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On the Other Side of the Closet Door: When Someone You Know Comes Out

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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.

Lucy is a friend from high school. We had lost touch during college, as you do. We’d both left our hometown for the Big City, but not the same one.

Lucy is awesome. I still have some of the notes we wrote in English class, and they still make me laugh out loud. She was never without a boyfriend, and there always seemed to be tons more boys that had crushes on her. She was a talented musician and a great athlete. She was popular in every crowd. She always knew how to brighten my day. My senior year would have been crap without her.

When we were twenty-five, we reconnected through Classmates.com. In the normal business of getting-to-know-you-again, Lucy emailed me: “I have a secret, but I’m afraid to tell you. I don’t know how you’ll react.” I honestly had no idea what was coming.

The next email came with a picture captioned “My Girlfriend.” I about hit the ceiling. I was shocked. I was stupefied. I was dumbstruck. I felt like she”d punched me in the face. I just could not believe it.

I did not handle it well.

I had several conversations with her in my head. In all of them, my dialogue consisted of this:

“WHAT?!?”
“Are you sure?”
“No WAY!”
“But … but … you’re Lucy!”
“Is this a joke?”
“How did this happen?”
“You dated BOYS!”
“WHY??”

Never—never ONCE—did I shrug it off and casually say, “Okay then.” It was too important an event to treat it so flippantly. I needed time to think, to reconcile my memories of High School Lucy to Lucy-the-Lesbian.

Furthermore, now I WAS forced to re-evaluate, because this DID affect me.

Could I still be friends with Lucy? Would I? Lucy had been pretty involved in the religious organizations at her college; did this mean she wasn’t a Christian anymore? Was she sinning? Should I tell her she’s sinning? Could I, a Christian, have friends that are gay? Would I have to convert to another denomination? How could she be a lesbian, if she’d had boyfriends? Did she choose to like girls? Is homosexuality a choice? Could she change back? Would she? Could she get a disease? Should I tell her about those Straighten Up programs? Was she born that way? Was I born that way? If Lucy’s a lesbian, couldn’t I be too? How would I know? Did she look the same? Did she give off a “vibe”? Did I not have gaydar? Do her parents know? What if someone finds out? What if someone tries to hurt her? What if she DIES?

Lucy’s being a lesbian involved so much more than her liking girls. I had to come up with an entirely new way of thinking, of relating not just to her, but to the world at large. We are talking a shift of techtonic proportions.

And that’s why I was so disturbed by those television shows. I know the writers are trying to send the message that homosexuality is no big deal, but it IS a big deal. It is a HUGE deal! It is a different path, and one that’s not easy, and that’s not getting any easier. It affects so many parts of a person’s life, and it affects the lives of that person’s friends and family.

It is NOT something to be shrugged off.
It is NOT a snap decision.
It is NOT an easy realization.
It is NOT something that can be processed in a matter of seconds.
And it is NOT something that should be treated as though it were not going to cause changes.

I’d like to see a realistic portrayal of a Coming Out story. Maybe I’M the exception and people really DO get over it within seconds. I find that hard to believe.

When I finally emailed Lucy back, I think I said, “So. Girlfriend, huh?”

And I know it sounds flip and casual, but I didn’t know how to represent all my questions and worries and concerns and fears. I didn’t even know if she wanted or needed to hear about those.

I just wanted to send Lucy the message that I loved her, and that my life would be richer if she would be my friend.
Edited: PC

About April

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    It is NOT something to be shrugged off.
    It is NOT a snap decision.
    It is NOT an easy realization.
    It is NOT something that can be processed in a matter of seconds.
    And it is NOT something that should be treated as though it were not going to cause changes.

    Well, it should be. And maybe someday it will be. We can only hope.

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    I’d like to see a realistic portrayal of a Coming Out story.

    well, since you asked…give me a moment to write mine down.

    I just wanted to send Lucy the message that I loved her, and that my life would be richer if she would be my friend.

    if only all self-identified Christians were as you.

