A Canary in the Coal Mine: A Coming Out Story

In honor of National Coming Out Day (October 11th), I will share one of my many coming out stories, this being a light-hearted one.

When I want to be out to everyone, there are always stragglers who I just haven’t come out to yet.  Among those stragglers are the entirety of my extended family on my mother’s side (the Chinese side).  It just never comes up, because they don’t talk about that sort of thing.  Or so I thought.

I have an eccentric great aunt who I’m close to.  She used to play minor Asian characters in black and white movies.  She is very wealthy, and used to travel all over the world until she got injured on a cruise ship.  She wears fancy hats, large sunglasses, and knitted sweaters.  She is the kind of lady who would say “Darling!” in the sort of high pitched voice that scares little children.  She gets free movies for judging in the Academy Awards, so I sometimes come over to watch them with her.

She’s asked me before about girlfriends.  I tell myself that in such a situation, I’d just come out, but in practice I don’t come out because it doesn’t fit into my idea of a relaxing day.  So I just waffled on the question.

Some time later, she found out independently.  She wouldn’t say how, but I’ve got it figured out.  Apparently, my extended family does talk about sexuality stuff, they just never do it in front of me.  Somehow, everyone knows I’m gay, though I’m not sure how much they know or what they think about it.  This is disconcerting!  The only person who has ever said anything to me is this great aunt.

So she was a little mad that I didn’t tell her directly, because that means I didn’t trust her.  She started talking about how her best friends in the movie industry are gay.  She described them as being sassy and having a great sense of fashion (apparently with no awareness of the camp stereotype).  She talked about how gay people just wanted to get married like everyone else.  She complained that I would dare talk about being gay online (showing no understanding of the internet or pseudonymity).  She wondered why she didn’t know any lesbian women (I told her that it was probably because movie producers were very male-dominated, and because there’s a huge social gulf between gay men and lesbian women).

I had plenty of opportunity to come out as asexual here, but for some reason I didn’t.  I got the sense, behind all that acceptance, that she wasn’t really that understanding of gay issues.  Asexuality is even harder to understand, so I lost my nerve.  I treat coming out as gay as a canary in the coal mine.  It helps me guess who it would be easy to explain it to, and who would be frustrating to explain it to.  Or perhaps it’s just the excuse I use for not coming out.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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2 Responses to A Canary in the Coal Mine: A Coming Out Story

  1. Sciatrix says:

    If it’s an excuse, it’s one I’m guilty of, too. I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to come out to my paternal extended family, mostly because of my grandmother, who is very Catholic, very conservative, and not exactly gay-friendly. (She is also very much the matriarch of that side of the family, so I’m pretty comfortable saying that outing myself to the rest of the family would not go terribly well.) I already catch a fair amount of flak for being liberal and an atheist from that side of my family, and if I wasn’t one of my grandmother’s favorites it would be much worse. Adding “btw grandma I’m asexual, and oh on top of that I sort-of date girls” to that seems to me like a bad idea. So I stay in a sort of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell with that side of my family, wherein they avoid asking me about dating and I don’t out myself.

    The thing is, my experience is that a person not being really good at gay acceptance really is a pretty good cue that they’ll be difficult to explain asexuality to. Your great aunt sounds a little like my parents, and it’s been really hard to get them to really understand what I’m talking about when I say I’m ace. I’ve made progress with them, but it’s hard and has involved a series of fights and arguments over the past three years. I’m currently really, really unenthusiastic about having a conversation with them about where I am right now about my romantic orientation. If they weren’t close family, I’m not sure the energy necessary to have that conversation would be worth it.

  2. nancynoregrets says:

    It’s a really difficult situation. Although I blog about these things on the Internet, I generally let people just assume what they like about my sexuality. I’d like to increase awareness in people around me, but still have the fear of rejection and of being called evil for what I think and how I feel. So, mostly, I just fit in

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