Content notes: discussion of bad coming out experiences including being outed and harassment
1. The first time someone comes out to me, I’m 16. We’re talking about…I honestly don’t remember. He says, “I think I might be bisexual,” and I have a moment of pure elation followed by one of pure panic. I’m not alone. But also unless I say something he’ll think he’s alone. I don’t want to say anything, because I’ve never told anyone before.
In the end, my desire to be a good friend wins out. “I think I might be bisexual too,” I say.
(I’m not, but I don’t know that yet.)
2. The first time I come out to someone as asexual, I’m in my boyfriend’s car. “I think I may be asexual,” I say.
“You’re not asexual,” he says. “We just haven’t tried the right things yet.”
The next time I come out to someone as ace is more than two and a half years later.
3. It takes me days to work up my courage to come out to my friend J. Finally, I sit her down, vibrating out of my skin with anxiety.
“I have something to tell you.”
“Are you okay?” she asks. (She’s picked up on the anxiety. It’s not that hard, given that I’m literally shaking.)
“I’m asexual,” I say.
“Okay,” she replies, and then she waits.
Thirty seconds later she says, “Oh, is that what you had to tell me?”
(It turns out she already knows.)
4. It’s my senior year of college, and I accidentally out myself at lunch. I don’t remember much of the ensuing conversation, but I do remember hyperventilating against a wall. It’s my first time coming out to more than one person at once.
The reaction is…lukewarm. There’s confusion. There’s a “I felt that way until I turned 18.” There’s one really supportive person who, as it turns out, has another ace friend.
At least three of the people at that table have since come out as ace. Two of them were introduced to the term by me.
5. I come out to my parents. “That would be a problem if it were 1964,” my father says, and, god, you don’t need to hear the rest of that story.
6. I out myself to a classmate, and she obviously doesn’t know how to react, frozen in place with a look like a deer in the headlights. Afterwards, she comes to me and mentions how embarrassed she is at her lack of knowledge. She wants to learn more. I send her resources. I point her toward groups in the Boston area.
A few months later I see her again. She’s wearing an ace ring.
7. A classmate outs me as queer to a professor in seminar. The professor thinks that I am being too “vague.” “Why are you being so evasive?” he asks. “What are you trying to hide?”
It turns out he does not realize that “queer” is both a specific identity and an umbrella term. I refuse to clarify further, telling him that we’re in the middle of class and he’s not obligated to that information anyway. He harasses me in class about my sexuality for more than fifteen minutes.
I file a Title IX complaint. It is dismissed since I never skipped class, so the experience must not have really affected me.
8. I’m talking to a colleague about teaching, and I mention having paneled extensively in the past. The question comes up, of course: “What did you panel for?”
I consider. I take a calculated risk. “I’ve done a lot of queer activism,” I say.
Suddenly the questions start pouring in. What’s it like being LGBT in academia? Do I feel like the university is a safe place to be out? What about the department?
She ducks her head. “Actually, I have a confession to make,” she says, suddenly shy. “I have a girlfriend.”
We high-five, because suddenly there are two of us, instead of just one.
9. One of my students comes to me, clearly nervous. “You’ve lived in Japan,” he says, and, oh boy, I’m suddenly nervous too.
“If I were looking for information on being LGBT in Japan, uh. Uh.”
“…are you asking for general information or specific resources?” I ask.
“Oh,” he says, and he’s obviously trying to be casual about it, “you know, I’m just gonna be in Japan and be LGBT so I wanna. Talk to someone. About being LGBT in Japan. Or read about it. Or whatever.”
This is the first time a student has ever come out to me. “Oh,” I say, and I’m tripping over my own tongue, “w-well, I’m LGBT and I’ve been in Japan, so!”
“Oh!” he says, lighting up a little. “Can I ask you about that? I just want to find a cute boy to date, maybe?”
(I see him a little over a year later when we’re both in Japan. He excitedly tells me about his boyfriend.)
10. I don’t come out much these days anymore. If you’re friends with me, I act like you already know–it saves me the trouble of vibrating out of my skin from anxiety when I have to sit you down to have The Conversation. If you’re not friends with me, I’m just a very, very private person, and you probably don’t know anything about my personal life, let alone my sexuality.
These days, I’m a lot less interested in coming out to make myself legible and easy to digest. When I come out, it’s to say, “Hey, you’re not alone.”
(Yesterday I noticed that one of my students has a Pride flag on his phone case. I put my rainbow pin in a more visible place on my backpack. We haven’t had a conversation yet, but I’m ready if he wants to.)