let’s talk about it

I’m not sure why I need to say anything since, as a friend once said to me when I expressed surprise that a co-worker didn’t know I was gay and had asked me about my wife (I assumed that everyone knew I was gay; after all, in 1988 at that organization I’d successfully spearheaded the fight for a non-discrimination clause that included sexual orientation, and had lobbied–albeit unsuccessfully, though they’ve since come around–for domestic partner recognition), “Yeah, you’re so gay, even dogs know it.” I remember coming up with alternative versions for a while afterwards: “You’re so gay, even dead people know.” “You’re so gay, even the furniture can tell.”

But since there still may be someone out there who doesn’t know, and because today is National Coming Out Day, yes, I’m “that way.” As a three-dollar-bill. Let’s all whisper now: “G-A-Y.”

Today at work the University hosted its 18th annual celebration of National Coming Out Day. “Celebration,” though, really is a vast overstatement for today’s event, which this year consisted of a panel discussion of four out campus leaders about their own coming-out process, particularly in the context of their work as faculty and administrators at a major university, and also in the wake of comments from a recent visiting lecturer who said that, given the suicide of former UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Denise Denton, an out lesbian, people in high positions in the UC system should “think long and hard before coming out.” One of the panelists rightly called “bullshit” on that statement. My intent is not to denigrate today’s session, which I enjoyed and found very interesting, and which I hope portends more opportunities for the campus GLBTI community to come together, but it wasn’t on par with what I’ve heard about more social and celebratory events from earlier years that took place in the courtyard with free food.

One particularly heartening thing about today’s panel discussion was the overwhelmingly positive experiences the panelists have had as out leaders at UCSF. Of only apparently four out administrators at the associate vice chancellor level or above throughout the entire UC system, we have two of them at UCSF, along with at least one assistant dean and the vice-chair of pediatrics. The student newspaper published a two-page spread of the University’s “Out List” of faculty, students and staff willing to go on the record as out in the University community, and the list included over 400 names. I think that’s pretty impressive, and speaks well to this university’s commitment to supporting its GLBTI community.

My own coming out occurred over a period of many years, starting in 1980 as a freshman at Harvard, where coming out was an easy process, especially as a member of the all-male Glee Club, which seemed to attract a preponderance of gay men. The environment at Harvard then was largely supportive, my homosexuality was pretty much a non-issue there, and I’ve continued to treat it as such in conversations with friends, colleagues and strangers (where and when it comes up); in fact, I’ve found that assuming and presenting it matter-of-factly as completely normal and unremarkable–which of course it is–people tend to react that way in return, or at least keep any negative reactions to themselves.

I implied above that coming out is not a singular act, but a process. While I’ve always been out with friends and colleagues since coming out to myself in 1980, coming out to my family was an altogether harder thing to do, and took significantly longer. My sister knew earliest–finding out by accident–and was the most homophobic for many years, though she’s since turned around 180 degrees and is a good friend and very supportive of me and my relationship with Jeff. Gradually I came out to cousins, aunts, uncles, etc., leaving mostly just my parents and grandparents. I never did come out to any of my grandparents before they died, and I came out to Mom and Dad only in 1992, which at the time seemed to have been much too long a wait, but now that it’s also nearly 15 years in the past, seems to be part and parcel of the same coming out process that started in earnest at least 26 years ago.

I’ve been very fortunate. My family and friends have been uniformly accepting, my parents adored my previous partner, Jay, and my Mom loves Jeff (I just regret he never got to meet my Dad, who died during our first months together). And it’s been a non-issue everywhere I’ve worked, even at the State Department. I decided years ago that any place at which being gay would be an issue for my employer would be one place I wouldn’t want to work anyway, so for me there’s just no reason not to be gayforward from the get-go.

So here and now, at UCSF, it seems almost anticlimactic to participate in National Coming Out Day; this environment is even more affirming for queer folk than any other place I’ve worked. I outed myself explictly though not gratuitously in my cover letter, and implicitly in my resume as well by noting both my involvement with the Unitarian-Universalist Association in leading anti-oppression workshops as well as the existence of this personal blog, easily enough found through a Google search.

Perhaps, then, I should think of it as noting one more year’s passage of time in a life of Being Out, just as a birthday is as much the recognition of another spin of an ongoing cycle as it is the celebration of one single day. Here’s to one more fabulous turn of the wheel, then.

Over at Rebel Prince, Jeff also talks about coming out and being out.

One thought on “let’s talk about it

  1. Boy, living here in California is very odd. On one hand, I feel like I am living in a much more accepting place than back in Virginia — well, northern Virginia. My neighbors include a whopping THREE gay couples, and not a single person on my street seems to have the slightest qualms about me being gay.
    That said, San Jose is so much LESS gay than DC. I can count the number of gay bars or businesses on the fingers of one hand, the pride day festivities are miniscule at best, and there’s no “gay” neighborhood to speak of. I can’t decide whether this is a evidence of a mainstreaming of gay culture, mainstreaming that makes being gay unremarkable; or is it that San Francisco is such a huge center of gravity for gay life that it just sucks all the gay life up the peninsula?
    Weird. I was more “gay” back in DC.

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