The other day, Chris and I moved a number of boxes in our family room so we could prepare a wall for an electrician to look at where we're scheduled to have a built-in bookcase installed. Among the things we needed to move were several DVD sets, which were taken out of a moving box some weeks ago but not returned. Many of these sets were several seasons of a well-known Showtime program portraying gay men called "Queer as Folk." The boxed covers depict males who are obviously gay because of what they wear and how they are positioned together.
As I put the boxes down, still visible from the area where the built-in will go, I saw them in my hands and, instinctively, moved them around in such a way that they would be covered up or disguised, so that the title of the series and the pictures on the boxes wouldn't appear. I didn't want the electrician to see them, to realize Chris and I are gay, and, potentially, to take a negative attitude toward us, even though it's inside our own home we're talking about here.
You might well ask, how do I know the electrician would have a negative attitude towards gay people. I don't for sure, of course. But, believe me, when you've been gay your whole life, when you've encountered a lot of people, and some of them almost imperceptibly showed how they felt about gay people, you develop a sense for this sort of thing. You see how they change sometimes in your presence, how ill-at-ease they become, and you know how uncomfortable they make you as a result.
But, in the case of the electrician, did I jump the gun? Did I just assume I'd get a negative attitude and, therefore, took appropriate measures to avoid it? Or did I not give him a fair chance to prove to me that he didn't have an issue with gay people?
Another example: When I'm on the phone, as I was today with a large corporation, and I'm asked the name of my partner, I always pause giving Chris's name. Yes, Chris is short for either Christopher or Christine. But, most of the time, the person I'm talking to figures out through our conversation that Chris is male. Often I can't avoid using the pronoun "he" when referring to Chris, even though I try. Obviously, there's no question then that Chris and I are gay and in a relationship.
Why do I hesitate giving Chris's name? Am I making an assumption that the person on the phone, after discovering that I'm gay and Chris and I are in a relationship together, will treat me differently, because he or she naturally has prejudices against gay people? Or am I simply protecting myself because I've taken so much teasing in the past over being gay that I just don't want to bring that on myself again?
A final example: When the moving company from Victoria delivered our possessions to the house in __________, I overheard one of the fellows bringing in furniture say that Chris and I were brothers. I took note of his comment immediately, and I wanted to correct him. I wanted him to know that Chris and I are gay, that we're a couple, and that he shouldn't make assumptions about two men living together.
But I chose not to take on this battle. I made a quick decision that, in the end, all I wanted was our possessions to arrive safely in the house, and I knew I'd never see him again anyway. What would be the point of making clear that Chris and I are a gay couple?
Except it's yet another example where I didn't stand up for myself, where I allowed someone to make assumptions about us, where I missed the opportunity to clarify, to inform, and, potentially, to expand awareness.
The lives of gay men and couples are filled with these situations, where we feel we need to hide who we are in one way or another because we just don't want to cause any trouble, or because we don't want to make someone feel uncomfortable around us, or because we don't want to risk people's attitudes changing toward us.
But every time we do this, we invalidate who we are. We marginalize the individuals we are and the relationship we share with the most important person in our lives. All because we don't want other people to know about us, or we don't want to face any negativity that may come our way.
I'm all for making other people feel comfortable, but at what price? I've been an out gay male for twenty-five years, and I've been in a relationship with another gay male for over seventeen years--a relationship every bit as committed as that shared between heterosexual couples. But our society still makes assumptions when they see two men together, particularly when the two men are seen together all the time, in the same places. And those assumptions can lead either to a positive reaction, a negative one, or indifference.
As gay men, we never know what to expect when it comes to people's reactions toward us, and we sure as hell don't want to feel any of the negativity we were subjected to when we were in grade school, and the children there had no tolerance for us at all. In some respects, I think it's just easier to assume people will respond to us negatively, just like the kids at school did all those years ago, and to take appropriate measures to ensure that doesn't happen. But, every time we do this, we allow a little bit of who we are to fall away, and we become less and less the full human beings we were meant to be.
So, I ask you: Am I the problem? Because of my actions and reactions, do I allow being gay to continue being an issue when, possibly for most people, it's not? Or do I do what is necessary under the circumstances, not giving people the benefit of a doubt, because I've been burned too many times before and can't bring that upon myself even one more time?