post doesn’t really address this issue.
I mention these two men because they were the ones to cause the first cracks in my homophobia. But I had never known them as Not Gay, so their being gay did not have as great an impact as it might have otherwise.
Then, too, it's not like we were more than acquaintances. I wasn’t really forced to examine my opinions about homosexuality; I just mentally filed away a memo entitled "Homos: Maybe Not So Bad" and continued on my merry way. I didn’t join a picket line, but I didn’t join PFLAG either. It didn’t seem to affect me either way.