The AfterEllen.com Huddle: Coming Out Unexpectedly
Coming out to your family and friends is par for the course, and we’ve shared our stories on the site at one point or another. So for this Coming Out Day, I challenged everyone to think of a time they came out to someone they didn’t plan for. A client, a coworker, a group full of people in a bar—coming out doesn’t end with calling your best friend or writing your mom a letter. We have to come out constantly as gay people, and sometimes these stories end up being hilarious.
OK, group: Tell us about a time you came out unexpectedly.
Lucy Hallowell: At the doctor’s office. Once a nurse mistook me for my daughter’s nanny, because who else would I be when my white-coat clad wife came bombing in late to the ped’s appointment? I’m sure she was used to residents scurrying in at the last minute to be at their kids’ appointments but clearly this was the first time she had seen a “nanny” who looked so much like the kid she was caring for (that’s because I birthed her, lady).
“You must be the hired help!”
My wife’s OB broke his hand a couple months before our second kid was born. So, she saw every other OB in the hospital. Every appointment the doctor wanted to talk to her about her post-delivery birth control plan and every time she’d smile and say she wasn’t worried about it. They’d pat her on the head and say “of course not, dear, but you should be prepared” wink, wink. Then she’d smile and grit her teeth and explain in simple terms the way gay ladies don’t have to worry so much about an “oops” baby. Cue lots of awkward flipping through notes and muttering by the doctor about putting a note in the chart about the whole “lesbian situation.”
Dorothy Snarker: I’m sure I have other examples, but this one came to mind because it proves science works. I was at a conference hanging out with a bunch of my fellow attendees after sessions had ended for the day. We were having drinks and just chatting about current events as one does at these sorts of things to avoid being overly personal with strangers. It was shortly after the study about finger length ratio and sexual orientation came out. So we were all comparing finger sizes for fun. And, wouldn’t you know it, the ring finger on my right hand is longer than my index finger. I was the only one in the group with this. So the woman next to me joked, “You must be gay!” Ha ha ha. And I said, “Well, yeah, I am.” Science, yo. Science.
“My hand is definitely the gayest.”
Chloe: I pretty much came out to everyone in the bathroom of a New Orleans bar. Many bars.
“In case you guys missed my announcement at the first two bars, I’m gay!”
Nicole Schultz: In August when I had our baby, my wife and I had to come out over and over to hospital staff. Every shift brought in new nurses for me, nurses for the baby and people randomly checking your blood pressure right when you get comfy. It was tiring telling so many people, “No, she is not my sister.” First off, we look nothing alike and secondly, don’t assume anyone’s relationship.
Then came the last day before I was released. On this day the entire hospital visits you from finance to patient services. An elderly woman walked in and notified us she was a counselor. She then asked if my wife was my mother. That went over real well, since we are the exact same age. My wife came out to her immediately and is still pissed to this day.
Heather Hogan: A couple of years ago I ran into my high school boyfriend at a 10K. He was always one of the most golden souls on the planet, so when he suggested we catch up over lunch, I agreed. He went to college on a football scholarship, earned a PhD in some science something while fostering dogs for Iraq and Afghanistan vets, raised double-thousand digits of dollars every year for children’s cancer research, collected every issue of every comic book featuring She-Hulk on the cover, and got married in one of those zero gravity space camp machines. As awesome as a grownup as he had been as a teenager. But his marriage didn’t work out. Because his wife came out as a lesbian a year after they’d been married. And then his post-marriage serious girlfriend situation didn’t work out. Because his girlfriend came out as a lesbian. And how was I? Was I married? Did I have a boyfriend? Er, no. I had a girlfriend. Because after high school I came out as a lesbian.
“Please, go on. I’ve got another five miles to hear about your lesbianism.”
We had a good laugh and a good lunch and before it was over, he’d drawn a sketch on his napkin of a gaydar contraption he planned to build to protect his heart in the future. I promised to help him program it with my extensive research about lesbiankind. He said it was the least I could do since I’d programmed him to fall in love with lesbians when we were both 16 years old.
Elaine Atwell: My queer awakening occurred very suddenly, over winter break my sophomore year of college, so when I came back to school I felt it necessary to solemnly inform all my friends, acquaintances, and at least two professors that I was into girls now, so they should tailor their expectations of me accordingly. (It was hopelessly pompous, but I was actually having a lot of trouble accepting this new thing about myself, and an uninvited speaking tour of campus was my way of coping.)
