Why do we talk about ‘coming out’ as if it’s one significant event in our lives that heralds a new beginning in which everyone knows and we can be our natural selves for the rest of our time on this earth? And why do we set such store by it, as if it’s our duty to declare our sexuality to the world, thereby forging the path for those behind us? Two things that really get my goat …
Living in a society where freedom of choice is celebrated can sometimes blur the edges around what that really means. Coming out is great an’ all, but we should still have a choice. And I wish there were another expression for ‘coming out’, because it’s misleading, isn’t it? ‘I came out’ at the age of … whatever … doesn’t begin to tell half the story. Because you didn’t ‘come out’ on that one occasion. You’ve come out possibly hundreds of times. Yes – there was the big one, when you unveiled your sexuality to your family or to your friends. But what about when you come out to your new friends? What about your boss? Colleagues? Teachers? Did you come out to your new boss and new colleagues when you changed your job? Did you come out to the new girlfriends and boyfriends of your brothers and sisters? What about the newsagent down the road? The lodger? The couple in the flat downstairs? What about the people at that party you were invited to and didn’t want to go to but knew you should? The plumber? The doctor? The district nurse? The car mechanic? The man from IKEA who delivered your new bed?
If you counted every time you’ve seen the energy light bulb go on in someone’s expression when they realise you’re – huh – gay, or that you and so-and-so aren’t just flatmates, or every time you’ve had to utter those words ‘No – he/she is not my brother/sister/probation officer, she/he’s my partner’ you probably will have come out hundreds of times. And each time, you’re not just saying that he or she is your partner, you’re saying you’re gay. And by saying you’re gay, you’re revealing something about yourself that is incredibly personal. For lots of people, that’s fine. But what if it isn’t?
It may be a simple matter of privacy. Why should a necessary exchange with a. n. other have to include a revelation about your sexuality? Or … is it about exposure? Do we feel as if we are ‘confessing’ a wrong? In truth, for most (not all, I know) gay people it takes a huge amount of personal and emotional strength to come out … it’s a life and future-defining moment that might need careful planning or, an unexpected moment of exposure that we didn’t necessarily want to have at that time. Either way, it’s pretty big. So … isn’t once enough?
In the 21st Century we can but hope that all of this will change. Not just the ‘here we go again-ness’ of it all, but the fact that being open about sexuality will be as much a non-occasion as, say, buying a bunch of bananas. There are people in our lives who might be gay or straight – we don’t know, we can’t tell and it’s actually none of our business. And that’s okay.