Interacting with gay coming out stories as an ace

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.ย  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.

Discussion Questions

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?

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.
This entry was posted in Articles, Coming out, Gray-A, Media, personal experience. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Interacting with gay coming out stories as an ace

  1. Sennkestra says:

    One thing I always find an interesting contrast is that in most gay coming out stories, coming out is often presented as a way to strengthen a relationship or increase your potential dating pool, by removing partners’ concerns about dating a closeted person. This always seems really different from how it is for many people, (and also probably bi, trans, poly, and other later-in-the-alphabet people?) Where I feel like it’s more common to be worried that coming out will strain their current relationships or limit their potential dating pool.

  2. Rivers says:

    This is definitely something I would like to see explored more. I’ve been watching a lot of this kind of thing lately because I get zero interaction with other out queer people in real life. Even though I am not gay, I definitely relate to not being straight, and I also want to learn more about other people’s experiences. In my current situation, there’s just no real way to meet other queer people unless someone at my workplace comes out (it’s not the most queer-friendly environment, though I wouldn’t consider coming out to be impossible).

    That being said, I definitely see all the points you brought up within the common coming out narratives. There’s definitely a lack of diversity within those experiences or even a general acknowledgement that things could be very different. In the more general LGBTQ+ community, people tend to be less inclusive of other people’s experiences.

    I think hearing from different perspectives or talking about the range of different experiences, whether ones that are completely outside the norm, or more nuanced differences, would really help people start to think about the possible spectrum of experiences we can have. If our own community has trouble acknowledging those “less common” experiences, then we can hardly expect diversity in the mainstream.

  3. queenieofaces says:

    I think one of the big differences between gay coming out narratives and my own experience coming out is that in a lot of gay fiction, you have your big coming out scene and then you’re…done? Everybody knows you’re out, your family either accepts it or they don’t, and that’s it. Whereas I’ve had a lot of experiences where I’ve come out to someone and then had to do it again because they thought I was joking the first time or “forgot” or assumed that I was going to change my mind. I’ve had a fair number of bi friends who’ve had similar experiences (I have a friend who has come out to her mom as bi like five times now and her mom keeps “forgetting”). I think the one-and-done style of coming out is much more narratively satisfying, but also just not that common, especially for aces.

    I also think the thing about gay narratives being set mainly in high school is super interesting, because I was talking to one of the organizers for Bi WoC in Boston a few years back and she mentioned that they’d done a survey recently and most of the bi respondents had realized that they were bi in their 20s and 30s. I feel like most of my generation of aces also realized that they were ace in their 20s and 30s, so I also wonder about time lag between different identities.

    • Looking back, there were definitely things going on in high school that could have told me I was ace, but for me high school was 1988 to 1991. There was literally no information that existed then in any form I would EVER have found that could have told me about asexuality. The idea of even knowing I was ace, much less coming out to anybody, in high school is so fantastical that I am literally unable to imagine it. I still marvel secretly when I see teen aces confident in their identity today.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Yeah, the one-and-done coming out narratives are really not something I can relate to at all. I mean, my partner has had to come out as bi again pretty much every time she dates someone of a different gender than the last person she dated. Since I don’t really bother trying to date people, that opportunity never even comes up for me, so I don’t even bother coming out again, even though people have clearly “forgotten.”

      And when I first came out as bi, I was not even in high school yet! I was still in middle school. Or, I guess technically, I think it might have been the summer gap between middle and high school… but then the three friends I came out to (who all said they were bisexual too at the time, although at least one of them now says she is straight) told me I was a fake bisexual before dramatically dumping me, so I didn’t come out again for a long time. I didn’t even think asexuality was an option until years later, though I still realized it really early compared to most aces my age.

