So here is a question I want to throw out there. Are you comfortable being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender?
This came up because of an incident I had last week.
First some background. I graduated in December from the Valdosta State University Langdale College of Business. I was a good student and worked hard in school, especially considering I am also VP at a local IT company. To that end I graduated with a 3.89 GPA and the business school presented me with the Outstanding Senior Management Award for 2013. It was an incredible honor that I humbly accepted.
At the event I felt a bit like a politician. I walked around greeting my professors and generally making small talk. Then out of the blue a teacher from my middle school (24 years ago!) came up to me. Incredibly I remembered her name and greeted her. She proceeded to say how proud she was of me and called me a "fine young christian man". Then she asked if I was married.
I wear a wedding wring. My partner and I have been together for 12 years and while we are not legally married, I consider him my husband in every way that is important. I replied that I was not yet married, but I did have a partner of 12 years. Her expression changed, the smile faded, the area around her eyes tightened and she replied, "Oh, I see". She made a bit more small talk and then excused herself.
I've been out for 13 years publicly, 14 years privately and I've known I was different my entire life. It was a hard process and very difficult in the beginning, not from my family, but for me to come to terms with being gay. Now, for the most part, I am very comfortable with who I am. I'm proud of the relationship I'm in. I'm happy with the life I've built and the friends I have.
The only thing that gets tedious is the constant process of coming out. I think we delude ourselves into believing that we come out at the beginning and then it is over. The truth is that we never stop coming out. Nearly every day of our lives we will make some decision to be honest about who we are, or to let a moment pass by without comment. In conversation to we refer to the one we love in a gender neutral way, or make a point to emphasize their gender? How do we refer to our relationships? How do you broach your sexuality with a newly hired employee, or what if you are the new employee? The vast majority of the time I don't think about being gay. I think about living my life.
Then there are the situations like the business banquet. I obviously disappointed this teacher. Do I care? Actually not so much. I try to be open minded and allow others their beliefs. Everyone needs to believe in something to get through their lives. In return I expect the same respect for my beliefs. In disappointing her I hope that I sparked at least some question in her mind and challenged the obvious prejudices she holds. Did it bother me? Yes. I still get uncomfortable when situations thrust my private life front and center. But I no longer back down from my beliefs or rights.
I think the real danger is complacence. By being honest and carefully balancing that "on the edge of being uncomfortable feeling" we challenge others to see us. Sexuality is not as simple as something like race because our community can hide much easier. That can be a safety blanket that we grab for too often. Please don't get me wrong either. Do not put yourself in harms way, but be proud of who you are, of your relationship, and of your community.
So, what is your story? Are you comfortable being gay (or lesbian, bisexual or transgender)?