Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Still Coming Out

Last Sunday, Chris and I went to Ikea Coquitlam.  We were there for my sister and her boyfriend.  They plan to buy a place together in the next few months, and the reason for our trip was to find a number of items to help stage her townhouse before potential buyers arrive for viewings.

Debbie asked for my help because she likes how I decorated our house in Maple Ridge, and because, well, I'm gay, and, as she says, I got all the decorating genes and she got none.  In fact, not only did she not get any decorating genes, she's hopeless.  Utterly hopeless.  You'll have to take my word for it that she needs help.  

Anyway, I should have known Ikea would be crazy busy.  What a gong show.  The whole store was swarming with people.  Generally, there's ample space to move around the wide aisles and displays, and to take a breath, but not so much then.  I think half the Lower Mainland was there.

It was on that stage of people all around us that I became aware of some of them watching me, particularly the straight young men, their pretty wives close by.  What was that look on their faces?  Did they see something that surprised or perplexed them?  Was that disgust?  I couldn't be sure, but I didn't need to be a UBC graduate to figure out why they were looking.  

When Chris and I are out in public together, we're pretty much low key.  Over time, I've made a conscious effort to downplay some of my tendencies so as not to attract negative attention to me or to us.  But this is not a problem for Chris.  He's the man in the relationship, and, like straight men, his gay tendencies, if he has any, are well in check.  In fact, I think he could pass for straight.  If anyone gives us away, it's me.  

It's not that I was gesturing wildly in the middle of Ikea, or sibilating, or that I'd turned up my flame so high that the ceiling nearly caught fire.  But there I was, zeroing in on specific areas of the store (we were in a bit of a hurry), taking stock of items, and expressing opinions about them loud enough for people around us to overhear.  Was it what I said or how I said it?  Perhaps.  Whatever it was, I became aware that I was doing it, and I stopped doing it right away.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I don't live my life for anyone else.  Who cares if people's attention is drawn to me because they figure out I'm gay?  I am gay, for goodness sake.  I'll always be gay, whether I like it or not.  What's the use in trying to hide it?  Besides, I knew I'd never see these people again, so what did it matter if I said the word "fabulous" a few too many times?  

No, the issue for me wasn't what other people saw when they looked at me, but what I saw of myself in their gazes.  I didn't see how I'd most like to project myself, what I'd most like people to see in me, what I'd most like to be.  I didn't see the masculinity that seems to be so effortless for straight men, and for a few gay men who are able to hide their sexual orientation better than others.  

Remnants of low self-esteem?  You bet.  Internalized homophobia?  Absolutely.  Am I angry at myself?  Sure.  Fifty years in, better off now than I've ever been in terms of being settled in my own skin and in my life, I still feel those pangs of shame rise up when I let my guard down and allow who I really am out of the closet.

Does anyone have the right to judge me because I'm gay?  Not a chance, and, in most circumstances, I wouldn't tolerate it.  But it's not anyone I'm worried about.  It's me.


  1. Stay tuned for an email response to this one, my friend. I'd like to explore this a bit more.

  2. Hey Rick. I just found your blog earlier this week, and I've really been enjoying what I've been reading. This is a great post - what a serious and honest topic to discuss: the presentation of our sexuality in public.

    I'm still quasi-closeted, and admittedly a relatively "masculine" young gay man (though I hate these labels so thoroughly... I persist in using them), but I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I am perceived in public. Imagining that people are watching me, looking for that hint that I am not quite like them in some way, and then pin-pointing it and not understanding me as a result.

    So I censor my behaviour. Even when I don't want to.

    Unfortunately, I may do it even more when I am around gay people, concerned that I don't want to appear flirtatious with somebody that I really don't have any interest in. I've been bitten by that tiger a bit too frequently in the past year, and the wounds are never easily cleaned.

  3. Wow! What a great comment. Thanks for sharing it. And thanks for the kind words. I really appreciate them.
    One of the things I've tried to explore in my blog is the myriad of ways we, as gay people, exhibit homophobia toward ourselves, and I believe this post was all about that. If I can write something about how homophobia affects me, and how I see myself, I sincerely hope someone else will see himself in my words, and make changes in his own life to love and accept himself more. That is my goal when I write posts like this.
    Again, my thanks.

  4. Hi Rick,
    I am really enjoying reading your blog. I'm getting through it in chronological order, so I've read everything older than this post, and nothing newer yet. And since this one is now a couple of years old I don't know if you've expanded on this discussion in newer posts! But I was imagining if I were in that Ikea shop listening to you choosing and commenting on the products. You might have thought I was staring too! But it would have been in interest because my interior decorating skills are about zero. Or less. And gay people are usually so much fun to be around, you bet I would have been wanting to follow you. You would have reminded me of someone like Carson Kressley - styling people and their lives on TV. Don't be afraid to be entertaining!

  5. Hey, Melanie.

    What a pleasure to hear from you. I can't believe you're reading my blog in chronological order. Surely, if you went all the way back to February '09, well, my dear, you deserve a metal. I shudder to think what I wrote then, since I have little recollection of it now. And, may I also add, you have a lot of reading ahead of you.

    No matter. I reread this post, and, okay, I have to admit I had a few chuckles. And I liked the last paragraph in particular. Sometimes, I can be my own worst enemy. I just have to be aware of that.

    I like how you chose to look at my predicament at Ikea from a positive point-of-view. And you know what? Why not look at it that way? I guess I'm so used to some of the looks I've gotten over the years that, even if some people don't have a clue I'm gay, not only do I think they've figured it out, but also I think they're disgusted by it. And that's not fair to them or to me, is it?

    Carson Kressley. I wish I were as clever and quick as he is. What a blast that man can be. Plus, he really knows what he's talking about. Okay, so he can be over the top sometimes, and his bright flame often embarrasses me because I think some people see him and think all gay people are like him. But I guess the question I have to ask is, so what? So what if people think all gay people are like him? In the end, who cares?

    Your comments are so sweet and so generous. I really appreciate you taking the time to share them. I sincerely hope to hear from you again. Let me know if you find another post you really like.

  6. Oh I've got lots to say! You'll definitely be hearing from me again.