      I also really don’t relate to realizing it because of crushes, because I never got anything like that. I had noticeable attractions, yes, but they did not rise to the level of a crush, or a squish. I guess they were more like mild fascinations with people. One of them, I guess you could call a “muse” for story ideas, but I never had any interest in actually interacting with her, I just observed from afar. I did the whole “make up a crush and tell people that you have it” thing with people like that a couple times though… and then my at-the-time best friend started dating one of those people, after I had told her that, lol. I thought, “Was I supposed to feel jealous???”

      • Rivers says:

        Yeah, it’s definitely not a one-and-done experience. If I got money for every time someone assumed I was straight … I could quick working around so many heteronormative people. Probably.
        I’m sorry your friends did that to you. I came out a little later than you, but it was incredibly important for them to be there for me the way they were.
        And I have definitely had a couple “was I supposed to feel jealous???” moments.

  4. luvtheheaven says:

    I’ve been reading the 1994 version of this book that apparently has 3 editions. https://www.amazon.com/One-Teacher-Ten-Lesbian-Educators/dp/1555832636
    https://www.amazon.com/One-Teacher-Second-Kevin-Jennings/dp/1555838693
    Been reading it very slowly but indeed reading it. It’s actually really riveting for me as a non-fiction book, I’m just a mess when it comes to attention span and being able to read ANY books at all.

    As an anthology of coming out gay stories, and it’s only gay or lesbian, this 1994 one, it’s really refreshing and interesting to read, because it is so different than every single fictional narrative I’ve read, as it focuses on the realities a certain specific subset of adults face in being closeted vs. out vs. some degree in the middle…

    I think I might just read the next editions now that as of this minute I know they exist. ๐Ÿ˜›

    I have know 3 teachers who are either trans or ace off the top of my head, although one didn’t figure out they were trans until after they left teaching as a profession, but I think this narrative of what the life experience must be like is invisible. So that’s kinda currently how I as an ace am interacting with this kind of story.

    I loved the movie Love, Simon btw, it was cute, and everything predictable while still just… very well done overall, it seemed. I wish it hadn’t included two anti-trans casually bigoted jokes, one visual. I wish it had more identities represented. But I did enjoy it a lot.

    I’ve been drawn to lesbian and bi coming out arcs since before I knew I might not be straight myself, MAYBE in part because I love that women get to have complicated feelings and confused feelings over attraction and if they are attracted or not before the coming out part comes. That has always been relatable to me as a gray-aro/gray-panromantic asexual even before I knew that’s what I was. But in terms of the coming out parts… It was almost more incidental, always the conclusion to the story, like they haven’t… stopped feeling all the angst until they do come out, I guess??

    • luvtheheaven says:

      Oh and as an ace yes I relate to deciding coming out was an end to my internal and private angst over all my confusing feelings. That’s like. What I did.

      • Rivers says:

        Yes, I do think that can be a big part of coming out, no matter what you are coming out as. We all have such different experiences, yet the similarities can really bring us together. I think that’s why I like seeing coming out stories overall.

  5. Vesper says:

    while i do consume a lot of queer media, media that revolves around gay people / characters coming out generally disinterests me. unless there are other aspects of the person’s or character’s identity that intersect with the coming out story in a way that i find relatable, i don’t bother with gay coming out stories because i’ve seen / read enough of them to know that there (probably) will be nothing in them that i can relate to besides the sheer act of coming out…. which in and of itself is something that i don’t necessarily relate to.

    how about more stories involving being outted or about not explicitly “coming out” as such at all? how about stories where the coming out happens in the midst of a long-term relationship and / or later in life than high school or college? and indeed, as Queenie pointed out, how about having to repeatedly remind people to the point of it not even being “coming out” as such in my mind anymore by the 3rd / 4th / etc time? more of that would be nice. relatable.

    i’m rather salty in general when it comes to media and representation of any kind, thus have hesitated to even comment at all, but i really am tired of consuming others’ coming out stories while seeing almost nothing that reflects my own experiences. i’m also tired of having to settle for media that i may be able to relate to in one way, but only while simultaneously being put off or alienated in others.

