Recently, we went to see “8” the Play. For those not familiar with it, “8” is a narrative account of the California federal district court trial that overturned Proposition 8, the law that stripped gay and lesbian Californians of their former right to marry. The script is based on the actual trial transcripts, firsthand observations of what went on in the courtroom and interviews with the plaintiffs and their families.
The play was fabulous, very well performed and there was a particular line in it I found compelling. One of the plaintiffs said something akin to “I make a decision to come out every day.” “Really? Every day?” I thought. “You were a plaintiff in one of the biggest court cases thus far this century. I’m not sure how you can get more “out” than that.” Yes, that was my thought for about a millisecond, and then I knew exactly what she meant.
You probably don’t realize how much your conversation or overtures during any given day tells about your family. How often do you reference “husband,” “wife,” “girlfriend,” or “boyfriend”? How many times do you say one of those words in a sentence? When the two of you are out, maybe purchasing something at a store or at the bakery getting donuts, do you reference home or ask if the other has ‘the’ debit card? When both of you end up at the store in August shopping for school clothes? When you fill out paperwork at a doctor’s office? When you are choosing a birthday present for your significant other and are conversing with the salesperson? Have you ever said, “I’m trying to decide on this for my husband’s birthday?” or “ … for my wife’s Christmas present?” When you open your joint checking account? When you’re choosing a Christmas tree and discussing whether it will fit in the living room? When you’re talking to someone sitting next to you on a plane and they make a seemingly innocuous inquiry about your family or holiday plans, how do you answer? When you live and breathe as a family unit, these things are just part of your daily discourse, not something you think about. But start paying attention, every single instance you communicate something about your family, that’s generally how many times per day a gay person decides to come out.
It’s also a decision I inherently make in front of our daughter every day. We don’t lie about our family, anyway, as a rule. We never wanted her to think it is something to be ashamed of or something that should be hidden. Of course, she is aware that some people are not accepting, or worse, but she’s never directly faced hateful, bigoted comments or attitudes from adults. Yet. (Children, on the other hand … Gracious, how I am glad to be out of Oklahoma). She has stated multiple times that she admires how we stand up for what we believe in and who we are. She is apparently unaware that I am filled with anxiety even as I’m doing all of this standing up and being who I am.
And while Colorado is certainly no Oklahoma, it’s no utopia, either. Last May, Denver was ground zero for some of the most bigoted legislative actions this country has seen. In October, walking down the street in Denver during the Zombie Crawl, I grabbed Jo’s hand without even thinking about it, while M had my other informing us that we would all be dressing up as zombies next year. I realized after about half a block what I was doing and had to decide whether to let go. Ironic that I was surrounded by eyes hanging out of sockets and guts trailing along behind people, while I had to decide whether to walk hand in hand with my partner and our daughter down the crowded street. But, after all, zombies are just pretend, we are real life.
It would be marvelous if coming out was a one-time event. You could plan it, get it done, deal with the fallout and if necessary, learn to let go. But that’s not actually how it works. It’s a decision Every. Single. Day. There is no moment to exhale, it’s a continuous, never-ending process, ideally best left to those with thick skin. And if you’re like me and don’t have the thickest of skin, well, you make that decision, anyway.