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:
“Are you sure?”
“But … but … you’re Lucy!”
“Is this a joke?”
“How did this happen?”
“You dated BOYS!”
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.