    • Siggy says:

      I think there are at least a few examples of some of the ideas you’re suggesting. Being unwillingly outted is somewhat common–slight spoiler, but this happens in Love, Simon. I’m not sure that the characters in Brokeback Mountain or Moonlight ever really come out. In The Wedding Banquet, the protagonist is already in an established relationship at the beginning of the movie. I guess The Birdcage involves an established couple going temporarily in the closet for their son’s in-laws. I can’t think of one that involves repeatedly coming out to the same people.

      Not necessarily recommending any of these movies (particularly not Brokeback). The exceptions are out there, it’s just hard to find them because they’re few and far in between, and they’re not labeled as such. And when you find them, they may not be what you expect. Like I said, there are stories of people coming out when they’re older, but they tend to be tragedies. I’d expect movies about people never quite coming out to be tragedies too. There really need to be more movies and stories that kick the patterns, so that they can cover a variety of situations and tones.

  6. Pingback: Question of the Week: April 10th, 2018. | The Asexual Agenda

  7. Blue Ice-Tea says:

    I actually went and saw Love, Simon just so I could reply to this topic! ๐Ÿ™‚ I really liked it, but it did feel like “someone else’s story”.

    I think what I find difficult to relate to in “coming out” stories like this is that the label “gay” seems to come first, and the romantic relationship comes about afterwards. Simon identifies himself as “gay”, and then, having realised his own “gayness”, he falls in love with and successfully courts another gay man. (Side note: Apparently all Simon needs to do is declare his own sexuality and the perfect romantic partner falls right in his lap. If only real life were like that!) What I don’t understand about these stories is how one can be “gay” outside of specific feelings for specific individuals. For me, being “straight” doesn’t mean I “feel” straight 100% of the time. It means that, at specific moments in my life I have felt sexual attraction to specific individuals, all of whom happened to be members of the opposite sex. Outside of those rare crushes, I don’t really have any sexual interest in people of any gender. In other words, my sense of being a “straight” person comes out of my relationships with people. Not the other way around.

    That’s why I find a movie like Moonlight much easier to relate to. Chiron’s identity as a gay man (if we do consider him a gay man; he never formally identifies as such) comes out of his specific feelings towards one of his friends. For Chiron, the identity label of “gay” is not as important as the feelings of friendship and desire he has for Kevin. I suppose that relates to my own feelings about labels and relationships (which I wrote about at some length in “Expecto Patronum”: https://acefilmreviews.wordpress.com/2018/01/31/expecto-patronum-seeking-identity-in-a-world-of-labels/). For me, the feelings I have for and relationships I form with the individuals in my life are much more salient parts of my “identity” than labels like “straight” or even “ace-spectrum” or “demisexual”.

    Guess that means my experience is the opposite of yours!

    • Blue Ice-Tea says:

      I’ve thought about it some more, and I think my last comment is actually wrong. While what I said is true of my sexual orientation, I think my romantic orientation has always been with me. I think being patoniromantic affected everything from how I viewed movies and television to how I approached relationships, even at a young age. And my CoA post for this month is essentially about how happy I am to have friends who take my friendship almost as seriously as a romantic relationship.

      In that sense, I can relate to Love, Simon, and other stories about gay characters. Like them, I often feel that I want “too much” from my relationships, that my desires are “inappropriate”. My favourite sequence in the movie was the “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” sequence; I too, sometimes wish I could live in a world where everyone was like me, where I could express my desires freely without shame.

      The problem is that these stories tend to focus on sex and romance. As soon as a gay character starts having sex, it becomes much harder to relate to them. And I also find stories about close friendship easier to relate to than ones that are specifically romantic. The character in Love, Simon that I identified most with was actually Leah. She’s the one who will always be an outsider, the one who will always want more from her best friend than he is able to give her.

      And I can’t even imagine what it would mean to “come out”. Most people aren’t even aware of the split-attraction model, let alone obscure terms like “platoniromantic”!

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