We’ve talked a lot about what it’s like to come out as ace, and we’ve also talked about how this is represented in ace fiction. But if you look for coming out stories, most of them aren’t about aces, they’re about gay people. So how do we interact with coming out narratives about gay people?
I’m sure we all have different answers, and I’d love to hear them in the comments. But we need to start somewhere, so I’ll begin with my perspective.
I am gay. I came out as gay when I was 21. I have a same-sex partner and I come out again every time I mention him to someone new. I have watched a lot of gay films, most of which include a coming out story. I am drawn to these stories, because they’re ostensibly about people like me. And yet, I feel that experiences like mine are entirely missing. Part of that is that I am ace, and the characters being portrayed are not. But gay coming out stories are so homogeneous, I have a feeling that more than just ace people feel left out.
One time, I went to a LGBT film festival, and purchased tickets for a series of coming out shorts. These short films tend to be very low budget affairs, and you could say I wasn’t very impressed with them. But what made me mad, were the patterns I saw after it was over. Of about ~6 shorts, each made by different people, every single one was about an apparently male character. They all came out as gay or bi, save for one that was about a trans man, and another that was about a young kid who didn’t have an explicit identity. Almost all of them were about high school students.
Then I realized that these patterns were in all the longer films too. Almost all men. Almost all coming out as gay. Almost all high school students.
The dominance of high school narratives always particularly bothered me. In narratives about older people, usually they’ve known since they were young, but they live in a repressive environment. In other words, when people come out after high school, it’s a major tragedy. So when I came out at 21, “tragedy” was the only framework I had to interpret my own experiences. How did everyone else know so early on? How could I possibly catch up?
Now that I’m nearing 30, it seems to me that 21 is still pretty young, why did I ever feel too old back then? I’ve met lots of gay people who came out in their 20s–it’s a thing that happens, just not so much in the movies.
If you’ve seen the recent film Love, Simon, that film is in many ways a distillation of the standard gay coming out narrative. The main difference is that it’s marketed to the mainstream. That means the execution is better than usual, but it also means they felt the need to put an irritating “I’m just like you” speech at the introduction (see video).
I liked the movie, but Simon is not just like me. A lot of Simon’s story revolves around crushes. He acts like he has a crush on some guy across the street, and this is the first signal to the audience that he’s gay. He first knew he was gay because he had a crush on Daniel Radcliffe. He comes out because people get wind of his crush. But I don’t experience crushes. Or squishes for that matter.
Gosh, however did I know my orientation? This is kind of hard for me to explain… gee, if only it were a standard narrative that appeared in lots of movies, then I could just refer you to those. Let’s just say, I knew I was ace when I understood what it meant that I didn’t have crushes on anyone. And then I knew I was gay when I understood that relationships don’t need to be built on crushes. I feel that gay coming out stories may have delayed my realization. Growing up, I thought that I just needed to wait for a crush, then I’d finally know myself as well as the common high school student.
But here I am, complaining about minor aspects like the crushes and the character ages. I can only imagine what it’s like for women, or people who aren’t gay.
1. Have you ever felt a draw towards gay coming out stories, or more general LGBT coming out stories?
2. What aspects of those stories do you find unrelatable or disappointing?
3. What would you like to see in coming out stories, aside from having more ace/aro characters?