For me, the most important evolution in any GLBTQ person’s life is becoming comfortable in their own skin. We’ve come a long way from bullying and hate crimes and made coming out more comfortable than before. But as world leaders, advertising executives and pop stars come out in defense of the queer community, I have to make the unpopular argument that maybe we’ve gone too far. And I, for one, wouldn’t mind going back in the closet — at least a little. Just hear me out.
Reason #1 A little Background Information
I know that, at first blush, going back into the closet sounds like a ludicrous and unnecessary idea. That goes double, perhaps, in 2012 when coming out of the closet is a fairly fashionable thing to do — at least in Hollywood.
Take Neil Patrick Harris for instance, a C-list celebrity actor who managed to wrangle media mogul/star maker Oprah Winfrey to come to his home for a quick, televised chat with him…and his life partner. George Takei managed to revive his 40-year faded star by outing himself to the world through his Twitter account. Even DC Comics’ Green Lantern is scheduled for a reboot next month as a gay character to sell a few more copies.
Now, I’m not complaining. That would be ludicrous. But doesn’t it all seem a little sudden? It’s getting so you can’t browse the blogosphere without hearing about a newly out starlet, a LGBTQ friendly ad campaign or presidential announcement. In the last few months J. Crew, JC Penney, Levi’s, KY Jelly, Gap and Ray Ban have all pumped out queer-friendly ads. Like how you’d never heard the word hashtag, and now you can’t escape it.
While we’re all being terribly trendy, it might not kill us to remember a time before the fad. Like when, once upon a time, the media only saw fit to mention the LGBTQ community when one of us was the victim of a hate crime or forcefully outed by former friends or an unfortunate episode of bathroom shenanigans.
Those were awkward times. Coming out before it was trendy was never a career booster. For most of us, the moment we realized we were gay can be told in the form of a cringe-worthy anecdote.
Take my experience for example. Before I realized I was gay, I was an oblivious middle school outcast, comfortable in those early years of naïveté when you didn’t know what the rest of the world thought of you and it never occurred to you to ask.
Lucky for me, Holly Weaver — the most beautiful girl in school — was kind enough to intervene. It was in the poorly air-conditioned locker room, a few minutes before gym class. Holly stood there beautiful in matching pastel-pink underwear, brushing her hair behind her ear and giggling with other popular girls that I’d never spoken to.
An impulse I wouldn’t fully understand until after puberty convinced my brain to tell my legs to walk over and talk to her. Maybe we could be friends, have sleepovers…smell each other’s hair. Only, the impulse never made it to my mouth. I was standing there in front of her staring somewhere in the region of her cleavage, wrestling with a warm, effervescent originating somewhere beneath my gym shorts.
Holly had to laugh in my face to get my attention. The mortified burning in my face mingled with other unsavory feelings and crescendoed into two realizations: they were laughing at me and would continue to for the rest of my primary school career and that I was probably a lesbian and that that could only make things much worse. The fact that my discovery of my sexual orientation coincided with a moment of mortification will lead to some conflicting sexual feelings that will follow me around for the rest of my life. But that’s another article entirely.
The rest of my school years were predictably hard. I came out sporadically to close friends and people who I had, up until my outing, considered close friends. Oprah did not come visit me to celebrate my bravery. Ellen DeGeneres didn’t give me a fruit basket or send me a link to It Gets Better. It was a lonely and confusing time.
But the pain and the awkwardness became sort of a rite of passage. I channeled the awkward, isolated feeling into energy into seeking out other LGBTQ groups. I got to work through my issues with other men and women going through the same struggle. The queer associations I found online in high school and on campus in college became my community, and I had support in a way that you just can’t cultivate by exposing yourself on a web log, Twitter account or special on Dr. Phil. And I missed that sense of community when I came back home.
Reason #2: Trends Make People Act Strange
Fads have always bothered me. It’s not just because I am chronically behind the times. It’s because they make people act strange. I left Houston for college in the “Dubbya” era when Christian fundamentalists were out and proud and making the rest of uncomfortable and wondering just how bad things could get.
Coming back to Obama-era Houston was surreal. Almost everyone I knew had done a 180 from bible-thumping righteousness to laissez-faire liberalism. I saw two men holding hands in a mom and pop BBQ shop in Katy and not one of the 50-ish year old men came striding over to announce that there were children there and “I think ya’ll better do the decent thing and go”. In the emergency room, I witnessed a nurse asking two women if they were partners without batting an eye or inviting them to her Wednesday bible service.
It was like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I recognized the faces, but not what was coming out of them. My own mother responded to my belated coming out with a hug. I don’t know what she would have said 10 years ago but I’m pretty sure it would have involved a baptism and a call to Pastor Frank.
I even got a job my first week out without having to de-butch my hair or my wardrobe. My first day on the job, I was greeted by Kat Wallace. Describing her as “beautiful” would be a profound misdiagnosis of the heart palpitations I experience every time she smiles.
She wore a Proposition 8 t-shirt, a new pair of Choos and the confident, mischievous grin of a girl who went to private school but was trying something different. She was Holly Weaver, Janet Crispin and every other effortlessly beautiful woman who’d ever gotten me into trouble.
On our way back to the glorified utility closet that would be my office, I made some brief, stumbling comment about her shirt to which she effervescently replied that she wasn’t gay, but gay issues were “the most” important. Her favorite actors were Jane Lynch, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ian McKellan. She had two “gay besties” and the L-Word and the Real L Word on DVD. I found all of this out before I sat down at my desk.
