Few things are more heartening than reading the steady stream of stories about how today’s young people find it easier to come out than it was just back when I was that age. Judging from the media and opinion polls, queer acceptance is on the rise all over America; marriage equality has finally succeeded at the ballot box for the first time, and for some youngsters the conception of “coming out” is becoming more or less obsolete, as they, growing up in accepting communities and environments, didn’t really have to pretend to be “in” in the first place. Likewise, the puzzled media reaction to Jodie Foster’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globes notwithstanding, it seems casual comings out have become something of a norm even for celebrities, previously assumed to risk damaging their careers by acknowledging such matters publicly.
And yet, coming out is not a one-time thing. I’ve touched upon this briefly before, but as a gay man, I come out pretty much every day. Whenever someone reads on my Facebook profile that I’m “interested in men”, I’m coming out. And it’s convenient, of course. But by outsourcing the handling of the coming out question to a social media website, I am also ceding control of precisely who knows that about me, and when. I can control who is entitled to see the information, but not whether they choose to access it or not. I have no guarantee that they will actually check that specific piece of data, and so if they don’t indicate directly or indirectly that they’ve seen it, I usually have to make some sort of reference to it anyway, making it a roundabout way of coming out all over again.
In fact, I was starting to get a little rusty at the whole “by the way, I’m gay” thing, when recently I had to step up to the plate again. Being mildly disabled by cerebral palsy, I need help from a personal assistant with different things around the house, and in hiring assistants I usually break it to applicants that I’m gay, to see how they react and ensure that I don’t end hiring a person who disapproves of homosexuality. Recently, however, I forgot to mention it. The important thing was to get people who were competent, likeable and able to start almost immediately. From the job interviews, I had no reason to assume that my undisclosed gayness would be a problem, and besides my Facebook page would probably break it to them anyway.
Except it didn’t. I had told Assistant Number One, a guy, about my passion for movies, and always one to preach the gospel of my personal favorites, I lent him my copy of Brokeback Mountain. Mostly, of course, because it’s a great movie and one that I want everyone in the world to see and appreciate, but also, sneakily, because I thought it a smart way to find out if he knew I was gay. He diligently watched it, and enjoyed it, I think, and much to my satisfaction he started talking about how the gay theme was an interesting twist on the traditional cowboy movie. “In what way,” I asked, and he said that it was not everyday you saw a movie with two gay cowboys. From there he went to say that he didn’t have a problem with that. In fact, he said, his best friend’s brother was gay, so it was not like he didn’t know any gay people. Relieved, if not exactly surprised, I said: “I’m gay, too, you know.” “Oh, cool,” he said, “I guess I know two gays, then.” And that was it. I don’t think we’ve discussed the topic further. That’s fine by me.
Somewhat surprisingly, however, my second new assistant, a woman about my age, didn’t know I was gay, either. Usually, I’m very quick to break these things, because I prefer to be open about it instead of running the risk of it getting out in an awkward way. But awkward it was. Here, too, I had no reason whatsoever to suspect that she wouldn’t be perfectly fine with it, but I guess a small part of me still is a little shy about these things. What happened was that she spotted my many issues of the British magazine Attitude sitting on the shelf, and asked me what kind of a magazine it was. A bit taken aback by the question, while at the same time glad that I would soon have the whole coming out thing out of the way, I mumbled, “it’s a gay lifestyle magazine”. She couldn’t hear me, and so she asked again, while I was at the same time trying to decide whether she’d actually heard me the first time and was now aghast at what she’d heard, or if my diction had just been sloppy. It was the latter. “It’s a gay magazine,” I said, a little louder this time, trying to no effect to keep myself from turning beet red in the process. “Oh, so you’re gay, then?”, she asked, laughing slightly. I nodded. She then asked if she could take a look at the magazine and started quizzing me about what kind of guys I liked, and whether I thought I was representative of the preferences of gay people in general. To the latter question I said “no”, but I must say it was kind of cool to, for a moment at least, play the part of the guy who introduces someone to the mindset of a gay person.
Later that day, however, I became a little emotional, for no apparent reason. It had been so long since the last time I’d actually had to actively come out to anyone, and I was suddenly reminded both of the sense of pride of my first crucial coming out moments, and of how hard it had been to prepare for them. It gets easier every time, but no comings out are the same. Such is the blessing and the curse of being gay in a heteronormative society. What I’m most grateful for, though, is that I am able to express my innermost feelings freely, and that I live in a society and a community that is mostly liberal and accepting. Not everybody are as lucky as I am. My greatest obstacle when coming out remains myself, and that particular, usually irrational combination of lingering self-doubt and shyness when faced with new people.