Monday, September 13, 2010

Coming out (or not) at a gay rights protest

I recently went to my first gay rights demonstration (which I talked about here); this post focuses on people coming out at the demonstration.

Since I'm not a big fan of the bar scene, I was somewhat hoping I might be able to meet some cool women at the rally. However, it seemed that most of the people I ended up talking to were straight -- and managed to work this fact into the conversation within a minute or two. If only I could learn from them!

I attended the rally with some people from a reading group my friend Emily had recently dragged me to (and which I guess I've now joined). Emily's a friend from church, but I did actually attempt to come out to her last Thanksgiving -- though I think she dismissed it as a joke.

Anyway, you'd think it'd be easy to come out to new, gay friends while attending a gay rights demonstration, right? Not if you're me! See, I have a very good friend who recently went to DC to get married. He lives in a Southern state that doesn't provide employment anti-discrimination protection for sexual orientation, and he's a teacher.

My friend had to use a personal day to get married, and he was warned by the principal to not even mention to his students that he'd gotten married. Now, my friend's not an idiot; he works in a rural county in the South, and he's never openly admitted his orientation to his students. He'd never go around saying "Hey guys, I married a man!" and the principal knows that. The warning was along the lines of "don't even mention you got married at all."

Maybe the principal was just trying to help my friend avoid any potential controversy, since the climate in his state has grown more hostile towards LGBT people over the past couple of years. Even if that's the case, though, to tell someone on what's supposed to be the happiest day of their life to not share their joy with their students infuriates and saddens me. My friend and his husband have been together for seven years; in that same state, they'd be married through common law were they not the same sex. If my friend were straight, would he have been given that same warning? I think not.

So I was still riled for my friend's sake at the protest (which was a counter-protest against a NOM rally against gay marriage), and mentioned it over the course of conversation with one of the members of the reading group. Then I noticed a couple of the other members eying me curiously as they overheard. I could almost see the wheels spinning: "Is she? Is she just an ally? Hmm..."

But none of them asked me, and I didn't know how to bring it up naturally. After all, I spent over a decade trying to play straight. A bit later, I did comment to the same girl, "It's kind of funny how all the straight people seem to make sure you know they're straight within a minute or two," to which she got kind of uncomfortable and said, "Well, I guess I do because I feel like this doesn't affect me directly, so I don't want to give people the wrong impression, since I was able to marry my husband." Oops.

I blushed and said, "Never mind. You just proved me wrong, since you haven't been saying it." And then I asked if her husband ever came to the reading group. So the conversation didn't quite go in the direction I wanted it to, though I did choose my words carefully: "straight" = "they." I'm not sure if she picked up on it, given her reaction.

So once again, I was a complete wuss and managed to not come out to people. If I can't come out to fellow gay people and allies at a gay rights demonstration, will I ever be able to come out to anyone at all? My only comfort is that I have come out to a few people: people in my hiking group who just assumed I was (which made it really easy), Emily (sort of), and even my old college roommate (which is a good story I might share later), just to name a few.

Really, though, I just want to be out; I don't want to have to come out.

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