Unless you are Ellen Degeneres, Adam Lambert or RuPaul, coming out of the closet is not a one-time deal. It is less a singular act of declaring your sexual preference and more an ongoing discussion that can come up anywhere, anytime, and with anyone. Coming out is something you do once with yourself, while being out is something you do perpetually with the rest of the world.
Some initial coming outs can be big ordeals involving, say, family members, religious groups or the gynecologist, but most happen during normal activities over the course of a regular day. Like when you meet someone new, or whenever you are affectionate with your significant other in public. Depending on my mood, simply pushing a grocery cart down the Kroger aisle with my girlfriend can feel much like my very own Pride Parade, or sometimes like a chore.
I have no problem being out. However, sometimes it feels nice just to be.
I recently moved out of my Germantown neighborhood, where just about everybody was used to my gayness and considered it a non-issue. It helped that, for four years, my friends and I ran a fairly popular “lesbian-owned” coffee shop (The Atomic Saucer), which welcomed everybody, but was obviously gay-friendly. Germantown natives would come in every day for coffee and conversation, as well as the influx of younger Germantown implants. I grew to be friends with my neighbors. And, in general, we didn’t talk much about homosexuality because the fact that I was gay was old news.
Now my girlfriend and I are living in a new-to-us neighborhood near the Highlands, next to complete strangers who will eventually and inevitably start to wonder just who, and possibly what, we are. Upon moving, I decided to keep the gayness as low-key as possible in an attempt to settle in before becoming the next-door “gaybor.” This week taught me more than any other that opportunities to have your sexual identity specified can come a-knockin’ whether you invite them or not. Here are just a few of the mundane ways I accidentally came out to strangers during my first seven days in the new neighborhood:
When my girlfriend and I met our new landlord for the first time, we were politely presented with the question, “So, shall I call you … partners?” Um, yes, thank you. I like the word partner. It has both a Lil’ Kim and a John Wayne ring to it.
My new mailperson has thus far delivered my Human Rights Campaign newsletter, then an issue of Golf Magazine and Lesbian Connections, so if she’s looking at my mail at all, she knows. When I accidentally mistook her for my girlfriend coming home the other day and yelled out to her, “Hey baby!” she seemed flattered and went on her way.
I did not think to de-gay my new home when the plumber came to work on the bathtub. Oh well. When I caught him staring at the photo booth pictures of my girlfriend and me kissing, displayed on the refrigerator, there were no words needed. Sometimes a photo booth picture says it all.
When my “pahtnah” and I ate at the new sandwich shop down the street, the waiter approached us as we held hands and said, “Just one check?” Yes, this time, one check.
A heterosexual friend introduced me to someone who lives on the next street with a, “This is Pam. She writes the gay column for the LEO,” which is not only true but, more importantly, a step up from her usual, “This is Pam. She is gay.” So, well, I guess when you’re out, you’re out.
I figured the day would come when I would get to meet a neighbor and introduce myself as just regular ol’ me. And, sure enough, the day came. While working in the front yard with my lady friend, a new neighbor came by to introduce himself. Hello. Nice to meet you. Here’s where I live. If you need anything, let me know. Very nice. Welcome to the neighborhood. How lovely. Then, as if in slow motion, I saw the words coming out of his mouth, the seemingly innocent but fully loaded question: “Soooo … are ya’ll sisters?” I looked at my girlfriend. She looked at me. I looked at him. “Nope,” I replied, “We aren’t sisters.” And then, well, we just left it at that.