But the bizarre thing about it was how thoroughly normal it was. I mean, as much as I was dreading people judging me for my newfound orientation, i was also sort of looking forward to the prospect of shooting a confetti cannon of REALNESS at people’s faces. But most people were like, “Oh that makes sense,” and one person actually said, “Wait, weren’t you already gay?” It was thoroughly disappointing.
“Elaine, you’re gay? That’s A-OK!”
Ali Davis: Working on a cruise ship is interesting because you get to meet crew members from so many different cultures—each of my ships had crew members from more than 100 different countries. It also makes being out weird. There are a lot of people who live and work on ships because they want a safe environment to be out and proud in, but there are plenty who are just there for a job and have a real problem with The Gay. I stayed out, but I didn’t dye my hair into a rainbow flag or anything like that.On my second ship, I was getting to be friends with one of the hostesses, a beautiful and mildly self-absorbed Romanian who liked to come by my cabin, order room service, and lament about her romantic life. On this particular evening, she’d spent maybe an hour talking about her main problem, which was that too many men were in love with her, and then remembered as an afterthought to ask me if there were any men I was interested in, just was we were leaving my cabin.
I said, “I’m interested in a woman.” And, because there was a slight language barrier and that wasn’t the answer she’d expected, she said “What?” and I repeated, as we walked along my hall, “I’m interested in a woman.” And she said “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you” as we turned into the busy I-95 corridor that runs the length of the ship.
So I obligingly spoke loudly and clearly and said “I’M INTERESTED IN A WOMAN” to approximately one million crew members who were changing shifts right then. Elena blinked at me for a moment and then said calmly “We can discuss this later.”
“Would you like an hors d’œuvre? Some personal information about my sexuality?”
I didn’t catch any flack for that, but a tiny Filipina top who absolutely ruled the waitresses always glared at me after that to make sure I stayed off of her turf.
Kim Hoffman: When I was going through a breakup last winter, I was mildly devastated (mildly in retrospect because I can’t imagine staying with that person—and see it now as a huge blessing in disguise.) She left me for someone else, (lots of someones, really) and I holed up in my parents’ mountain cabin for a week and a half and then when I returned home, I called upon this astrologist whose daily horoscopes I’ve been checking for years. Call me crazy, but I really needed some guidance from a stranger—it felt strangely better than the humdrum of all the friends and in my life who had an opinion about my relationship from knowing the two of us.
When I emailed the astrologist, she was quick in her response and basically said she needed my birthdate and birthplace, along with the other person’s who I wanted some answers about, plus our names. I responded with all of the necessary info, but about three days later, she wrote back with confusion. “I’m sorry. I guess I misread what you wrote. I thought it said ‘and her name is’ do you mean ‘his’?” Now, whatever—people are people and I guess I was giving an astrologer—a woman of the cosmic world who perhaps doesn’t subscribe to classic patriarchal culture more credit and expectation. But I responded anyway, with, “No, I meant her. She is my ex girlfriend. My ex partner.” IT DIDN’T END THERE.
“I see him clearly, that man of yours.”
“So, she is you? Or she is him?” The astrologer asked, still confused. All I could think was, you know, how could she be asking these kinds of questions, I’ve properly explained that I’m talking about two women here. Finally, I wrote back very clearly (again) and said, “I am a woman, and my ex girlfriend is a woman. We are gay. Me and her. She is a she.” STILL, the astrologer was confused, responding with, “Kimberly is a female…..right?” I was so peeved that she couldn’t read what I was saying. I had come out, and come out, and come out, to this person who is supposed to “see all” but couldn’t see what was written right in front of her. I began to think she must be homophobic and not get many phone requests from gay ladies, but astrology is so feminine and queer, so what the hell? The reading finally happened about two weeks later, and it was actually pretty damn great—she was spot on. However, she said I’d “have her back by July” and by an ironic twist of fate, the only thing that came back from my ex by July was an inappropriate text and a barrel of disrespect for my current/awesome/amazing relationship.
Lessons to be learned here: Sometimes you have to let things be, even if it’s written in the stars.
