On Coming Out During World Pride
It’s currently World Pride in Toronto and it is FABULOUS. I’m celebrating by attending concerts, lectures, drag shows, readings, and parades. But last night I did something to personally celebrate: I came out yet again. This time, it was to one of my former high school teachers.
Sometimes I forget that being queer means having to constantly coming out to people. Whether it be my dentist (“no….I don’t have a boyfriend”) or my hairdresser (“yeah, I don’t really have any interest in 50 Shades of Grey”) or my colleague (“well, if I get married it won’t be to a man, so….”), it always starts off the same way. I get that feeling of momentary panic where I think, this person doesn’t know. How will they react? Do I even give a shit if they don’t react well?
Last year, I had my last run in with my past life in high school.
It was like a mini-high school reunion. I’d prepped myself to encounter about a dozen people that I hadn’t seen for nearly 10 years. People whose lives I’d maybe glimpsed as they flashed by on my Facebook newsfeed.
My friend was still good friends with the bride, who we’d both gone to school with. She was invited to the wedding and had a plus one, so asked if I’d like to go and keep her company. I agreed, and was looking forward to seeing some of my former comrades. But I was a bit nervous about one tiny yet extremely significant detail – I went to a Catholic high school; many of the people at this wedding I knew to still be devout Catholics, and here I was no longer Catholic, working for the, you could say, competitor of the Catholic Church in Canada – the largest Protestant church in the country, The United Church of Canada.
And I’d come out just over two years ago.
I’m very open about being queer – all my family and friends know, save for my grandparents for fear of giving them a heart attack. One of my aunts did want me to tell my grandmother, in case she said something homophobic in front of me. (My response? “Well, she’s actually more racist than homophobic, so maybe I’ll consider it if I’m actually dating someone and she’s not white. Otherwise, why deal with it now?”)
So I knew that this might come up, and that some of my former classmates might not have heard the gossip yet. (Because, really, why is this news?). I started talking to one guy, whose girlfriend was there with him, and as we chatted about life and our jobs and how we’d been doing, the inevitable question came up.
“So, what about you? Are you seeing anyone?”
And now the fun began. What would I say? Would I lie? No. Ok then, how would I do it? Would I say, half-apologetically, “weeeeeeell….I’m kinda gay now.” Would I just jump right in with, “Well, yes, actually I’m dating this great girl and…” Or would I have a little fun with it, drag it out until I finally had to use a pronoun or give a name?
I went for somewhere in between. Basically telling him I’m gay, without any half-apology, and that I am dating this great girl right now. End of story. (well – I’m single now, so there is more to that story, but for another time)
His response was very interesting. I think he was kind of shocked, but tried to cover it well. I told him that everyone had been very supportive, and he agreed that that’s how they should be. And then he launched into this slightly-hard-to-follow monologue about people he knew when he was living in Seattle. First, it was about the gay men he knew who chose to be chaste. (Great. So why are you telling me this?) Then I talked about having faced some discrimination (he was shocked by this. “Really? In Canada?” he asked) but that I wasn’t too worried about being attacked in the street for being gay, because it seemed like homophobic men were more likely to beat up other men over that issue. So then he launched into anecdotes about how the men he knew back in Seattle were often more flamboyant and in-your-face than lesbians generally are. (Riiiiiight….?). And then came the kicker:
“Well, y’know, I feel like I’m a sinner, everyone’s a sinner, so why should I judge others? I wouldn’t want other people to be commenting on my sins.”
I looked at his eager face, spitting out these overcompensating ramblings that obviously came from a place of discomfort. He was so sure he was being open-minded. Generous, even.
“Well.” I said. “I think the problem there is that I wouldn’t consider it a sin.”
“Oh, right, sure, maybe you wouldn’t…” And the rambling began again in earnest.
I tuned him out, imagining better comebacks in my head but also just wishing that my friend would come save me from this entire situation.
And so here I was again, coming out to someone from my past. This was one of my favourite teachers in high school, who I had kept in touch with since graduating, but who I hadn’t spoken to in a couple of years. I’d wanted to, but honestly I was scared. Scared of rejection or of being treated differently by someone I admired and looked up to while growing up.
This past weekend, I’d had my prototypical stress dream which involves going back to high school, while still being in university or working or whatever (basically I’m told that I haven’t technically graduated and have to go back to complete two courses, and then of course don’t go because I’m working or studying or living on another continent). I’d actually had a similar dream months ago, in which this teacher featured, and I’d started a draft email to her but never actually sent it. This time, spurred on by Pride, I decided to do it.
I started by apologizing for not having written for so long, and then jumped right into it:
Honestly I think I’ve been putting off writing to you because I’m scared of rejection. So let’s rip off the bandage – I’m no longer Catholic and I’m gay.
I’m thinking neither of those things will be a huge surprise to you. 🙂 But there’s always a small piece of me that fears a negative response to either of those things, because I have experienced that. But hey, it’s World Pride and it’s all about being proud of who you are, right?
And then I added some more about life and what I’m doing now. And signed off, putting my phone number at the end.
Then this morning, at about 8.20 am – which was ironically when high school used to begin – my phone rang. And it was this teacher! She immediately told me I was being silly and that of course she didn’t care about any of that, but she understood why I might be worried. Because people are ignorant, but that’s their problem and has nothing to do with me.
Of course, I knew all of this already – and was pretty sure this was how she would respond – but hearing it from her in person (or over the phone) was so affirming and wonderful and lovely. I was on a high all day, feeling accepted and supported and loved.
Sure, I should feel like this regardless of what other people think, but it can be hard. World Pride is a wonderful thing, but there are still protests – albeit small ones – that I’ve seen, telling people like me to repent or face going to hell.
So I’m going to take all the good news and happiness and support I can get! Happy World Pride everyone!! 🙂