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Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Ambassador’s Ritual

Written by  Brian George Hose

When I was a teenager I couldn’t wait to come out. I lived in a small-town resembling Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, a place that seemed to have missed the memo that LGBTQ persons live and walk among us in everyday life. Sure, there were mentions of gay people, but they were almost never positive. As such, timing became critical. I would have to wait for a safe, appropriate time to come out to the people in my life.

As I waited, coming out became a kind of goal, the finish line at the end of a marathon of silence. I thought that once I came out everything would be different, that I would have moved to the “next level” as a bona fide homosexual. It turns out I was partially right and mostly wrong. Having been out half my life, I’ve realized that a person doesn’t come out just once – it’s an ongoing process, a kind of ritual that repeats each time a new person is met and moves from acquaintance to friend.

A few weeks ago, I was caught off guard by the coming out ritual. I was at work, talking with two straight guys I’ve known for over a year. We were laughing and joking around when one of them made a series of jokes about how I must be popular with the ladies. I was laughing, caught up in the moment, and said, “Yeah, it’s too bad I’m gay.”

For a moment, everything stopped and the three of us stood in a triangle of silent confusion. I thought I had been openly gay, but my coworkers, like the folks in Mayberry, must have missed the memo. Luckily my coworkers are good guys, the kind that made it safe for me to initiate the coming out ritual soon after meeting them. I could make a joke about how this is proof that straight guys lack active listening skills, but in their defense, I’ve always believed that less is more and it’s likely that I was too subtle in my gayness for them to absorb the message.

What followed was the part of the ritual I hate most. It’s the part where the newly-informed person(s) responds to the news and I feel the need to act as an ambassador for the LGBTQ community. This is also the part where I brace myself for a negative reaction, possibly something quoting Leviticus, which is never fun. Or, equally not fun but in a different way, is the response that tries too hard to assure me that everything is okay, usually accompanied by the line, “Some of my best friends are gay,” which leaves my inner ambassador scrambling for an appropriate response.

The reason I hate this part is that, in acknowledging and accepting that I’m gay, the well-meaning straight person sometimes unintentionally highlights all the ways we’re different, thereby weakening the connection I’m trying to strengthen. This is usually temporary, but for a few moments I always wonder if this is the part where the friendship will begin to fray and eventually evaporate into nothingness.

Fortunately, that moment was short lived. One of them made the obligatory gay friend reference, to which the other joked that we probably knew each other from our gay meetings where we discuss the gay agenda and pick the “in” colors for the upcoming season, and we were back to laughing. Well played, straight guys.

Afterward I was thinking about the coming out ritual and being a gay ambassador and how much has changed since my ritual began nearly two decades ago. Now, we have allies who are willing to try too hard to show solidarity and support, meaning I play ambassador less and less. It makes me happy to know that even in a divisive political climate, the work of those who came before us, who fought for our rights, has succeeded, just as we will succeed for those who come after us.

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