I know, I know, I know. I move and then don’t write for 3 weeks. What the hell. So much has happened!! There is a lot to say about my new neighborhood, but I’m going to say it later, because right now there’s something I need to get off my chest.
I was all set to celebrate National Coming Out Day last weekend by coming out to one of my most religious friends. I knew she would be a tough cookie, but Sunday was supposed to help me bite the bullet and get it over with. It was the perfect setup: my college roommates Stephanie and Nora were coming to visit me in the city, and Stephanie, who already knew, would be there for support as I came out to Nora.
[Back story: Stephanie is super cool, casual about religion, not hung up on dogma. She was one of the first friends I’d come out to. After Mark broke up with me, she drove 2 hours to my parents’ house to cheer me up, and we had a good old-fashioned sleepover during which she introduced me to Hannah Hart and My Drunk Kitchen. She asked what happened with Mark, and as any good friend does, she made fun of my ex.
“Maybe you turned him gay,” she laughed, trying to lift my spirits.
I stared at her for about 3 seconds before making the decision that now was as good a time as any to come out, and said, “Actually, it was sort of the other way around…”
“What?!” she exclaimed, jaw dropping. I explained myself, she was intrigued and cool about it, and that was that. I was grateful for her response – it was a critical moment during the first couple of weeks after the breakup that gave me courage to live authentically and keep coming out to people. I stored it away as a source of positivity when the times got rough over the next 6 months.]
But that is not how this weekend went down. Not at all.
I did not come out to Nora. I just couldn’t find the moment. We were having such a fun time, and the vibe was so good, and I knew I would ruin it if I went there. And how was I supposed to say it? I could go the “So Nora, I need to tell you something serious…” route, but nobody enjoys that, and it sounds so damn ominous that they’re already freaked out before you even get to the point. There were several moments when I almost just blurted out, “Hey Nora, I’m dating girls!” But I didn’t do that either.
I’d talked to Stephanie the night before about it. She knew my plan. (She’d also asked how I identified, and informed me that if my relationships with men were at all real, then that means I’m bi, not lesbian. She has a bit of learning to do.)
THINGS NOT TO DO AS AN ALLY
- SLAP LABELS ON FRIENDS
Stephanie had also come out to me, in a very passive, non-coming-out sort of way. We were eating pizza and drinking bellinis when she told me, “You know, I like guys, and I want a romantic relationship, but the most I’d ever want to do with anyone is cuddle. I think I might be asexual.”
I told her that was totally cool and I was happy she felt like she could talk to me about it. And we did talk about it, a little bit. It didn’t occur to me immediately that this was her coming out – which I am now a little ashamed of – but then, she didn’t exhibit all the typical signs of a coming out (sweating palms, stuttering, shallow breaths, heart palpitations…) and the conversation that followed let me know she didn’t think herself to be any different from a straight person because of her romantic preferences. It was interesting. Anyway.
2. FAIL TO RECOGNIZE A COMING-OUT
At a few points throughout the day I whispered to Stephanie that I needed her help bring up the topic with Nora, because the day was slipping away and still no sign of a good conversation segue.
If I can interject some advice here: Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Maybe you’re already out to the most important people and you’re just taking care of a few “loose ends,” so to speak. Or maybe you’re planning on coming out to your parents that day, or making a Facebook announcement or lobbying to get your preferences broadcast on the front page of the Wall Street Journal (kidding). Either way, you might feel like you’re going to miss the boat if you don’t do it TODAY. But you know what? It’s totally OK if you don’t end up doing it, because sometimes choosing the wrong moment to come out can be worse.
So, Stephanie wasn’t much help. In fact, I felt like she changed the subject a few times when I was getting close to dropping the bomb.
3. CHANGE THE TOPIC WHEN YOUR FRIEND IS TRYING TO COME OUT TO ANOTHER FRIEND
When I asked her about it later, she rolled her eyes at me and said, “Jenny, you have to just tell Nora when you want to. Stop living your life in fear. She’s not going to hate you. I don’t get why you’re making such a big deal out of it.”
4. MINIMIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF/SCARINESS OF COMING OUT (“IT’S NO BIG DEAL”)
5. TELL YOUR FRIEND HOW THEY SHOULD FEEL ABOUT COMING OUT
She proceeded to change the subject (again) and I began to feel that my gayness was an imposition on her. Her body language said, “I’m sick of hearing about it.” I tried to keep myself in check, but I normally feel comfortable enough to be myself around her, so I hadn’t shut it down completely.
6. MAKE YOUR FRIEND FEEL AWKWARD ABOUT TALKING ABOUT THEIR SEXUALITY (“STOP BEING SO…GAY.”)
At dinner, she informed me that I was an obnoxious drunk (we weren’t drinking hardcore just then, just having a beer) and she was concerned that people wouldn’t want to hang out with me. Uh-huh. Things to say to an introvert who has trouble making friends. I get it: she was tired and had no filter. However, I did pay for her dinner (and a few other things) and had hosted her for 2 nights, so I’m not sure I deserved that.
Just then, “Born This Way” came on the radio, and both our faces lit up – she’s a Lady Gaga fan and me, well, I like the song for obvious reasons. We danced in our seats at the table for a little bit, and I felt a sense of goodwill restored.
I made the mistake of saying, “You know, you being asexual totally makes you part of the queer community…” I meant it in the sense of exuberant kinship, like, hey, we have something in common, we’re sisters. Not as in trying to slap a label on her.
7. ASSUME THAT JUST BECAUSE A FRIEND TELLS YOU THEY’RE NON-HETERONORMATIVE IT MEANS THEY WANT TO FLY A RAINBOW FLAG WITH YOU AND GO TO A PRIDE POOL PARTY
“Not really,” she said, and the look on her face said, “I want nothing to do with your community.” She launched into a tirade on how we’ve hijacked rainbows and all the colors to mean things they don’t, and how we are so crazy flamboyant with our celebrations that it’s offensive to everyone else and that if we would just “act normal” people would respect us more. That we make way too big a deal out of being gay and that we don’t really have it that bad. (She said “the LGBT community,” but I heard “You.”)
8. INSULT THE COMMUNITY YOUR FRIEND CHOOSES TO BE A PART OF, UNLESS THAT COMMUNITY IS ALL ABOUT BEING DICKWADS
9. TELL YOUR FRIEND TO STOP BEING SO DIFFERENT
10. MINIMIZE THE DIFFICULTIES OF THE GAY EXPERIENCE EVEN THOUGH SOCIETY IS CHANGING
For the first time in a long time, I felt ashamed of who I am.
11. MAKE YOUR FRIEND FEEL ASHAMED OF WHO THEY ARE (THEY WILL NEVER WANT TO TALK TO YOU AGAIN ABOUT ANYTHING LGBT)
I could barely speak. Finally I said, “Well, we spend our whole lives trying to be ‘normal.’ I think we deserve the right to celebrate who we are just like anyone else.”
Now, writing this, I feel a bit guilty. I feel like I am coming to the group from a place of privilege because I spent most of my life being straight. Like, what right do I have to talk about the this community as if I’ve always been a part of it? I don’t know. But her harsh words sure didn’t calm my preexisting anxieties.
She didn’t respond to any of my attempts to put my experience into words. By the time we got home I wanted to cry. I wanted to lock myself in my apartment and never come out, in either sense of the word.
But I had another 24 hours with her, so I buried my feelings and served her snacks and stayed up late talking about random shit.
How have you guys been? It’s been way too long. I wish I could invite all of you to my new apartment and we could go bar-hopping and watch The L Word and bake some gay brownies (“What if the brownies were gay, Alice?”) and stay up all night sharing our coming out stories. Anyone down for that? 😀