Michele O'Mara

Raise the bar on coming out

Filed By Michele O'Mara | October 20, 2008 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: coming out of the closet

Rarely do I speak the words, "I am gay (or lesbian)." Although very early in my being out process, I attempted this strategy at work, rather unsuccessfully. This happened years ago when gay marriage was but a blip on the radar screen.

I was working at a private psychiatric hospital and it was the end of a very long workday. I walked my last client out to the lobby, and, after saying goodbye, the receptionist said I had a personal call waiting. She asked if I wanted the call transferred to my office, or if I wanted to take it there at the front desk. I opted to take the call right there in the lobby. After transferring the call, she picked up her Bible and started reading again - which is how she spent her time between calls.

The call was brief. I talked about what time I'd be home, what I wanted to do for dinner, then I hung up the phone.

The receptionist, with whom I had never had much communication, turned to me and said, "You're married, right, Michele?" And I casually replied, "Nope, not married." So she followed up with, "Well, you're engaged, aren't you?" To which I again replied, "Nope, not engaged either." Finally she gives up and innocently said, "Well, why did I think that?" And as nonchalantly as I had replied to the questions before, I said, "I'm not sure why, either, because I'm gay."

To my surprise, she burst into laughter, only pausing long enough to respond with a playful, "You're so funny, you're always joking!" We both smiled and I headed back to my office.

As I tried out various strategies for revealing the truth about my life and my relationships, I discovered that it was much easier (and often more fun) to stop working so hard to break things down for other people. Over time I just stopped censoring anything (within reason!) that I said about my relationship, my partner, and all of the usual social topics shared with friends, acquaintances, family, and even strangers. If I'm talking about my partner, I say, "my partner" and I use the pronoun "she." There - I'm out. It's that easy.

If, for example, I need to hire a service person to fix my toilet, I will indicate that I may not be there, but my partner Teresa will be when he arrives. I don't pause for permission or acceptance, and I don't invite comments or feedback about my sexual orientation either. To do so would indicate that it matters to me what the plumber (not Joe) thinks about my relationship status - I've invited him to my house to fix my toilet, not to judge my relationship. I will not pretend I have a husband or that I am single so that the plumber feels more comfortable. Sadly, there was a time I would have, though.

One of my favorite stories about how this strategy does not always work without a hitch is the time Teresa and I went car shopping. When we arrived on the lot we started looking at various vehicles and because I was the primary driver-to-be of this new car, I was most verbal about what I liked and didn't like. It never dawned on me that the salesman didn't get that we were a couple - I just didn't think about it.

So you can imagine my surprise when we are test driving a car and he's in the back seat, unsuccessfully making small talk. Midway through the test drive he asks, "So are you two sisters?" And I respond immediately with, "No, we're partners." Still not getting it, he asks, "Really, what's your business?" And I reply with one word: "Love."

I vote we raise the bar. Instead of striving to come out, let's be more specific about this - let's set our sights on the never ending process of being out.

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In the long run it is the only way we're going to get any respect from ourselves or anybody else.

Just out of curiosity, how long did it take for the car dealer to have an ah-ha moment?

This is one of the things I like about being married, when I say, "My husband, Johnny," there is no ambiguity. I love my husband, and I love proclaiming him so, so it all works out. I haven't met someone who's batted an eyelash yet.

In fact, because an Omaha Steaks salesman was so helpful (it was his first week on the job and he accidentally disconnected me, I called back and bought $200 dollars worth of steaks for a friend's birthday.

I told him why, and said the world has enough hate in it and I liked the way he didn't even hesitate when I said "my husband."

He simply replied, "I know about hate."

Money well spent.

I couldn't help but laugh about the car dealer because while I'm mostly het, I have a lot of lesbian friends and years ago went along with one when she was car shopping. At the Subaru dealer the immediate assumption was we were partners....ah those stereotypes.

Great stories.

I say we raise the bar even higher. Let's normalize PDA as a community. It may be easy to ignore "My partner, X," but it's hard to ignore someone making out in front of you.

I'm from the old days when we used to use the term lover. There was no getting around the nature of the relationship with it. But there was also no differentiation between someone you slept with twice, or someone you were in a long term committed relationship with.

Then people started using "partner" to indicate the latter, and I thought it was a pretty euphemistic, if not sanitized and closeted. Partner is really associated with business much more than personal relationships. That said, having aged a bunch, "lover" now sounds too crude and personal to my ears.

I now use ther term partner myself, lacking any better description for the person with whom I've lived and loved for ten years.

Before my transition, nobody ever thought I was joking about being gay, BTW. Actually, most people didn't really have to ask at all.

That's exactly how I handle it too, Michele. Living openly and without hesitation takes care of the "coming out" part.

This is hilarious. It's amusing how a lot of people just don't take the hint or realise when you try being subtle rather than outright. Sometimes you just have to whack them across the face with it.

I just finished serving on a jury this past week in federal court in Manhattan. We were all required to answer questions publicly when we were seated. The third question was who do you live with and what is your relationship? I debated silently a bit until it was my turn, and said, with no special emphasis "I live with my wife." Nobody blinked an eye and nobody asked about it. They heard it, because I had lunch with one of the other jurors and she heard it. But they just didn't care all that much.

I'm surprised they allowed you to serve since you're an attorney. I had been told in the past that wasn't the case. Thank you for serving. Too many people try to dodge it.

And thank you for being publicly out. It always makes a positive difference to show a human face for people who might otherwise believe they've never met 'one of them'.

Appropo of the earlier discussion about terminology, if you had said that you live with your partner instead of your wife, there would be some people who wouldn't get it. That's another example of the importance of marriage in our world. People get who a wife is.

This is a great post,I love it. I totally agree with the approach to coming out as well. A lot has changed in the 15 years I first began telling people "I'm gay" (and too frequently, would get some lame response like, really? you seem to feminine to be gay). Now, I just live my life with my partner openly, without the need for prouncements or explanations. I joke with young people I counsel who are coming out that it is possible that one day being gay for them will be just like being a normal person.