  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    Steve, aren’t you a real blogcritic? Why don’t you do a proper post – that would be grand – plz:)

  • Nancy

    My ex-roomie’s brother came out a few years ago. We DID just say, ‘oh – OK’, because frankly, the only one who hadn’t guessed he was gay was himself. It was old news to the rest of us. Our main concern was that he not fall into the stereotypical ‘gay’ thing of having promiscuous & unprotected sex – which he promised he wouldn’t do. I think that it was so low key was what helped him get over it. I don’t know what he expected: lightning to strike him to hell, us to throw open the door & tell him never to darken it again, or what, but it didn’t happen & he felt better for it that we didn’t think it was particularly earth-shaking or horrendous. Happily, he has found someone nice that he’s been with for quite a while now, & we’re just as happy for him. As long as he keeps himself safe.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    This seems like a realistic portrayal to me, just from the other side. Of course, looking at Mel’s reaction, I immediately thought of the popular theory that all women are bisexual deep down, and that her reaction was one of jealousy that someone else was Lucy’s girlfriend. I’ve observed that women are very jealous of their friendships, and even without the sexual element that jealousy may have played a major role in her initial reaction.

    My guess would be you see a lot more shrugging off of people coming out among males than among females.

    Dave

  • http://wisdomandmurder.blogspot.com Lisa McKay

    Nancy, do you express that same wish to your straight friends? Unsafe and self-destructive sex is by no means the exclusive province of the gay community.

  • Nancy

    Interesting thought, Dave. I wonder if it’s true? Any women out there have experience w/this besides Mei? Maybe it’s because men are usually portrayed in common culture as coming out, whereas lesbians are less visible? I don’t know.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I think that Lesbians have a less positive image overall in popular culture than gay men do. Gay men have been more accepted for longer by straight men, even when they were in the closet. Lesbianism has less of a history of mainstream acceptability.

    Dave

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    Except in porn.

  • http://wisdomandmurder.blogspot.com Lisa McKay

    Dave, I think the jealousy that women sometimes feel in their friendships has more to do with the fact that for women, friendship usually entails emotional intimacy.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Ancient Greek history shows most men might be bisexual when they live in a culture that doesn’t impose heavy social and legal penalties on people outside a narrow range of sexual relationships.

    So it’s not just women who may be “bisexual deep down” to use Dave’s phrasing.

  • http://notanotherword.blogspot.com/ Jones

    Wow, nice article, Mei! There are so many stories from inside the closet, it’s nice to see one from the other side, as you put it.

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    Steve, aren’t you a real blogcritic? Why don’t you do a proper post – that would be grand

    my posts here go over like an episode of ‘the best barbecued meat ever grilled’ at a vegan convention.

    plus, in my families case, it’s not even worthy of it’s own post, as it was a case of ‘we know’.

    It was the ‘coming out in society’ that was problematic for me, rather than family. That got the range of: loss of lifelong friendships, to indifference, to downright violence, to hopeful inquiries of a possible blowjob out of the revelation. It would actually read like Dave Barry meets John Waters meets Stephen King.

  • Nancy

    …maybe writing about it would be cathartic?

  • http://meiflower.blogspot.com Mei Flower

    I did have an experience with a male friend’s coming out where I wasn’t surprised at all.

    On the other hand, when another male friend came out, I was thunderstruck once again.

    Maybe it has more to do with stereotypes. Male friend #1 did fit the Jack McFarland mold, while male friend #2 did not.

    I don’t know what he expected: lightning to strike him to hell, us to throw open the door & tell him never to darken it again
    I think this is what I thought I would do if someone ever came out to me. Isn’t it sort of the inevitable conclusion of “Love the sinner, hate the sin”? (which is what we’re told)

  • http://www.landofthefreehomeofthebrave.org/wp/ Margaret Romao Toigo

    But how can we “love the sinner, hate the sin” when we are all sinners and therefore unfit to judge who is or is not a sinner?

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Mei, Be proud, you’re one of the best and a Blogcritics editors’ pick. Go to this link here to finds out why.

    Thank you.

  • http://leoniceno.journalspace.com Leoniceno

    Mei– I wish all Christians were the way you are. It would solve a lot of problems if they were.