Thinking Aloud: Out of the Closet

I thought I had told this story on this blog before, and I’ve been hunting for it for the past couple of days. Turns out, I haven’t told this story in this space. So here goes.

One evening, I was, as per, in Chris and Tom’s dorm room. We had ordered a $5 pizza (and pop) from a pizza place around the corner — R.I.P. Corleone’s. It was probably during finals, and we probably had contraband vodka to help us fall asleep when we were done cramming.

Chris and Tom were a year younger than I. We were all in the Red Masquers, the Duquesne theater group. Chris was in pharmacy school, Tom was in liberal arts (like me). They were funny guys, really fun to hang out with, sweet, self-depreciating, smart, and we had similar tastes in music.

As long as I had known Tom and Chris, Chris had pined over pretty girls and Tom was in a long-term hetero relationship with a fellow Masquer.

On this night, Chris and Tom said they had something to tell me.

And then they both told me they were gay.

I remember feeling curious. And I said, in perfect ignorance, “How long have you known you were gay?”

Chris looked at me like I was mentally challenged. “Dawn, how long have you known you were straight?”

I probably looked mentally challenged as I processed his question.

I mean, I knew I was straight my whole life (which was about 21 years long at this point). It was never even a question in my head.

But of course, I didn’t have to struggle with the fact of my sexuality. I was safely and solidly in the majority: white, female, straight. I probably struggled more with being a feminist (or for that matter a Catholic) than I ever did with being straight.

“Huh,” I said intelligently. “That was a really stupid question, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah,” said Chris. “We still love you.”

And I still loved them, too.

I don’t know how my parents raised me (us, presumably) almost completely free from prejudice. Was it simply a matter of language? My parents didn’t use words like faggot or homo as insults — or at all in my recollection; they never, ever (in my hearing at least) uttered the N-word. They didn’t talk about “abnormal” sexuality, and when the AIDS crisis hit, they never assigned any kind of blame to the lifestyle of the population where it first emerged.

At the same time, it’s not as if my parents had gay friends (that they knew of; one of their married friends came out later in his life; he and his wife of many years divorced). They were straight pharmacists living in Erie, PA, not bohemian swingers in San Francisco or New York City.

One of my Twitter acquaintences was having this very conversation with an ignoramous on FB yesterday. By using the “when did you choose to be straight” question, he was trying to point out this person’s hypocrisy. (The person had posted, in short, “I don’t care if you’re gay; I don’t want to hear about your choices; I’m very annoyed.”)

Saying, “I don’t care if you’re gay” is not the same as saying, “I support equal rights.” And further stating, “I have gay friends!” doesn’t mean your words aren’t hateful. Being a bully isn’t just about physically beating people up; it’s in the language you use and the actions you take.

It never occurred to me to not be friends with Chris or Tom because they were gay. It never occurred to me to not be friends with *anyone* because of their skin color or sexual orientation or religion (although I view Mormons very skeptically; sorry, guys). Even in the Catholic church when I was growing up, there was no hate language about gays, lesbians, or other races and religions. (I think mileage varies now, which makes me sad and angry.)

Chris and Tom, with a few very simple words, gave me a complete education about homosexuality. That it was a innate as any sexuality is innate. Whether because of the way I was raised or the way Chris and Tom dealt with coming out, I’ve never bought the “choice” argument. I never chose to be straight — I’m just straight. I didn’t choose to be white, or tall, or flat-chested, or have terrible vision, either.

I have gay and lesbian and bi friends now, although I don’t think of them as “my gay friends”. They’re just my friends (and one is also my hair stylist). I have two male cousins who are gay, one of whom is in a long term relationship. (The other is young, about 21 in fact. I don’t know his relationship status; he’s only been out of the closet for about 2 years now.)

When the DOMA decision came down, I was unexpectedly tearful. Because I realized that all the stuff I take for granted as someone who was able to marry the person I loved — no questions asked — now more people could take that stuff for granted. Legal obstacles of which I didn’t even have to be aware fell down for couples across this country. I think the Supreme Court did the right thing as far as DOMA and Prop 8 (although I am not a constitutional lawyer, so who cares if it was right, as long as they had good legal standing, huh?), and I was proud to be American.

Did you ever have an “aha!” moment about race or sexuality that clarified the issue for you?

8 thoughts on “Thinking Aloud: Out of the Closet

  1. My ‘aha moment’ was when I was working in a dinner theater in the mid-80s. It was the first time I got to know gay men who were way out of the closet and living that way publicly. It was the first time that I, as a hetero male, was in the minority. It broke down a lot of stereotypes (not all of which I had bought into, but stereotypes that many of my straight friends believed). Those guys knew I was straight the minute I walked in the room. They never tried to “recruit” me. They never came on to me, except jokingly once we became good friends. Many of them were in serious, monogamous relationships. One of them, a guy in his 30s, lived in a suburban house with his partner of 10 years. They were just a suburban “married” couple with the exact same moral codes as me. Like you, I realized that these guys had always been gay and would never “turn hetero.” And I wouldn’t want them to do so. It was the first time I witnessed gay men not as an abnormality or as immoral outliers, but as regular people and good friends.

  2. I think a lot of Aha moments come from just meeting normal, run of the mill gay people, and discovering they’re not like what you see televised from a San Francisco Pride parade. (Meaning they’re not all assless chaps wearing Freddy Mercury clones.)

  3. I remember being entirely willing to question everything my isolationist upbringing had told me about reality once I got to college and a modicum of freedom. I could make this a much longer comment just by discussing the ironies of racist ideology in a family whose matriarch had a prominent nose and cheekbones and a surname of Hawks -but adamantly denied any Native blood. At any rate, in grad school there was a very attractive and charming lady in my class who was openly lesbian, at least outside of her family. She thought I was lovely, I thought that she was someone I would date had she been a he, and Freud told us that that we were all polymorphically perverse. When she kissed me, I wanted to feel that excitement. That’s when I realized that although you can choose certain actions, you can’t just will your sexuality to be more fluid. Over the years I have wished I was more fluid because I’ve known more women I could love and live with than men, but it just doesn’t work that way. Freud was wrong, I fear; there’s not as much flexibility in sexuality as he thought.

    • I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of flexibility in sexuality too (although I was more interested in the Kinsey survey results). I do think that although sexuality can run along a scale, most of us are weighted very much toward one end or the other. The middle is a minority of a minority almost. And, yes, even though sometimes we want to want something, the truth is we want only one thing for some reason. (Happens even in straight relationships. How often do we talk about chemistry? “He’s a nice guy, but there’s no spark.”)

  4. I hesitated at first to stand up. I knew it was the right thing to do however, I didn’t want to rustle feathers. In the end I received an out pouring of support with not one negative response besides the original individual.

    I am glad this happened and I was able to discuss this important issue with you and many others. I also have a friend who came out of the closet and I think he was disappointed I didn’t freak out or change anything. In fact it’s just the opposite really he feels like he can be his true self around me.

    Also, I stumbled upon this today about discrimination…

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