“It’s important to acknowledge the cost of living authentically,” says the JeffLGBTQ+ president.
I have told my friends the joke countless times. I love being gay because it means I can sip, eat and do whatever I want: tiki drinks with umbrellas, fussy pastries, lattes and even that ever-present nemesis of traditional masculinity, quiche. My favorite pants are white capris with blue-pinstripe cuffs and a loose hemp belt. I’m a part-time avant-garde theater critic. What’s the worst that will happen? Someone calls me “gay”? Yes, I am. Thank you, moving on.
While I certainly can laugh at the way being gay has liberated me from expectations of gender, the joke illustrates a truth. It’s an easy mistake to think of being closeted as just one thing. After all, you’re only keeping a single secret, perhaps two: your sexuality and/or gender. What I didn’t realize before understanding I was gay—and what you might not realize—is how a secret consumes your life.
How do you dress when you want to divert suspicion and attention? Who do you speak to when you’re scared an unintentional mannerism might expose you? What hobbies and interests do you allow yourself before the hammer comes down swiftly for any deviance from the norm?
I held this position before coming out—existing, from my own perspective, as a “non-person,” scared enough of repercussions to allow myself a personality. I began college soon after coming out. Studying at a liberal, cosmopolitan university with a vibrant queer community meant I was free enough from judgment to safely be myself.
However, there wasn’t much of “myself” to be. Other than this secret I had so centrally guarded and intense studying to try to allow my escape, I hadn’t developed myself as a person. It’s lonely trying to discover the basis of yourself as your peers begin crafting their lives based on already established senses of self.
Yet, in a certain way, the blank slate seemed liberating. Without preconceived notions of myself, I felt open to trying anything. I worked in campus media, hosting a weekly radio show and writing as a critic for the school paper. I learned to cook, fence, debate, read tarot and perform improv. Some stuck, some didn’t, but I found pieces of myself and friends for my journey along the way.
Compared to the process of becoming a person, my coming out story is boring. I told my sister first and then took tentative steps with close family before taking that final, modern-for-2012 plunge: adding “likes men” to my Facebook profile. I wouldn’t call it a fun process, but ultimately, it was mercifully safe and drama-free.
It’s lonely trying to discover the basis of yourself as your peers begin crafting their lives based on already established senses of self.
More dramatic is the process of continually coming out. A friend makes a far grimmer joke than mine about tiki drinks: to be a gay man is to be continually called slurs from moving vehicles.
I must ask myself, what level of openness is a risk? When I walk down the street, arm in arm with my partner, isn’t that a way of coming out and risking the same rage and violence I was concerned about as a teen? What level of professional risk am I assuming being openly gay? Where is it safe to pursue my residency? No one likes to dwell on the ugly reality that life isn’t safe for queer people in broad swathes of the country, but I think it’s important to acknowledge the cost of living authentically.
What’s interesting—and beautiful—for the courageous people who choose the vulnerability of coming out in a hostile world is the possibility of the person you can be and the life you can find. Myself included. I will drink my latte and munch my quiche, dance, kiss and love whoever I like. However scary the punishments a hostile world might offer, they’re not nearly as scary as the alternative. Coming out is choosing life, even in the face of violence.
Blake Weil is a Sidney Kimmel Medical College student and president of JeffLGBTQ+.