Straight and In the Closet on Valentine's Day

By Julie Enszer, AlterNet. Posted February 14, 2007.

One woman challenges readers to go the whole day without revealing the gender of their sweetie.

I tell people that I am a lesbian regularly. In the gay and lesbian communities, we call that "coming out." Sometimes coming out is overt; I say, "I'm a lesbian." Sometimes, it is subtle; I refer to my partner as my "wife" or I mention that I am vacationing with my partner and specify her sex with the pronoun, "her." When I do this, I sometimes still get raised eyebrows or double-takes. I'm fine with that. I appreciate the opportunity to be visible to people who might not know that they know and interact with a lesbian on a regular basis.

I'm confounded, though, when people ask me why I need to tell people that I am a lesbian or that my partner is a woman. Here is the truth: I don't need to tell people that I'm gay. I never plan or want to tell people that I'm a lesbian. It just comes up in daily conversation.

Consider this: I'm at the grocery store checking out and the cashier says, "Oh, yum, you're making greens!" I, equally chatty, reply, "Actually, I'm not going to make them, but my wife will." She says, without pause, "Well, I'm sure they will be delicious."

Or this: I'm talking with someone at work about the holidays and how happy I am to just have a quiet holiday alone with my partner. In the process of talking about my partner, the work colleague asks, "What does your husband do?" I say, "She's a lawyer." The colleagues pauses, very briefly, but then continues the conversation.

Now these are just two examples of the easy, social ways that I, and other gay and lesbian people, come out. There are situations when it is necessary and much more difficult to come out. An in-law is sick or infirmed; a partner is diagnosed with a disease. Tragic grief and loss are times when many gay and lesbian people are forced to come out to co-workers, family, and friends, to get time off and the support that they need to weather the crisis.

We in the gay and lesbian community understand coming out, but I've found that coming out isn't easy for some heterosexual folks to understand. They still think, but WHY do you NEED to come out?

To answer that, I have a challenge for you: This Valentine's Day, don't indicate to anyone all day what the gender of your sweetie is. Evade. When people ask, "What are you doing this evening?" Say, "I'm having dinner with a someone special," or, "My partner and I are seeing a movie." Some people will assume that the person you reference is of the opposite sex. Some people may think you are in a same-sex relationship. How do you feel about that? How do you think gay and lesbian people feel?

Some people probe further, if they do, avoid revealing the gender. Refer to your significant other as a person without the use of any pronouns. Don't use "him" or "her"; keep the dialogue as "we" or "us." If it gets too uncomfortable, absent yourself from the conversation. If someone probes too much, say, "I'm uncomfortable sharing more with you." How do you feel about that? What does the person you are talking to think about that?

Do it for one day. Valentine's Day. It may be the day we talk the most about our intimate relationships, but it is only 24 hours to not tell anyone the gender of the person with whom you'll celebrate.

Watch how people react. Observe how people -- friends and strangers -- respond to your evasions. How do you feel about concealing the gender of your special someone? How do you feel about other's reactions to your silence? What for you is lost? And what for you is gained?

Try it for one day. See how it goes. Then think about the fact that this is what gay and lesbian people do every day. Either we stay "in the closet" and don't reveal the gender of our sweethearts or we do. My hunch is that after one day of doing the same yourself, you'll understand why we make the choices that we do and you won't need to ask why any longer.