Her job as a receptionist mostly consisted of answering phones in a sing-song voice, checking her Twitter account and updating us all on news of recent celebrity outings, gay-friendly ad campaigns and monogamously gay zoo animal pairs.
I was a little bit afraid of her. She had a habit of bursting into doorways with announcements when you weren’t expecting her. And what I could hear over my thumping heart beat was a remarkably loud voice for such a tiny person.
It was during one of her loud, office-violating outbursts that she outed me to the office. As the door to my closet swung open, I quickly closed Burrito Bison Revenge to reveal a desktop picture of me and my gay girlfriend hugging and generally looking gay in front of our big gay Labrador retriever. She stopped mid-announcement and shrieked “You’re gay!?” loudly and excitedly enough to alert the entire office.
Anyone who has faced the terror of confronting the fact that they’re gay experiences a similar panic attack when outed loudly in their place of employment. But this was the aughties. Down was up and up was down. And in exchange for not choking her where she stood and fleeing for my life, I earned myself an in with the most beautiful, annoying girl in the office..
Reason #3: I am a Sell Out
In my defense, I am not the only one who’s willing to capitalize on a trend. Even Obama couldn’t resist a little pre-election stance in support of gay marriage. Did I feel a little dirty? Yes.
But Kat was throwing me a birthday party starring me as the center of attention. To put that into perspective, I spent my last party pretending to text on my phone and trying to blend in with a ficus. But things were different now.
I was the coolest person in the office. “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta” played as I walked slow-motion into the office. I wore aviators and skinny jeans to work. Kat has lunch in my office. And I get CC’ed on mass e-mails, and occasionally, they’re not just the token gay news bits my nervous co-workers send me to let me know that they’re not homophobic.
And Kat had actually begun flirting with me…or whatever the equivalent to flirting is when someone is doing it just so that other people will see just how non-homophobic and on-trend she was.
I let her introduce me for weeks as “This is Megan, she’s a lesbian” for weeks before I could no longer ignore the fact that I was just a trendy accessory. And I still hung around for weeks after that. I went for cocktails and submitted to the invasive questions and pinched, mildly scandalized faces of her former deb sisters and private school friends.
I even met her mother once at the Houston Country Club. Older Southern people have a weird way of being polite that’s slightly aggressive. Something about how long they drag out their vowels and say “well isn’t that something?” Did I mention that Kat was beautiful?
Reason #4: I am Not Cut out for This
Remember back in the early aughties when it was the thing for celebrities to adopt kids from foreign places like Zimbabwe and Cambodia? And they’d clog up the news channels and check-out counter magazine pages? How awkward do you think it was around those Hollywood dinner tables after the paparazzi stopped coming around?
I’ll bet it was awkward. After a while, it was getting harder to ignore the fact that my at-work conversations were getting increasingly inappropriate. I never thought I’d have to say this but “how do you and your girlfriend have sex when you’re both on your period?” is not an appropriate question. That goes double if there are clients in the waiting room.
The only thing we talked about outside of office small talk was what it’s like to be a lesbian. I fielded questions for interested aunts, curious friends and everyone else that apparently didn’t have an internet connection.
I was learning the hard way that when you’re a trend instead of a person, people aren’t really interested in getting to know you. You’re not a friend, you’re an anecdote. I didn’t have work friends; I had co-workers who were just as stoked to have a lesbian at their job as they were to have a Twitter account.
I was starting to get agitated. I’d graduated from ignoring inappropriate and invasive questions to responding to them in graphic detail. I was turning into a monster. I snapped at someone who asked me if I “liked Tracy Chapman”. It took me a vodka shots to remember that I was in a gay bar and Fast Car was playing on the radio. My dating life was suffering. I started eating my work lunches in my car.
Reason #5: Fads End
Does anyone know what happened to those Benetton kids? Seriously. I’m concerned. Save for Angelina and Brad’s brood, you never see them anymore. There were dozens of them. Didn’t Madonna have one? Or three? I see Lourdes all over the place. What about the ones?
The trouble with being part of a fad is that you’re never on sturdy footing. What happens when LGBTQ issues are no longer fashionable to discuss? The early aughties weren’t the first time same-sex marriage and gay issues were the topic of conversation.
It started in the 1970s, made a little headway and was forgotten. It happened again in the 1990s. Texas had its own same-sex marriage bill in 1997. Hawaii actually passed a same-sex marriage bill. It was repealed as soon as the media looked the other way.
The same thing happened in California in 2008. And North Carolina was too far behind trend to build up enough momentum. I can’t help but wonder what’s on the other side of the hump.
As for me I’ve gone back under the radar. I’ve ditched the rainbow office wear for more quality time with my LGBTQ and less-trendy straight friends. For the most part I’ve gone back to being a regular person. We have regular conversations where people talk to me like I’m a real person not a fad.
When we do talk about queer issues, it’s about the fact that my girlfriend and I can’t get married in the state or that I can’t cover her under my life insurance or give her my social security benefits if something should happen, not whether or not I’d bang Megan Fox if given half the chance.
And for those reasons, “in” is the new “out” for me. I’m going back to the times when my sexuality was none of anyone’s business, not tabloid fodder for trend setters; where I get to be a person instead of a fad.