Before I arrived at Mizzou, I made the decision to be open about my sexuality from the moment I set foot on campus. It was a year-long process that started with my friends at school, then my friends back home and eventually my family.
Although I was fortunate enough to have a relatively easy, stress-free process that ended with no negativity or strained relationships (many are not so lucky), being out presented its own set of challenges once I embarked on the task of–well, being out. I’ve learned that queer people never truly stop coming out.
As we move through life and build relationships, it seems necessary at certain points to tell people we’re gay. I’ve had to re-come out every time I’ve been hired to a new job or make a new friend, and sometimes it isn’t easy for anyone. Often I have the benefit of casually mentioning that my boyfriend is coming into town, that my boyfriend just sent me a funny Snapchat or my boyfriend loved that movie too. Most of the time the person simply registers this information and moves on, but not always.
I’ve been in a few situations with people who find themselves especially perceptive and have a burning desire to get the skinny on what gender I prefer to sleep with. It’s made for some very uncomfortable situations. A fellow server at a restaurant I worked at one summer once asked me in front of three other workers (who I barely knew) if I was gay or not. I was taken aback but said yes, hoping the matter would be dropped. But she laughed, yelled “I knew it!” and proceeded to inform every other person that was working that shift about my sexuality, including my manager.
On a separate occasion one of the residents in the dorm where I used to be an RA walked up to two friends of mine and interrogated them about my sexuality. My friends were very uncomfortable discussing this for obvious reasons. They didn’t know if it was their place.
Both of those instances happened the first year after I came out, and at the time they really bothered me. Nowadays I’m less phased when it I encounter these types of situations and people, but it will probably be a reality for the rest of my life.
However, the acceptance of that fact doesn’t resolve the question as to why people not only feel that they need to know about someone’s sexuality, but must investigate it if something seems amiss. Many people also operate under the assumption that if someone doesn’t disclose their sexuality, they are somehow hiding something. As you can probably guess, there are a lot of serious issues with people who have this attitude. And before I go further, I want to say that of course there have been times when I have inquired to other queer people about someone’s sexuality; it’s a natural question that comes up in the queer community, and while the intentions can sometimes be just as vicious, it is a lot easier for people who have been in that person’s shoes to have these conversations in a supportive, less voyeuristic way.
And that’s what the issue with nosey straight people is: salacious voyeurism. It starts with comparing someone’s homosexuality with their own straightness and deciding, perhaps subconsciously, that there is something strange or inherently different about it.
That is obviously an outdated and ignorant assumption, but it seems inherent in this thought process and is a recipe for disaster. Now that the straight person has sensationalized someone’s sexuality, they start to treat it terribly. They begin to assume that a queer person who hasn’t come out to them is a liar. And because no one likes a liar, suddenly the queer individual is not a good a person. At the same time that all of this happening, we have to add in the fact that the straight person feels like they’ve got some real dirt here. That they’ve been smart enough to figure it out, so it’s time to get answers and blow the lid off this hot gossip. For example, my co-worker cornering and confronting me in front of other co-workers, or my resident grilling my friends.
People wonder why it’s so hard for queer people to come out, or why they’d rather make a first impression based on their personality, not what type of person they’d prefer to sleep with. I would rather deal with a million ignorant people than ever go back into the closet, but perhaps it’s time for straight people to take a look at how they treat others if they suspect them of being queer.
Is it appropriate to ask me to my face? Never. Is it appropriate to ask others? Not unless you’re taking me out to dinner, but I think my boyfriend might have a problem with that.