I wrote this post nearly two months ago. After writing it, I immediately went back into hiding–I wasn’t sure I was ready to declare myself militantly gay, and did not publish it.
And so I submerged myself again in the rapid current of life. There’s no greater indictment of the “ambient gayness” I coined below than the fact that I ran back to its comforting embrace within a couple of days, all the fervor of this post forgotten.
Better late than never, I suppose.
Immediately prior to the beginning of Pride Month (formerly known to me as June), I experienced a jolt that upset the cruise-control complacency of my ambient gayness.
A former co-worker of mine, whom I very much liked and respected, took a dig at my identity online. And it hurt. We were not close friends, but when you’re in the office trenches together for several years, a warm camaraderie develops that passes for friendship. She had been to my home, the house that I share with my partner, and she mentioned him by name from time to time when we spoke at the office. She had been in my social media network since she left our company. She is fully versed in my “lifestyle.” (I kinda hate calling it a lifestyle. Unlike Ellen DeGeneres, we don’t say “pass the gay salt”* at home–our lifestyle isn’t defined very much by our both being dudes.)
I knew that my former co-worker was a devout Christian. I did not know that she was willing to be homophobic or play-act homophobia in the service of her faith. That was the hurtful part.
Here was the setup for her slip-up: some ridiculous dime-store pastor was dispensing petty theological Facebook turds, twisting a Bible verse that used the word “straight” as a pretense for proving that there’s no such thing as a “gay church.”
The whole post was asinine on its face. First, “straight” is only an antonym to “gay” when used in a specialized sense. Second, it’s an English word that was translated from a Greek word that most assuredly had no connotation of sexual preference. Third, of the many progressive theological arguments for tolerance or acceptance of gay folks, the idea that there’s some “gay church” is not on my gaydar. It’s too made-up to even qualify as a straw man argument.
Somehow, though, my former co-worker took the bait. She voiced her agreement in no uncertain terms. To his shadowboxing assertion that there is no gay church, she said that there most certainly is not! Her comment was one of hundreds, and added nothing to the conversation except bandwagoning.
Here’s the part that stumps me: does she not understand that Facebook posts her comments directly to her friends’ feeds? If so, was it her intent to announce that her allegiance is now with crackpot hate mongers rather than actual friends and acquaintances who are members of and allies to the LGBTQIA+ community? I suspect that she thought her comment might only show up for her like-minded friends, so that she could demonstrate her holier-than-thou bonafides while continuing to smile in my virtual face.
There’s a part of me that hopes she misread the post and did not realize she was cosigning on hate. However, I was hurt and I was not going to stick around and find out. I made a terse comment, a concise version of the above three paragraphs, and blocked her. I was hurt and disgusted.
I stewed in my feelings, hurt by this betrayal. (Maybe you get at this point that I was hurt.) My feelings were an unpleasant, gauzy haze of not-rightness. Why was I letting this minor person in my life dominate my thoughts?
Then the month formerly known as June rolled around, and I asked myself, “Isn’t this Pride month?” I actually had to Google it to be sure–that’s how disconnected I have become over the years.
Enter my ambient gayness.
I have tried really hard over the years to portray myself as post-gay. I came out to my father when I was 22. I built a network of mostly gay friends in Atlanta after college, so that there was no “coming out” to deal with. Coworkers found out about me in normal course, sometimes after months, sometimes never if it never came up. I have it listed in my Facebook profile so no one can say I’m hiding who I am; I slide oblique personal details into my posts to make it seem normal, like no big deal.
People see Janet Jackson plastered on my wall during Teams calls at work and maybe notice my Pandora bracelet. I feel self-satisfied with these breadcrumbs and call myself “openly gay.”
However, what I don’t do is post pics of Terry Crews and Michael Strahan and Miguel online and gush over how fine they are. I don’t post pics of me and my partner kissing. I still tiptoe around the act of actually being gay in front of people. It’s something that exists in the background of my identity, never important enough or presentable enough to post for the world to see. This is what I mean when I say that I’ve been practicing ambient gayness.
But what I realize now is that ambient gayness is not sustainable and it is not enough. As long as I continue to sit on the sidelines of my own gay identity, I will be blindsided by “friends” who think that if it’s not worth my time to be upfront with them about it, they can slander me and expect me to ignore it. Or they can do their performative homophobia while I do my performative ambient gayness, and we both pretend that the two are compatible. They are not.
It took me nearly three decades of Pride celebrations to internalize the point, but I’m with the program now. Pride is a time to own, celebrate, and DISPLAY our identities. Saying “I’m gay” is just the beginning. I’ve said the words, but I got stuck there. The words by themselves are important, but they are also sterile and inert. As with anything else in life, talk is cheap. And when you buy friends at that price, you get what you pay for.
I am not saying that I will never be hurt again by a friend who is not the ally I thought they were. But being my authentic self makes it a whole lot easier to smoke out those types of friends sooner rather than later.
That’s why I am genuinely celebrating Pride this year.
With this recent experience as a jump-off point, I plan to write about and explore all the ways that I have pretended to be OK when I wasn’t really OK over the years.
I have been very fortunate in my life in so many ways, so I have denied recognizing to myself and others the grief, the stress, and the confusion of being gay, of being part of a persecuted, misunderstood, and ridiculed group of people. Writing and seeing those words as my own are surreal–these things are supposed to be things that happen to other people. The doses of intolerance and hatred that I have been swallowed may have been small, but they are real and I have to own them.
* Ellen was joking on her farewell show when she said this, so I think she agrees with me.