Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Outing Gratitude

October 11 is National Coming Out Day. I remember when it started in 1988 – it was a powerful positive program to affirm being LGBT in the face of the devastation of the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s. In short order it grew and became a national tradition that the Human Rights Campaign eventually took over and continues to run. I never much needed a day to “come out” as for most of the last quarter-century I’ve been affiliated with one LGBT organization or another making it easy to be out. I always appreciate having a day to celebrate the cause in such a positive way and remind the world of our difference. Today I run a non-profit with “gay” in its name. In the ordinary course of day to day life the result is that I am constantly coming out. (“What do you do for a living?” “I run ….”) I live in one of the more progressive and “accepting” areas of the world and have little issues when having these interactions. When I traveled internationally recently it became an interesting refresher course on coming out and the power of being out.

My partner (boyfriend/lover/better-half) and I recently took a two week cruise. As a veteran of many prior sailings, I pretty much knew what to expect. This would, however, be the first one I did that didn’t have some sort of LGBT group formally on board that I was affiliated with and the first time I’d be traveling with a romantic companion. Our first outing occurred when we contacted the cruise company to add my partner to the room. There was the usual list of questions that they asked to make sure that the experience met our expectations, including whether we needed one bed or should it be two. The question that bemused us most was when the agent asked: “Why are you adding him to the room?” After a stunned moment my immediate instinct was to stay “none of your business” – but instead I said “Love!” The agent went “Oh. Right! Yes. Great!” And we continued on.

Every day on board at 7:00pm there was a gathering of LGBT passengers. While we never quite made it, there were many couples and singles who were on board and we became acquainted with. We met a number of wonderful non-gay people as well. All in all quite ordinary, which make the exceptions worth noting.

One day we were going from the spa back to our room and I was wearing a shirt I’d never dare wear around my job, but I enjoy wearing. (See photo.) An older woman asked me about it. Now let me be clear – cruising tends to draw an older demographic, but the line we were on and the route we were taking drew a particularly specific crowd. Our fellow travelers were very white and the average age was north of 80. We assumed the crowd to be quite conservative. The older lady asked “Where are you the Director?” And I told her: “The … GAY ….” And she looked me up and down and said “The … WHAT …?” I said “GAY” she said “GAY?” louder. She then looked at my partner. “Him too?” We both nodded and said yes. “Oh, how nice!” And off we all went on our separate ways wishing each other a lovely evening.




Less accepting were “Fran” and “Judy.” (These two women whom we never directly interacted with nonetheless received names and backstories from us.) They each had separately but identical reactions to our presence. Glares. Heads shaking. Tsk-tsk’s. Both worked hard to literally turn their back to us so they wouldn’t have to be exposed to us. The couldn’t look at us, especially if one of us had an arm around the other’s chair – not even necessarily making direct physical contact. During the times where there was some public display of affection it was consistent with the dozens of others we’d be circling the Promenade Deck. These people would physically turn their bodies so as to not have us in their sight lines. On the final night of the cruise "Fran" came into the dining room smiling and radiant. They seated her so she had a diagonal view of where we were seating and she saw us and her smile disappeared and a darkness overcame her. She glared at us her whole meal. I’m sad for her that just our being together (and the other LGBT couples on board) resulted in such a change in her demeanor.

Being who you are is a privilege and carries responsibility. It’s not always comfortable. Authentically being who you are isn’t just a gay thing. It’s why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are popular and Hillary and Jeb are less so. I’m grateful for the ability to be out and proud about who I am, knowing that isn’t true to too many. 

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