Jun 29, 2009
Yep, I’m gay (a public service announcement)
This past weekend I left my house in the country and spent two days San Francisco to celebrate Pride. This year Pride felt especially special because, well, this is the first year in a long time in which I don’t live in a major metropolitan area where there are tons of gay people. I am enjoying the small town I live in, but it’s not within walking distance of the Castro. Small-town life is just an entirely different experience from walking down the street and spotting half a dozen dykes with lovely tattoos peeking out of their T-shirt sleeves and/or a gaggle of gay boys with perfectly coiffed haircuts.
So. Pride. It felt good to be among the queer folks again. It was comfortable. Practically everybody I saw was gay; they all probably assumed I’m gay — we had a gay old time.
It was basically the opposite of what I’ve had to do more and more this year: come out to total strangers. I know that I’m going to have to continue to do this as Ash is published and I meet more people, who don’t know me, in non-gay settings like bookstores or conferences. I’ve already had to do this a lot this year, and so far, it hasn’t gotten any more fun. Let me show you what typically happens:
AT A BOOK EVENT
Me: Hi, I’m Malinda.
Person I Just Met: Hi! Are you a writer?
Me: Yes. My book, Ash, comes out in September.
PIJM: Oh! What’s it about?
Me (steeling myself): It’s a lesbian retelling of Cinderella.
[Note: I could leave the lesbian part out, but really, that's why my book is different. And somehow that will come out anyway, while the person asks me how my retelling differs from the original tale. It's better, I've concluded, to just shove Ash out of the closet right away.]
PIJM: Really! How unique!
Me (thinking: gee, yeah, being gay is totally unique): Um, yes.
PIJM: Are you a lesbian?
Me (taking a deep breath): Yes.
PIJM: Oh! (awkward pause) Well, good for you!
AT SOME OTHER LOCAL EVENT
Me: Hi, I’m Malinda.
Another Person I Just Met: Hi! I’m [Name]. Do you live around here?
Me: Yes. I live in Fairfax.
APIJM: Oh, Fairfax is so great. How long have you lived there?
Me: Just since last fall.
APIJM: Why did you move out here?
Me: Well, my partner lives here, so I moved here to be with her.
APIJM: Oh! (voice lowered) Are you a lesbian?
APIJM: So, when people use the term “partner” does that normally mean they’re lesbians?
Me (confused by the turn of this conversation): Um, sometimes.
I’ve provided you, dear reader, with these two examples of conversations that I have actually had in real life to point out a few things.
1. When you have only just met someone — when in fact you’ve only said two or three sentences to them, and one of those sentences was “Hi, my name is [Name]” — it is not appropriate for you to ask them about their sexual orientation. There are only a couple of exceptions to this rule, such as:
- You are yourself gay and you are trying to figure out whether this person is queer for purposes of solidarity and/or dating. However, even most gay people don’t ask point-blank, “Are you gay?” Instead they’ll do it in a kind of wink-wink, nudge-nudge way that also clearly indicates that they are gay, too.
- You are a reporter and you are interviewing a celebrity or political figure in which their sexual orientation is important for the story. E.g., an expose of someone like Larry Craig.
2. When someone says they live with their partner, generally that means only one thing: They are not single. What does it matter whether their partner is a man or a woman? It’s none of your business.
Now, I do think it’s important for LGBT people to be out. I am out. But when I first meet someone, after two minutes of conversation, I don’t want to talk to them about my sexual orientation. Would you want to talk about yours? I’m directing this primarily at straight people: Think about how weird and potentially invasive it would be to be asked by a virtual stranger, “Are you straight?”
Now, as a public service announcement to anyone who wishes to know (or anyone who googles me after an event whether they met me): Yes, I am gay. I also identify as a lesbian, or a queer person. I do have a partner, and she is a woman. If you’d like to read about my coming-out story, go here.
I realize that not everyone I meet is going to read this blog post. But I hope those who do read it will remember it for the next time they meet someone they believe might be gay. Just wait till you get to know them before you ask about it; or better yet, wait till they volunteer the information themselves.
Because when you, a normal ordinary person, have just met another normal ordinary person, it is not your right to ask about their sexual orientation. It just isn’t.