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Expectation whiplash

October 11, 2011

So National Coming Out Day.  Were it that easy.  I would love if I could just get up on some makeshift stage on a college campus with a feather boa covered arc framing a microphone, come out to the small group of people listening to the unreliable amplification of my voice and be done with it.  I’d even cheerfully attend annually if it would cover me for the other 364 days.  I’ve been out for well over a decade, so you’d think that I’d be done with the coming out thing.  I mean, at this point, who cares?  I don’t, but other people sometimes do.  And because they care, I am compelled to as well.

To keep being made to feel freakish to a minimum, I assume that everyone knows I’m gay and talk about my family in the same ways as other people (no preambles, no apologies, no introduction, no anxiety).  I don’t keep track of who knows and who doesn’t.  I don’t make a point of outing/not outing myself the first time I meet someone.  There’s no dramatic pause before a hushed confession.  People are very attuned to social cues.  Since any sort of coming out I do these days is so beside-the-point and matter-of-fact, others are socially compelled to follow suit, especially if they are in a group.  In this way, am unaware of how many people I come out to in a week (if any).

Sometimes though, people (nice decent good people) go through expectation whiplash.  And I hate it.  It’s psychically tiring.  We’ve been having a great conversation about the relative merits of unicorns versus pegesis-unicorns or our favorite journals or public transit in postdoc city or whatever.  There is plenty to talk about.  In a professional context, I don’t bring up my personal life unless asked directly (which isn’t supposed to happen but always does).  When asked however, I answer truthfully; I’m a terrible liar, and it’s no secret anyway.  And I hate to see someone I’ve been enjoying a conversation with suddenly drop me into a different mental category and interact with me in a completely different (often more reserved) way.  I haven’t changed.  I wasn’t being deceitful.  I’m neither surprised nor upset that you assumed I was straight; it’s a reasonable assumption because most people are.  What does bother me is that you’ve not only stopped seeing me as a person and but you’re also a bit mad at me because your pre-concieved idea was a little wrong.

Being a little wrong is embarrassing and can hurt.  In academics, I am secure in the knowledge that no one is going to physically beat the shit out of me at 26th Annual Symposia on Unicorns and other Mythical Beasts.  The worst that can come of it is that someone avoids sitting at my table for the banquet dinner.  In this context – and by extension all safe contexts – I feel that I’m morally compelled to be out.  There is a reasonable amount of research (that I’m too lazy to cite right now) that supports the idea that people who know at least one queer person are much more likely to be on board with treating gay people like people (no modifier).  Since the civil rights of lgbt people are often put up for popular vote, it works against me to be closeted.  So in honor of National Coming Out Day: I’m gay scientist!

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  1. yay for gay scientists! It is hard when people start interacting with you when you “come out”. I find that most of the time this is a short-lived thing (until they get over being embarrassed).

    • At the last conference I attended, I was having interesting conversations with two different people, both of whom walked away from me minutes after I mentioned a wife (this happened sequentially! it was so weird!). One of them made up with me the following evening and now we’re facebook friends and may even collaborate on a project or two. The other? I’ll be scaring him away from banquet tables for years to come…

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