Friday, July 8, 2011

HOW OUT IS OUT?

I thought I officially came out twenty-six years ago. In the living room of my unlit Dallas apartment, I told--er, "confessed" may be the better word since it felt like a crime in Texas--my best friend that I was, deep breath, a homosexual. (Homosexual was more dramatic than gay, less abrasive than the Larry Kramer-adopted faggot.) It went well. She listened and we continued talking for at least another hour.

Then I didn't hear from her for three weeks.

And we never really talked about it again over the next seven years. The friendship suffered to the point where I even missed her wedding.

Four years later, I felt compelled to come out to my sister when she asked me to be her daughter's godfather. Knowing there would be a ceremony in a Catholic church, I again confessed. She politely informed me a week later that she'd talked to a priest and made a decision to find a different person (rather than a "different" person) to fill the role. My parents, not knowing the reason for the switcheroo, assumed it was another case of me being difficult.

It took four more years before I flew to my parents' beachside condo on the Gulf of Mexico for a coming out weekend. By then, I was in love and I was tired of spending Sunday dinners with his family in L.A. while keeping mum about his existence to my mom and dad. My mother's reaction? "Can't you just abstain?" My father, a doctor, went into a clinical spiel about condom usage.

Coming out is awkward. It should be unnecessary. Friends and family should feel free to ask and the question shouldn't feel like a putdown. "Are you gay?" Just a point of clarification, not incrimination. Would have been so welcome two months before senior prom at my Texas high school. Back then, the cause wouldn't have been my right to go to the prom, but my right not to. Lori Baker would have had such a better time. (She wisely dumped me midway through prom night, sneaking off with uberbrain Jeff Hull. I'm guessing they snuggled while pondering the longterm impact of Reaganomics.)

Leaving Dallas and heading to Los Angeles was the smartest move I ever made, Northridge earthquake and getting shot at during the Rodney King riots notwithstanding. Sure, I made the mistake of attending one of the most conservative law schools in the United States, but I found my way into West Hollywood and discovered another world. My day and my night were radically different. It was like my own "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" but without the drugs and violence. Or the Richard Gere. (Sigh.)

When I worked as a research attorney for a couple of judges, my colleagues knew I was gay. The judges didn't officially know, but the earring gave it away. Both my partners in L.A. were openly gay. Their jobs made it easy: the first worked for AIDS Project Los Angeles, the second for a liberal Jewish charity. It was the latter guy who convinced me to pierce my ear; he also inspired me to slap a pink triangle on the bumper of my conservative Honda Accord.

I was out. Maybe not so loud, but proud. I volunteered for APLA, attended AIDS Walks and marched for days in protest of California Governor Pete Wilson's veto of AB101, a bill to outlaw workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians.

But things changed when I moved to British Columbia. I got a job working with kids and peeled off the bumper sticker. Insecurity? Sure. That gay=pedophile equation from my eleven years in Texas crept back in. Amongst colleagues, I remained openly gay. It was easy as all the other men were gay, too. Then I took a job transfer. No more gay work buds. I worked most closely with a devout Mennonite woman. I never pretended to be straight, but I was the asexual single guy (despite the fact I had a partner).

More transfers and promotions and my gayness washed away completely. I am now the asexual single guy with no parenthetical. Despite my exhilarating L.A. days, I am not a trailblazer. I am not in a profession where being an out gay man is common. There are some lesbians who are more open but, to my knowledge lesbian=pedophile never took, not even in the Bible Belt.

So now I'm out in pockets. Most of my family knows, except for my evangelical Baptist brother and his family. Friends scattered about North America know. At work, well, there's that one co-worker who figured it out and tried to set me up with a straight single guy in her neighborhood. That's it though. In my rural community, not a chance. There are well-settled lesbians, but the gays stick to the cities. The single ones, at least.

Given my current situation, am I out at all? Do I need to be?

I know the answers, but I don't know what to do anymore. More on that in my next blog posting.

5 comments:

Rick Modien said...

Man, I love your writing and your voice. You make me feel and you make me laugh.
I also love your story, and your recent willingness to share more of it with your readers. It's great to tune in to what you have to say.
I look forward to the next instalment.

canoetoo said...

First of all, I've really enjoyed your writing ever since I came across your body image (Ryan Reynolds, et al) post in May.

Your recent post had a very familiar ring for me. I recall coming out to some very good friends from university in the early 1970s. I think they were quite shocked and gradually our contacts and friendships faded away. Not sure who was to blame. Perhaps I was just too caught up in my 'new' life to keep in touch. On the other hand, I might have hoped that they would have (after thinking about things) realized that it was a difficult time in my life and been more supportive. Oh, well. We were all young and learning to be adults back then.

I've always been pretty lucky to work at jobs where being out was not an issue. But I know what you mean when you talk about being the 'asexual single guy'. I've found this to be more of an issue in non-work situations.

For instance, here in Victoria I belong to a canoe club. I've gotten to know many club members but I always have the feeling that they are not quite sure what to think of me. It's clear I don't have a partner although no one has ever asked. When I am asked I usually say something like: "Oh, I've never been able to find another man who could put up with me." That sort of gets everything out in the open. (Plus I think it's sort of true.)

But even though I live in a city, I still feel I live a life of isolation. Some of it is my own doing. I'm somewhat shy but can also be a bit sarcastic which I think keeps people at a distance. Also, I really do enjoy spending time alone. People sort of wear me out in large numbers. But it would be nice to meet some gay fellows who enjoy outdoor activities. Over the years I've grown weary of doing things by myself.

I look forward to your next post.

Rural Gay said...

To Rick, thank you! I may have stopped writing this blog if you hadn't been so regular and so encouraging in your comments. I am so appreciative!

Now if there were a way to expand my reading audience...

To "canoetoo", thanks for sharing your experiences and your perspective. Glad that you have a quip for when asked about a partner. Isn't it nice to be asked if you are seeing someone even if the answer continues to be "No"? In my world, people ascribe to the Don't Ask, Don't Tell rule of social interaction--at least with respect to The Quirky One (me). My gayness is swept under the carpet to keep the elephant company. (Alas, never was much of a Dumbo fan.)

I've often thought Victoria might be a better fit than Vancouver for me, but is there any gay presence? Years ago, I walked right in and right out of a dead gay club. (And that was back when people went to gay clubs.) I fear that I'd feel just as alone in Victoria as I do in the boonies.

How sad that you can't find other, more open people to canoe/kayak with. What an ideal way to unwind after a day of work!

Rick Modien said...

Expanding your reading audience...now, that is a challenge, isn't it?
I have a few more readers than you (Followers, anyway, although I'm not certain that translates to readers), but I'd love more, too.
You know what's ironic? Many XXX blogs have hundreds of Followers and readers, with lots leaving comments. Yet, I'm trying to be supportive of gay and lesbian people, helping them any way I know how to accept and love themselves, and I still have a small readership. Oh, well, I'll keep plugging along.
In the meantime, I appreciate every person who reads what I have to say, and I truly hope I make a difference in their lives.
You know, this is NONE of my business, but does it seem you and canoetoo might have a few things in common? I'm just saying...

Rural Gay said...

Yes, interesting about the lure of the XXX blogs. When I do a search using "gay" on Twitter, the results are mostly gay porn and people using "gay" as a putdown. Feels like a word so linked to identity gets trivialized on the internet.