I’m cagey about my sexuality. Always have been. Like Rosie O’Donnell was before she debuted the bad ’80s dyke hairstyle, or Ellen before the whole “I’m Gay!” thing. The only difference is: I’m straight.
See, there, I just lost my cachet.
It started in high school out of solidarity for my gay friends, in the it’s-nobody’s-fucking-business-who-any-of-us-are-having-sex-with vein. In college, it became interesting to me to be intentionally ambiguous. Let them guess. I’d hold hands and snuggle with my girlfriends in public. Even my best friend’s housemate thought she and I were doing it. When word drifted home that I’d turned “carpet muncher” at college, I’d have a solid chuckle about it with my boyfriend, right before I sucked his dick.
My logic was fairly straightforward, if not avant and revolutionary: if every cool, forward-thinking, progressive, attractive, alluring straight person made their sexual orientation slightly more opaque, it would de-emphasize those who had to obscure their sexuality for fear of having their heads knocked in, and it would make the whole thing less of an issue, inspiring men and women everywhere to walk down the street, hand in hand, making out with each other in rainbow-colored sarongs.
When I first started my career as a freelance writer, I was willing to work for any publication that would print my work, for whatever pittance they were willing to offer. I threw my resumé out in every direction and waited to see who threw it back, and who threw it out. None of the local alternative weeklies bit; I thought I would have to start reporting the neighborhood association meetings to the community newspaper (“And in a thrilling turn of events, the committee voted 2-3 to overturn the pooper scooper sanction . . . “).
Around that time, I wrote a fan email to a local writer, a syndicated columnist for neighborhood queer rag that I read with some frequency. We developed a friendly epistolary rapport, based mostly upon the fact that we are both from New Jersey and had the burning desire to outdo one another with our jokes about the mall and the ground effects potential of an IROC-Z. He suggested — probably having assumed that I was a lesbian for reading his column in the first place — that I try to get a gig writing for the queer paper, as they were in need of new writers.
I had an appointment with the news editor, the features editor, and the A&E editor the following week. From talking to a fellow freelancer, I learned that the paper preferred queer writers but never asked about the sexual proclivities of those in their employ. Ultimately, I believed it shouldn’t matter. I liked the paper, I considered myself a lifelong ally of the queer community, and I would work like hell if they gave me a chance. Plus, if someone inquired, or if the situation was such that it just came out, I would not hesitate to reveal that I was straight. Otherwise, though, I was content to perfect the vagueness, apropos my sexual orientation, that I had honed since high school.
During the interview, I was asked if I belonged to any queer organizations. I said that I did not. Shortly thereafter, I got my first writing assignment. The first few pieces I wrote were so painfully bad I cannot read them to this day. But for some reason (methinks desperation), my editors continued to assign me stories, for which I owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
They sent me out to interview directors of health clinics, drag queens, community activists and homeless youth, and they gave me the opportunity to write about timely and important issues. I struck up close, fond working relationships with my three editors. They told me about their girlfriends and boyfriends, upcoming commitment ceremonies and weddings. I continued to refer to my boyfriend Joshua as “my partner,” being judicious with my pronouns all the while.
“Partner” is a word I use exclusively to describe Joshua to other straight people — as part of my brilliant plan to keep potentially close-minded people on their toes — but when I used it with my editors, it felt dishonest. I was inflicting the same burden on myself that had been uninvitingly inflicted upon them: I had closeted myself.
When Multnomah County started issuing same-sex marriage licenses, I volunteered at the courthouse to guide throngs of smiling couples through the corridors of red tape. Every time someone asked me if I, too, was planning to make history, I didn’t correct their assumption. I said that “my partner” and I weren’t ready to take the leap yet. It saddened me that my presence at such a monumental event was enough to confirm my sexuality in everyone’s mind — why would a straight person even be there? — and it made me sadder yet that they were right: I was the only heterosexual who had volunteered.
Most recently, Joshua and I decided we were ready to take the leap. I conveniently failed to tell my editors that “my partner” and I were engaged. It would have given me away. Gay men and lesbians don’t get engaged. They get married. Long engagements are a luxury enjoyed by those of us who know we’ll still be able to tie the knot in a year or six months.
Then the paper hired a new editor, a bisexual woman who was in a relationship with a man. In a brief moment of quasi-heterosexual bonding during a breakfast meeting that involved lots of bacon, I told her that “my partner” was a he. I was momentarily worried that I’d stop getting assignments once word got out, but eventually I came to the conclusion that she hadn’t mentioned it to anyone, because no one mentioned it to me. When dealing with anyone from the paper, I continued to keep myself in a closet that locked from the inside.
Last week, my editor asked me to interview the same columnist I had written a fan letter to two years prior — the one who inspired me to write for the queer paper in the first place and who, in some tangential way, started all of this — about his new book. I went to his house, where he proceeded to tell me all about writing his novel, his relationship with his partner of eighteen years, their recent wedding in Canada, and how the high school theater system is a training ground for the homosexuals of America. After the interview, we caught up on All Things Jersey, and he was kind enough to feign interest in my life.
“Are you in a relationship?” he inquired.
“Yup,” I clenched.
“How did you meet this . . . person?”
“I met h — we met here, shortly after I moved.”
“So . . . is this a man or a woman?”
“Um. It’s. A. Man.”
He outed me.
“You’re straight? Writing for the queer paper? How did that go over?”
“Um, fine? There are lots of other straight people writing for them, like the features editor —”
“Nope, she’s dating a woman now.”
“Well, there are others — ”
“You better be careful. We might rub off on you too. If it doesn’t work out with you and your boyfriend…”
I should have told him I was getting married. I wanted to. But I didn’t. If I was going to be straight, at least I could be tentatively instead of flamingly straight.
“So why did you want to write for the queer paper?” he asked.
I tried to give him the speech that I had prepared expressly for this situation, in which I tell whomever has outed me that it shouldn’t matter if I were straight or gay, that I wanted to write for the paper because I believed in it, that someone’s sexual identity is of little consequence to me, and that I am a staunch supporter of equal rights for all people — except it came out like:
“I don’t know, I just believe that we all have rights, and I don’t care, and no one cares, and I have to go home now.”
They say that once you come out of the closet you have to keep coming out of the closet over and over and over again. I assume that each time I tell someone at the paper that I’m straight it will get progressively easier. Maybe I’ll just mail them all a link to this article. I guess, then, that this is my official coming-out.
This article originally appeared in Nerve’s True Stories.