Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Coming Out Is Never Over

Your parents know, your friends know, your employer knows, the local village shop owner knows. You've come out! Hurrah! Get out the rainbow flag and start a parade! Thank God that's over...

Of course, it's never over. Almost every new person you meet will require you to go through the same old routine again, and again, and again. It's something that drives me potty.

I'm a walking contradiction. I'm an openly gay man who has no problem with people knowing I'm gay. At the same time I'm a private person who doesn't feel the need to tell everyone I meet about what I get up to in the bedroom. This makes these encounters rather annoying for me.

Take yesterday as an example. I had a job interview, which went quite well. During the interview we got on to my "other half". The man interviewing me made the assumption that I was straight and began talking about my other half as a "she". Which leaves me with three different dillemmas:

1) the niggling feeling that he might think less of me if I corrected his rather impertinent assumption. I might be out and proud but homophobia is only uncommon rather than rare.
2) the annoyance caused by his assumption. Why should I HAVE to correct him? How dare he assume who I enjoy intimate relations with.
3) my desperate urge to shout "I'm GAY!" as a way of correcting his heteronormative way of thinking.

I, of course, chose politeness and discretion and let it pass. I know us LGBT's are in the minority. But one doesn't assume someone's religion. One doesn't assume someone's political beliefs. So why is it okay to assume the gender of the one I love???

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist


Plum said...

true, we donlt ask people about their political or religious beliefs but those aspects of life don't generally impose limitations on the gender or appearance of those we spend time with, intimately or otherwise!

While "don't ask, don't tell" stands well as a guiding principle, the fact remains that apart from the very obviously and stereotypically gay (who aren't necessarily gay, of course!) we all have to walk that line of finding the appropriate moment to tell people.

On balance, though, I think a polite inference that your partner is a bloke is the way to have gone in this instance. When the interviewer started asking about your other half, you could have just said "oh yes, he used to be in the navy" or some such phrase, rather than obviously correcting him.

It's perfectly reasonable for the guy to make an assumption that you're probably straight - generally approx 90% of the population is, and without other cues he can't really be blamed. So I honestly don't think there's any reason for sitting on him hard, but I do feel in this day and age that misperceptions deserve to be corrected without necessarily getting bolshie about it - unless of course there's malice or obvious negative prejudice involved!

John said...

I'm not quite sure why the question arose in the first place - is he employing you or your partner?

Mo Hassan said...

So true. I've only just come out, last month, as a way to alleviate some of the depression I'd been feeling at the time. It feels so good to be properly "out", and I had been wondering how to broach the subject with new people, since I'm socially awkward at the best of times! I probably would have corrected the interviewer, but well done for controlling yourself!

Paul Brownsey said...

"It's perfectly reasonable for the guy to make an assumption that you're probably straight" - well, if all that is relevant is probabilities, yes."

But I don't think that reasonable behaviour by an employer/interviewer has to do only with what is statistically most likely. It would also be reasonable for the interviewer - who is, after all, in a position of power - to reckon with the possibility that the interviewee might not be straight and to reckon with the possibility that the interviewee might be nervous or uncertain about the consequences, in that context, of declaring his sexuality.

Anonymous said...


Plum: Why exactly is it reasonable to assume something just because it is statistically likely, if there is no reason to make any assumption at all? I try not to make assumptions about people I've just met, about any aspect of their identity and personality. It's not that hard.

These kind of assumptions are an issue, because they make life just that bit more tedious for the people about whom they are made; it's an awkward dilemma that straight people don't have to face on a routine basis. It might not bother some LGBT people, yourself perhaps included, but others find it stressful constantly agonising over which approach to take with a particular person.

Stephen Chapman... said...

Great posting mate. You summed up the "challenge" and frustrations perfectly.