Sunday, March 20, 2011

Come out, come out, wherever you are... Part 1

When you come from and live in New England, places like Texas are not easy to understand.

This is a BIG-BOTTOMED GIRL of a state. ("As big as Europe," I was told.) While I'm intelligent enough to know that there is diversity of thought and opinion in every region, my personal experiences lead me to generalize things about the average Texan... S/He:
  • Owns at least 3 shirts fashioned from or adorned with the American flag
  • Would fist fight you over the statement, "All Americans were once immigrants."
  • Thinks our president should be in jail (for some as yet undefined "crime")
  • Has more friends that are convicted felons than friends that are Democrats

Not to say they aren't good people, I just think most Texans see things different than I do.

So far on this trip to Texas, I've come across a rash of folks who are afraid to say things that most of the people I hang with consider "facts". At this health care conference, for example, several people (including a few industry leaders) slowly and cautiously indicated to me that they (stutter, stammer) "Supported..." (swallow, deep cleansing breath) "health care reform" (pause with squinted eyes to see if my head was going to explode.) This tip-toeing around progressive politics is much more foreign to me than the accent or the climate.

It is uncomfortable- like being in the home of a woman who apologizes too much when she's serving you a delicious meal because she is used to the barrage of complaints that usually come from her husband.

On day one of the conference, I gave someone a reassuring, "Me too!" (about the “support health care reform” thing) But by day three I responded this way:

"I don't care what they say about Newton, I'm not embarrassed to say I “support” that gravity theory of his."
The Texan nurse on the receiving end of my sarcasm looked at me quizzically and then giggled like we were co-conspirators at a toilet-papering event on Mischief Night.

Nothing like watching a bunch of liberals coming out of the closet about their causes.

Still, I understand, because while here, I've found myself experiencing something I haven't in a long time: Hesitation to reveal my sexual orientation. When you first come out of the closet, the decision of how or when or IF to come out is a major aspect of every new conversation (though the person you are conversing with might never know you are doing all this debating and sweating in your mind.) In CT, MA, and 3 other states there is full marriage equality. When I meet new people, and they ask about my family or they bring up their spouse, I say, “my wife... our sons...” we all move on to the next thing.

This is a huge change in the last 6 to 7 years... It is a change in the world, but not a change in Katy's and my behavior, necessarily. She was the same when I met her over 11 years ago- comfortable in her own skin, unapologetic, not needing to soft-shoe around her identity or our budding relationship. This is one of the things that attracted me to her. Both of us agreeing on how we would communicate (who we are and exactly how we are related to each other) to the world. Meeting her and agreeing on this "code of communication" is how I got to live the life I wanted to live.

People who think the gay population should stay in the closet have a warped perception of what coming out entails... Coming out as heterosexual, for example, happens anytime you reference a “wife,” “husband,” boyfriend, girlfriend, your wedding, anniversary, your children, your grandchildren, your pregnancy...

Here's my personal code:

  • I am not ashamed of who I am or who I love

  • I am a little ashamed that it took me realizing I was gay to realize just how freaking homophobic the world is

  • I don't believe for one second that God is ashamed of me either

  • If your version of “God” has a problem with me, all you need to know is that my version of “God” doesn't – end of story

  • I don't need to tell you about my wife and kids, but probably a lot of the time, I want to... They are awesome, after all!

  • If the conversation turns towards families, and I have to hear about yours, you're sure as hell going to hear about mine

  • I come out to people because it is the one sure-fucking-fire way to find other gay people

  • I will not behave in a way that makes a closeted person in a crowd feel there is not an ally present for him/her, if that makes me “too open” tough shit.

  • If some usually-silent alarm goes off inside my head that makes me want to hide my sexual orientation, I try to quickly determine why... (Am I in personal danger somehow?) If it is to protect your feelings or your bad politics, or to let you defame God's good name right in front of me... I pretty much come out, or at a minimum, walk right away from you.

  • I will not be UNcomfortable so that you can be more comfortable... If my brain is spinning, “Should I say something? Should I say something? When should I say something?” That is a red flag for me that it is time to say something

  • I will give you the benefit of the doubt

  • I will not be rude, or aggressive, try to put blame on you, or not be generous with you...

  • In the moment, I try not to judge you for your ignorance. I try to educate you. This may sound arrogant, “Why am I 'teaching' you after all???” But if you are not gay and you are talking to a gay person about gay issues, you should probably do more listening than talking. It is just a sound guiding principle.

  • If you are going to keep saying ignorant things to my face, you are going to get the debate of your life (that may include some elevated vocal volume)

  • I try to ask myself: WTFWJD?

When Katy and I went to Las Vegas about 5 years ago, we were at the gate of an airline waiting to board. Katy had a hat on and was playing a video game on her phone. I struck up a conversation with the 50-60 year old dude next to me who was from Texas and was in LV for some type of shooting competition – I know, right?1? So stereotypical, huh?!? I wish he wasn't pushing his lifestyle choices on me!!!

