When Coming Out is Too Risky, and What You Can Do.

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Dear Lindsey,

I am a 20 yr old undergraduate student. I live in India and am gay. I am not out to anyone. My friends, they talk about their crushes and I have never been able to understand that and thus, I don’t  participate in their conversation. A friend of mine has noticed this and has been subtly asking me if I am gay. I am too deep in the closet and don’t want to come out till I have finished my studies. So I need to avoid her questions. But I don’t know how to do that without outing myself or lying. How can I deftly change the topic next time when she asks me “if I am interested in tribadism.”?

-AC

Hey AC,

Thanks for writing. I’m sorry to hear you’re too deep in the closet to come out, but please know that you aren’t alone in that. Many of us came out after years in the closet. I was in the closet for years, and I was so closeted that I didn’t know I liked women.

I liked guys but nothing ever happened, and it wasn’t until later that I put together why nothing really ever happened with guys. I couldn’t really get interested in guys any more than gossip over who was cute or not. I never noticed if guys were flirting with me, so I never reciprocated. And when they kissed me, I never felt anything.

My first crush on a girl woke up my heart, brain, and body to what a crush was supposed to feel like.

But it was forbidden.

I grew up in a conservative homogenous suburb, and went to an even more conservative private school. My peers were sheltered; fag was a common insult, and anyone who was suspected of being gay was teased.

I grew up in a conservative homogenous suburb, and went to an even more conservative private school. My peers were sheltered; fag was a common insult, and anyone who was suspected of being gay was teased. 

I found the courage to take part in the gay-straight alliance—so obviously everyone thought I was gay—but I maintained that I was only an ally. It wasn’t until college that I found the courage to come out, and even then I was afraid of being rejected by my peers. Bi for me was a safe middle ground; and I stayed bi for a few years until I realized that I still never really saw guys as romantic or sexual partners. So I came out again, this time as a lesbian.

I don’t claim to know how things are for you in India, but I saw The Journey and Google tells me that being a lesbian is still a prisonable offense where you live. You have my permission (not that you need it) to stay in the closet as long as you need to, as long as it feels safe for you. Just because you don’t feel safe to be authentically you right now doesn’t mean that you won’t get there in the future. When you feel hopeless, think about the future you want to create for yourself. Dig into what that looks like. Maybe you can create a secret Pinterest board and pin images that speak to you with no worry of being discovered, or find some other space online where you feel free to be yourself, and where you have reasonable assurance of privacy.

When you feel hopeless, think about the future you want to create for yourself. Dig into what that looks like. Maybe you can create a secret Pinterest board and pin images that speak to you with no worry of being discovered, or find some other space online where you feel free to be yourself, and where you have reasonable assurance of privacy.

If you want to stay in the closet, I’d focus on brainstorming some subtle ways to respond to your friend when she challenges you. I’m not sure how close you are, but here are some ideas:

  • Before I came to college, I had my heart broken by a guy from my town and I just really haven’t gotten over it. That’s why I never talk about crushes.
  • Actually, I like the same guy that [some other friend] likes, but I know she’d be so jealous if I ever said anything
  • I don’t really like anyone here
  • I like this guy I met over the summer/at my internship/on my volleyball team, but he doesn’t go here
  • I’m still not over my ex
  • I haven’t really had a crush on anyone yet, is that weird?
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Lying to your friend outright is one option and it may be the safest.

If you try to change the subject, you’ll only confirm to your friend that you have something to hide. So you could respond to her question of whether you like girls with a total non-sequitur, like “How did you do on the chemistry test?” or “I was considering going to the documentary screening tomorrow, wanna come?”

Lying to your friend outright is one option and it may be the safest. If you try to change the subject, you’ll only confirm to your friend that you have something to hide

Once your friend thinks you’re hiding something, human nature means that she’ll probably either dig deeper to get the truth out of you or assume that your discomfort confirms her suspicion — i.e., that you really are gay. You have a better idea than I do what she might do with that information, so you need to take whatever is in your best interest in staying safe.

If you aren’t comfortable telling her you’re gay despite her leading questions you could tell her that you feel self-conscious when the topic of guys comes up since you haven’t really had a strong crush on anyone yet—in other words, it’s difficult for you to join in the conversation since you don’t understand their feelings. This sidesteps the gay issue, although your pal may still press.

In terms of changing the subject vs. lying, I’d honestly veer toward lying. Maybe you’ll be believed; if you change the subject every time guys come up, you almost certainly won’t be believed.

Your other option is to tell your friend the truth, either the full truth or some version of it. I know you don’t want to come out until you’re done with school, but why? What will make you more comfortable after college? On the same note, do you imagine coming out to this friend later, when you’ve graduated? Or never? Your friend could be a necessary support and ally for you; she could be the only person you tell the truth to, but I don’t know her enough to help you determine the risks vs. rewards of this. Only you know her. If you’re best friends, it might be worth it to open up.

I have to wonder if she’s asking you these leading questions because she might be gay as well, and just doing a better job of hiding it. Does she ask you in front of the group (where the purpose might be to call you out) or when you two are alone (i.e. it might be safe to open up)? If she brings up other gay things, maybe she is gauging whether it’s safe to come out to you. Just a thought.

Do what you need to do to stay safe and sane. We’re here for you either way.

If you have a question for Lindsey, send it to our editor at memoree@afterellen.com

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