Happy National Coming Out Day! I guess that’s a thing. Apropos of that, Boy, it’s a good thing having an awkward moment at a get-together doesn’t send me into a spiral of self-loathing and despair anymore.
No joke, that used to happen. I’d flub a handshake1
or tell an unfunny joke or be the wrong kind of geeky when everybody else was being the right kind of cool, and I’d hear in the resultant silence the death-knoll of any hope I’d ever had of unweird, unawkward, uncreepy social intercourse, and it’d be back to the closet for me.
I don’t mean the closet where gay people are secretly gay, just the closet where sad people are secretly sad and lonely people are secretly lonely and nobody else ever comes inside, where pain and the shame of being in pain reinforce each other in an endless feedback loop.
But, like I say, I’m glad that doesn’t happen any more. It’s not that I’m not awkward anymore. It’s just that I don’t care when I am. Q.v. this episode out on the smoking porch at a get-together recently.
|P:||So what do you do?|
|JP:||Well, I’m a web developer, and then I do some freelance writing.|
|P:||Oh, what kind of writing?|
|JP:||Oh, I blog a bit, and try to send my stuff wherever I can.|
|P:||Neat, what’s the blog about?|
|JP:||It’s, er, about faith and sexuality and mental health.|
|P:||Cool, I’m interested in those things too! What’s it called?|
|JP:||Uh, “Catholic, Gay, and Feeling Fine”.|
|P:||Sorry, Catholic what?|
|JP:||[Striving to speak clearly without sounding overemphatic] Catholic, GAY, and Feeling Fine.|
|P:||Oh! Mm-hm! [Nodding.]|
|CRICKETS:||Oh, ho de hum, ho de hum.|
|P:||So, this is nice! Nice party!|
To which my internal response up might have been: “Oh gosh. Was I giving too much away too soon? Why did I even bring that up? Did I want him to ask what the blog was called? Wait, but would it be okay if I had wanted that? Am I some kind of exhibitionist? Am I turning into one of those people who can’t shut up about being gay, gay, gay? GAAAHHH I better reevaluate the way I interact with other humans,” etc., etc.
But, yeah, anyway, it wasn’t. I honestly don’t know if I was trying to bring up my homosexuality, but if I was, everybody’s a little narcissistic sometimes, and it’s not that big a deal. I should be allowed to mention my blog’s title in conversation with friends. I’m not trying to push an agenda. I’m just talking.
And I know P. wasn’t trying to make me feel awkward. It’s just that somebody scraped a chair right when I said “gay”, plus most people’s ears aren’t used to hearing the word “gay” in a sincere context, plus it’s not something you want to accidentally mis-hear, so it pays to be sure. And, afterwards, the silence wasn’t because people were annoyed with me for bringing it up. They just didn’t know what was okay to say and what wasn’t.
When I told Ryan G. I was gay, it was in the relatively early days of our friendship, and I sort of slipped it in by mentioning that my blog was about being Catholic and dealing with same-sex attraction. There was a silence, and then he asked, “So, um, but do you mean YOU or other people?” So of course I clarified, and silently blessed him for being willing to make up for my circumlocution with a direct question, even if it made him feel awkward. I was indirect, because I was kind of scared; he was direct, because he is kind of generous.
Everybody’s full of good intentions, but nobody’s sure what the rules are yet for talking about this, and that’s not anybody’s fault. Are you supposed to ask questions, or is asking questions rude? Are you supposed to congratulate, or commiserate? Should you start making oral sex jokes and gestures for no reason?2
I don’t have definitive answers for most of those questions, but in general I appreciate openness and assume you’re benevolent unless you make it a point to prove me wrong. Mainly I just want to live in a society where gayness is something that people are allowed to mention in passing, without it being A Thing. I want that to happen.
Sometimes the best way to make something happen is to pretend that it already has, and let the rest take care of itself.