It has been pointed out to me – and thousands of others on Facebook – that today is National Coming Out Day. I’ve seen dozens of status updates stating that people I know are “coming out for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality because it’s 2010 and only five states plus DC recognize that love, not gender, is what matters in a marriage” or things much to that effect.
I’m always conflicted about things like this. I would love to be able to post something on the order of “I empathize with this group because I know how they feel” – but of course, I don’t. Let’s be honest – if for no better reason than because I’m known for absolute objectivity – I am a Big, Ugly, Heterosexual, Middle-Class, White Man Doll living in Middle Class America. I don’t think I’ve experienced negative discrimination of any sort in my life. Doors open at my knock, and it’s not all because of the hat.
So saying that I understand the feeling of being a minority feels disingenuous. I can, however, empathize with feelings that I do understand, namely anxiety. (That I am not always a calm person may not come as a shock to long-time readers…)
Let me tell you a story.
A long time ago, I worked with a pretty girl 10 years my senior who used to tell me about her boyfriend, John. After we’d been working together for several months, she asked if I could come over to her condo one morning and help her move some furniture to her truck, in exchange for which help I was promised breakfast. Never being one to turn down free food, I cheerfully agreed. I arrived in the pouring rain, and we determined that truck and futon were not destined to meet that morning. She made breakfast nonetheless, something yummy plus a grapefruit, and we made small talk for a while. After a moment’s pause in the conversation, she asked, “So, do you like to be shocked before breakfast or after?”
Mouth full of grapefruit, I explained that during breakfast was fine. She then said, eyes looking anywhere but at me, that everything she’d told me about her boyfriend John was true, except for the minor detail of his name. It wasn’t John. It was Marie.
“OK,” I remember saying, “when do we get to the shocking part? You’re going to have to try a lot harder to shock me.” She thought it was the books on her shelf that had given her away, and I told her that actually it was the Patrick Nagel prints on the walls that were a bigger clue. Then I remember her wrapping her arms around my neck and saying, “I’m so glad you’re one of the cool ones.”
And it dawned on me that she had not been sure of my reaction. This competent, self-possessed, smart, funny, beautiful woman had been anxious and worried about what reaction she would get from me at this “revelation.”
And that sucks.
That she had not been comfortable “coming out” at work was her business, and since her lifestyle had nothing to do with her job, it made perfect sense – straight people shouldn’t talk about their sexual preferences in the office either, unless they work in the porn industry. It’s not relevant in a professional setting.
But realizing that she was nervous about telling me she was gay made me think about how many times that conversation might have gone badly, for her and anyone else having that conversation with a friend. Since then, I’ve tried to make sure I wear my liberal tendencies a little more loudly on my sleeve – to let gay friends, who haven’t yet decided to tell me, know in advance how I’ll react. Life’s hard enough. Having to be anxious about telling a friend something important? That sucks. And to this day I’m glad she told me – she’s become a life-long friend.
So that’s why I’m joining the ranks of “straight allies” and posting this. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m about 93 percent attracted to women, 5 percent attracted to men, 2 percent attracted to goats and sheep, and 100 percent attracted to SOBUMD. There was only one time I’ve been disappointed to learn a friend was a lesbian, and the only reason I was disappointed was because it dramatically reduced my chances of sleeping with her. (Because, as we know, it’s all about the Hey Hey.)
But the rest? The questions of who’s having Hey Hey with whom? Doesn’t matter.
In the workplace, there are two kinds of people: professionals and non- professionals. I know professionals who clean floors in my office, and I know non- professionals in high-power white-collar jobs. Gender and sexual preference are no more important than religion and skin color in getting the job done. Easy for me to say, of course, but that’s how I work with people and that’s how I hire.
Outside the workplace, there are still two kinds of people: happy and not. As long as people are working toward happy, gender sexuality religion race money weight nothing else matters. Teaching this lesson to our kids is one of the most important challenges SOBUMD and I face – not only to let them know that it’s OK to be whoever they grow up to be, but to make damn sure they know that it’s OK for other people to grow up to be who they are.
After all, life’s hard enough.