Karman Kregloe: I’ve been trying to recall a time when I had to come out to anyone on the fly and I simply can’t think of a single instance. Everyone always seem to already know. I guess I just look that gay!
Punky Starshine: I literally just now came out to a coworker that has been working here since long before I started and have now known for almost four years. I honestly didn’t think I could BE any more out, considering last year on Coming Out Day, a coworker sent out a picture to the whole office of all the gays in the office posing quite fabulously. I even sat next to this woman for six months so I’m THINKING she’s just not observant. Either way, she was FLOORED and it was hilarious to me and to all the coworkers within earshot.
Dara Nai: I came out to someone I went to school with and ended up in a relationship with her. I came out to someone I worked with and ended up in a relationship with her, too. I came out to one more girl at another job and ended up sleeping with her for months. I stopped coming out when I started dating lesbians.
Dana Piccoli: I came out in high school, so by the time I made it to college, I was pretty comfortable with it. My college friends used to joke that I introduced myself thusly “Hi, I’m Dana and I’m a lesbian.” Not entirely inaccurate. My junior year, I was in a show that all the incoming freshpeople saw during their orientation week. The final show was soley for the theatre department and we wildly changed the script per tradition. My lesbianism became a running gag with cast members.
“And now my monologue from ‘Xena: Warrior Princess’ episode 64, entitled ‘Fins, Femmes and Gems.’”
My name was dropped numerous times as a big ol’ lesbian. So by the end of the show, everyone in the 400 seat auditorium knew I was a Xena loving lez.
Grace Chu: One time I was on a short term freelance project with another woman. It was just the two of us in a conference room. The last day we finally made small talk, and we found out we were both gay. We knew the same lesbian nightlife promoters and had been at several lesbian parties at the same time.
As we clocked out she gave me a kiss on the cheek, touched my hair and called me “sweetie pie.” It was uncomfortable, but I decided to tell all my friends, because I have a motor mouth, and well… DA FUQ?!?!
Emily Hartl: As a femme it can be surprising for people to learn that I’m a wild homo and I am a hairdresser so I honestly am having a hard time pinpointing a really great story that wasn’t just brushed over by my professionalism as quickly and seamlessly as I could muster in the moment. So instead I will tell a story about my wife.
Shortly after we got married she was in Colorado on business and one of her Rocky Mountain colleagues was very enthusiastic about our recent nuptials and asking lots of questions ending with, “So, what does your husband do?” I often joke my wife is out by being alive, her appearance alone is (usually) enough. I think it might have been the first time Rachel had to come out in a very long time. I guess you never know! Maybe the colleague was trying to use the same tactic I do when trying to feel out if someone is pregnant or not.
“Wait, does this mean my hair is going to look dykey?”
Trish Bendix: I think one of my proudest moments was not long after I’d been with my first girlfriend and we went to a Ben Lee show. She was off getting a drink when I ran into one of my college professors, who identifies as queer herself. She was not the nicest person and acted above her students, like we needed to think and write just like her or else we were wasting our own time as well as hers.
Anyway, I saw her at the show and said hello when my girlfriend came up and I introduced her. My prof looked at me and asked, “Your girlfriend?” like she was surprised or amused that I was gay. “Yup,” I said happily, so glad to have blown her mind or at least challenge her idea of who I was for a moment.
“Have you met my lesbian girlfriend? We’re gay together.”
Anna Pulley: I’ve only ever had one crush on a teacher and he taught high school Biology, Mr. Burns. He kind of looked like a bearded Scott Wolf during his Party of Five era and because of my crush, I basically never spoke at all in his class.
Several years later and newly out, I went to the only gay bar in Tucson (IBT’s represent!) with my girlfriend and there was Mr. Burns with his boyfriend, drinking a Sparks and having, well, a gay old time. I introduced him to my girlfriend in that very out and proud Women’s Studies 101 way, I think even perhaps adding a “She’s a girl” at the end for extra emphasis, and Mr. Burns narrowed his eyes, hand on hip, and without missing a beat, said, “Oh, honey, I knew.”
Still thinking I could shock him, I then revealed my high school crush on him. “Oh honey, I knew that too,” he said. It was then that I learned his name was Scott, and so was his boyfriend! The cycle was complete. Then we all got ripped together. The end.
“Everyone here is a homosexual!”
Who have you had to unintentionally come out to?