Anyway, I know a little about guns and so I kept asking him questions about ammo and qualifications, scoring, types of weapons used (not necessarily in that order.) It was very pleasant, I learned quite a bit and then he started asking me questions- what were we doing in Vegas, where was I from, etc. Katy looked up from under the visor of her baseball cap and said, “Can you give me some money? I'm going to get a drink.” Lord knows that was probably the only time I've ever been the money holder on a trip together, but it was enough for the dude to finally understand how we were related.

“Is that your daughter?” he asked without any hint of apology.

I almost choked on the wad of dip I had tucked into my cheek while chatting the dude up (What?!? it was before you could Facebook friend someone!?!) and said, “Um no... that's my wife.”


This guy got all red in the face and before I realized that I should have “protected his delicate sensibilities” by staying in the closet and NOT throwing my “lifestyle choices” up towards his redNECK, he attempted a lecture that began and ended with: “I do not believe in that... that is not something that I-I-I-I am not going to... because I do not believe in...”

Quietly, I cut him off: “I don't care what you believe in...”

I said it in the neutral but friendly tone of a waitress who is really saying, “It doesn't matter to me if you'll be dining alone” when she asks, “Are you waiting for anyone else to join you?”

He stared at me, trying to figure out what to say next- I guess he was used to telling others that he “didn't believe in the gays” but perhaps he wasn't used to actually talking to one, or one that talked back.

All at once, I wanted to reach over and gently lift his chin, so that his mouth wasn't hanging open in that embarrassing way. Instead, I raised my eyebrows and gave him that “Don't get mad at me, that's just the way life is” shrug that I inherited from my dad. I told the dude:

“You asked who she was, and that's who she is... It doesn't matter what you believe in.”

I might have been more openly hostile, but honestly, I was so thrown off by the postulation that I was old enough to be Katy's parent. I was like, “DUDE... How bad do I look?!?” It was this reaction that I was making a conscious effort to censor. I have to say, I was very nonchalant in my delivery. I wanted him to feel and believe my apathy. Hidden behind my yawn-worthy response there was of course something simmering. Something like:

I don't give a corn-fed-turkey shit if you approve or me or not!?! I am real. (Pause. Pause.) You and your beliefs are immaterial in this matter... You don't even get a vote!!!
But I held that in and just stared at him... Poor, big dinosaur about to go extinct and no one's even had the courage to tell him...

We weren't staring each other down exactly, but I was definitely looking at him to see if this was over or if he had more to say. And for his part, I guess, he might have been waiting to see if I was going to take this further too. And finally, he said, “Well.” And I said “Mmm” and we ended the eye contact before it caused one of both animals to bare our teeth.

After a few silent moments next to each other, Katy came bounding back with a soft drink, and I grudgingly noted how much she looked like a middle-schooler all bouncy, and casual, and what-not. Then a few minutes later the dude -blinked- piping up with some small talk about the weather forecast.

Score one for the bitches.

The first thing is, all these years later, I can't believe the audacity of that guy..

But then too, I also am still kind of proud of the balls on me ;)

I learned an important lesson that day. When coming out to strangers- the worst case scenario is actually kind of fun!

PART TWO - St Patrick's day 2011


Sarah said...

this post is so great. I am going to mention it on my blog.
Thanks for writing it.

Tracy said...

Thanks, Sarah!
I have another great story to tell about coming out to Texans on St. Patrick's day...
Tell your readers to stay tuned, I have to finish it and will post it soon.

amber said...

brilliant. i am beaming with pride for an interaction i never saw.
you are an inspiration, whether you believe it or not, whether you want to be or not.

Sarah said...

Looking forward to part 2!

Emphatik said...

What a great way to be. I worry way too much about people liking me and apologizing for taking up too much space. I am inspired by your post. I want to think and live more like you do, being honest and confident about being gay and not caring who knows it. It has always been an odd balance between being a private person but also needing to be out for my sanity. I really like how you think about coming out to people and hopefully I can work towards feeling the same. : ) Thanks for the post!

Tracy said...

Thanks, E.
You should know that for me this was a case of "acting braver than I felt inside" at the beginning of my coming out process... And one thing that really made me feel secure in being out was thinking of people with less support or less confidence than me, needing me...
I don't know. Sometimes it is easier to "stand up for other people" than it is to stand up for yourself.
We have to feel safe, but I think the thing that really helped with this was when I hesitantly came out to people (acting braver than I felt...)over and over (so many times) having it not be an issue- having people say and do really supportive things.
I hope you can experience those same things too!

Seething Mom said...

Tracy, thank you so much for pointing me to this very well written and quite entertaining blog post. I wish I had read this post before my own little confrontation with a blood-red-state homophobe. But you can rest assured I took notes. Man do I love your unapologetic, straightforward style. It is about time we start making these neanderthals squirm with discomfort rather than the other way around.

So again, with heartfelt gratitude, thank you for helping me to find you. This post will be my guidebook on how to handle my unenlightened Arizona redneck friends from here on in. Please keep writing, you are a hoot and an inspiration. If you ever find yourself at a conference in good ole Arizona, please let me know. I want to see you in action in person.

Love Seething Mom aka Kim