Coming out is usually thought of as a one-time, or two-time, type event. “He came out.” “I came out to my family.” It can be a pronounced event in someone’s life, and before I “came out”, I thought of it the same. You come out, and then you’re out! Voila!
I have to confess that I haven’t had to go through most of my life as out, nor did I come out at a tender age. I’ve felt blessed that the vast majority of my being out has been positive and I have never really suffered any negative reactions.
But, in the 3 years that I’ve been out, I’ve realized that it isn’t a one-time thing. It’s a daily thing. I have to come out almost every single day.
Most of the time I actually enjoy it. I love dropping the word “wife” into random conversations. I’ve never really seen any negative reactions; if people are surprised they are good at hiding it. We live in a conservative state, and a conservative city. I still enjoy saying, “my wife.” But there are times when I can definitely feel that I’m outing myself and just hope that it will be a positive experience.
We are open with our lives and never hide the fact that we are together. We out ourselves to the new neighbors. To the insurance rep. To the county clerk when we’re putting our names on a new title. To the roofer sitting in our kitchen when I tell this good ol’ boy that I’ll have to ask my wife first. Or the landscaper that comes to give me a quote. To the salesperson at the mall. You come out on every vacation (usually, unless you are worried you aren’t safe to be out). You start planning vacations based on places it’s OK to come out. You come out when you explain to the waiter that you’ll just take one check. Or the hotel desk clerk when you insist that you really do only want one bed and not two.
Then you come out to your new hairdresser, your mailman, and your banker when he mispronounces your wife’s name, assuming it’s a man…
It’s easier when it’s people that I know will be in our lives for a period of time: Like the kids’ teachers, their friends, neighbors, etc. It’s a bit harder in a church setting, bible study, or mom group. But it’s especially thought-provoking when it’s to a stranger you may never see again.
Sometimes, you make a split second decision whether or not to come out to someone. Is it worth mentioning? Do I need to mention it? If I don’t, am I trying to hide it? Do I just avoid any phrases that I would have to explain? Because why DO I have to always explain my life?
Occasionally someone will ask me about my “husband”. I don’t take offense because really, the majority of women my age have husbands so it’s a fair assumption. I smile as I say I actually have a wife! I don’t want them to feel embarrassed for assuming because really, they have no reason not to assume that.
But in those simple, casual conversations, so much information is relayed. Even in a straight relationship, when you drop the word “spouse” or “husband”, you are communicating that you are attached to someone for life. It’s a status that contains information. When I drop the word “wife” into a conversation with a new person, it conveys that basic information, and so much more. You are revealing something intimate to that person. You are revealing your sexual identity. When you come out, you are saying so much, and bringing so many questions into the mind of the person you are talking to. Suddenly, there’s a bigger backstory, questions to ask, curiosity to satisfy. In a straight marriage much of that data is assumed, and assumed correctly, unless you decide to reveal something to the contrary.
And it would be different, I can imagine, for a gay person not in a relationship. On one hand, coming out wouldn’t be as routine, on a daily basis, because your sexual identity is currently separate than your relational identity. But, I think it would be a bigger moment when you decide to reveal that to someone new. A more pronounced “coming out” event.
My wife has to come out just as much at work. In the beginning, we both came out to almost every individual as a friend or colleague. It was a lot of coming out. Now, everyone at work is familiar, but still there are always new people, new classes, or training she attends where she has to come out.
For the large part, it’s a non-event and we love coming out to people. We enjoy gauging reactions or imagining the suppressed, yet surprised realizations. But, it is vulnerability and openness to potential judgement. It’s far from one time. It’s not something that you do once and it’s over and done. It’s every day. It’s for life.