I recently ran into this line
“I wouldn’t necessarily mind people not knowing I’m gay, but I don’t like being thought of as straight — in the same way that I don’t mind people not knowing I’m a writer, but it would be awkward if they assumed I was an extreme skateboarder, because that’s so far removed from the reality of my life.”
It isn’t from the what might be considered the best publication in the world, but it really manages to say something I’ve never quite managed to articulate really well about being gay and coming out. Why does it matter? This is why it matters to many people on an individual level. It’s not about wanting people to know you are gay, it’s about not wanting an assumption that is totally untrue about you placed on you, and the conversations that spawn from those conversations are similarly awkward.
Being asked by co-workers, friends, random strangers “Do you have a girlfriend?” comes from an honest place. A good place, they honestly want to know more about me. But for me, I have quickly have to decide how to approach it.
“No” – Technically true. Lying by omission
“No, I don’t have a boyfriend” – True, explains my position, also comes off as rude given the corrective nature..
“I’m gay” – But they didn’t ask that.
Each time fills me this rush of which answer to pick, and usually it’s a fairly shot no that often has a short sharp sound to it. Even though I usually give the same response, it’s been a struggle since being in Japan, how to approach this. I don’t want to have to come out to people I know, but I don’t want to keep answering the “Do you have a girlfriend” question as I am. Especially when I eventually have a boyfriend. (Which I am optimistic will be a thing that happens while I am employed here) With the local ALTs, well, someone kinda outed me. Which was convenient although I had intended to delay that a little longer than the first week and say it much more casually. Although now we have new ones! So I have to manage that at some point too.
“Coming out” is often billed as a single event. And while yes, that first time or first set of times are usually very important to you, the whole thing is a continuous process. It’s strange, back home, I was out to well, everyone. Heck, I even got paid to come out to other people. Most of the time, I “come out” to people through an off hand joke, reference, or just casually, normally, regale a tale of a past male love. For the longest time, I tried to avoid the classic coming out tale, of telling someone “I am gay.” Even though it is a big part of my own tale.
Here in Japan, I have come out to only one co-worker actually. I tried to make it nice and casual, I gave her a speech I had been working on a contest. She was a smidgen awkward after this. Responded with a “Thanks for telling me.” I haven’t taught with her since, so I can’t comment on how this has impacted that aspect. I’ve had a few other people read the speech with somewhat awkward “nicely written” type responses. I’ve come out directly with one Japanese person here, mostly because I just needed to not have it just be other foreigners who I was out to. She was really cool about it, which was expected. I came out to her after a party where she introduced me to someone at a party of hers who was transgender. So I was playing it pretty safe there.
Coming out isn’t so much of a “I want to tell you my sexuality” and more of “I don’t to be lying by omission since I know what the expectation is.” And that makes it just a strange thing. It’s trying to counter an expectation that you feel it likely but too untrue. Even though the importance of someone knowing your sexuality isn’t important in itself. At time goes on and these things become less assumed, coming out will also be less needed, but right now, and in the culture I am in, it is a strong assumption.