I have been out; I have been out for almost half my life. There is an interesting thing though that happens to me almost every single day. I am faced with the decision to come out to strangers, people that for some reason or another start up conversation and decide to delve down a path normally assuming my sexuality.
I am a confident gay man, for the love of god I’ve been on TV talking about my husband; I’ve been on floats in pride parades. Most would think it’s indisputable how “out” I am. The strange thing is though that many times I just avoid coming out to strangers. We meet new people every single day, and each day there is an opportunity that those individuals pry just enough and who you love pops into conversation.
Think of it, I wear a wedding ring, all too often people see a wedding ring and realize marriage as a point of conversation. It’s innocent enough and with the best intentions. More often than not though I’m asked what my wife’s name is. So there I sit, at best minutes into a new relationship, one that will most likely last for the length of a checkout line or at best the length of a flight. I immediately am put in the position of coming out. It’s not like I’m ashamed but my head races, is it worth the possible uncomfortable conversation? Should I just play along? Do I need to be ready for my soap box speech? This is a frequent if not daily decision we in the LGBT community deal with.
Steve and I have been to many events; we’ve flown to many of states and passed through more than our fare share of body scanners. If you don’t know it already Steve and I are adorned with tattoos, they encompass our right arms. Along with that I wear Steve’s dog tags, so if the two of us are within your eyesight together you immediately know we are connected in some way.
During one of our many airport security checks last summer Steve and I separately managed our way through TSA wearing our normal attire, a tank top and shorts. Steve went through the old-fashioned metal detector and I went through the one that shows me practically naked to some individual who supposedly is far away (I still have questions as to how true that is). As I waited to be cleared after my scan, the TSA guard on the other side decided to spark up conversation.
“That’s a nice tattoo great colors” the compliment was genuine and for that I thanked him. “You in the army?” he inquired pointing at Steve’s dog tags around my neck. “Nope, they’re his” I pointed to Steve over my shoulder gathering his shoes from the x-ray machine. “Oh WOW, you guys have the same tattoos” I nod in agreement “your brother huh?” I replied with a half laugh, “yeah something like that” and moved on.
It’s odd, I was faced with a simple moment of honesty and maybe even education for this nice man. What did I do? I avoided it, I moved on and let him believe what he wanted. More than likely in some instances we just let it go, realizing no ill intent is at hand and not wanting to deal with it. Why though? Why did I walk away, would it have made a difference maybe? Could he have been nasty to me, possibly? In the matter of seconds I lied, I shoved myself back into a closet rather than be proud of who I am, what I have become and all the amazing change I fight for was abandoned just because I didn't want to deal with it.
I sat on a plane once and spoke to a man on a return flight from FL. Our conversation was great, I spoke of Steve without gender or assigning a name, the other half, or better half works well enough (it’s how I’ve trained myself). I spoke of what he did where we married and this gentleman sat and listened and then shared parts of his life. I assumed by his lack of digging he understood I was gay, that’s normally why I avoid gender, to try and raise awareness to people that it’s not on a sleeve nor is it important in the grand scheme of things as to who I love. The plane landed and he handed me his business card. “The next time my wife and I are in town let’s all do dinner”. I took his card and exchanged it with my own. He added one last question, “I feel so rude, this whole time I never asked; what’s your wife’s name.”. That day I answered honestly, I answered proudly, "actually, his name is Steve".
Each time we don’t pay the respect we owe ourselves we go beyond just what we’ve done to ourselves. We neglect to make this person realize how normal we all are. Sure some, if not maybe many may walk away shocked, even annoyed that their assumption was wrong. Others may not bat an eye. For those who are shocked though, they may not know someone who is gay, you deny them the ability to see our community for what it is; just people, people who live the same lives, who have the same goals, and who just want to live it freely. By coming out every single time someone assumes you’re straight you open their eyes. You expose them to something that they may need in order to become an ally. Something of which is needed in order to win this fight.
The man I met on the plane that day hasn’t called, I’m not sure he will. I know this though; I helped that man out. The next time he meets a single male or female he may approach things differently. Maybe if he had reservations about the LGBT community, meeting me will have helped him. Knowing about my military spouse, my professional role and from our conversation he may have a new perspective.
So as we enter this New Year, I am asking each and every single one of my friends to make the same resolution as I am. Come out every single chance you can. Maybe you already do and if so then encourage your friends to do the same. Even if you're straight come out in support of LGBT rights as often as possible. Either way, the next few years are going to mean massive change in LGBT rights and unless we make our selves known we risk losing what amazing progress has already been made. Take each day as a chance to help create conversation around why our differences make us so amazing and yet so alike. Happy New Year!