“Oh, no thank you. I’m actually waiting for my girlfriend to get back from the bar.”
“You’re gay? Oh. That’s unfortunate.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry.”
“It’s just a dance.”
“No, I can’t. I’m really sorry.”
Women go through life apologizing. When we have a question in a meeting, when we are speaking up in a large group, when we accidentally cut someone off in a conversation—and for queer women, when we come out. It seems like our every sentence is preceded by “sorry.”
We are terrified of coming off as rude. We insert exclamation marks, smiley faces, and “justs” in our emails. Even in this beautiful time in history where women are finally speaking up, we still have manners ingrained in our minds. We are seen as weak but are expected to be strong. We are supposed to take our emotions, shove them down our throats, and digest them on our own time. If we are uncomfortable, we are expected to sit with it. To be seen as loud or bossy or rude is to be seen as undesirable. If men are intimidated, that means they don’t want us, which means we will end up alone. We don’t remember who told us this or when, but it’s always there.
Queer women face this shitstorm and more. When we tell a guy that we are gay, we are rejecting him for being a man when he’s used to getting everything he wants for that same reason. We are “different.” If we want to come out to a roomful of strangers, not only do we have to speak up against those who are present, but we also have to speak up against an entire heteronormative society. Our slight correction about our assumed sexuality is a minor uprising. It’s no wonder that some of us would rather stay quiet than to stand up for ourselves. It’s no wonder that we apologize for coming out.
“So are you seeing anyone?”
Wow, this Uber driver is getting pretty personal pretty fast. I’m already trying to wrestle with the fact that I am 30 minutes late to dinner, and I hate everything about my outfit, but now I’m faced with this incredibly personal conversation with a stranger. I can’t be blatantly rude, so I’ll try to send the message that I am not into chatting by being vague.
“Yes, I am.”
“Ahhh, I see. What’s his name?”
“Actually, it’s a her.”
Despite my loud mouth personality, I avoid confrontation like the plague. I have never gotten into a real fight. I have never broken up with someone (to their face), and my teenage angst was released through cold shoulders and seething passive-aggressive retorts. No one bothered me because I didn’t bother anyone else. But now, my mere existence bothers people. My love is faced with hate. After a lifetime of being a doormat, coming out seems combative. Like I’m constantly fighting against heteronormativity. When someone assumes I’m straight, I have to tell them that they are wrong. And telling someone that they’re wrong is rude. And I am not rude.
“Oh, you’re gay? I would have never guessed it. You don’t look like a lesbian.”
“Oh, um, thanks… I guess.”
When I come out to a stranger, and I am hit in the face with any sort of ignorant, backhanded, or otherwise offensive comment, I feel my insides burst into flames of fury. My ears get red, my nose flares, and my fists clench. To balance this fiery heat, I go stone cold silent. For people who know me, this reaction signals a quiet calm before a screaming storm, but to others, it could be seen as agreement with what was said. But I don’t agree. I am sitting in silence and nodding my head as the conversation continues, but I am listing every single reason why this person is being wildly inappropriate from the comfort of inside my own brain, where no one can accuse me of being ill-mannered.
“I mean, I’m totally fine with gays. It doesn’t even bother me that you’re, uh, gay. You’re one of the cool ones, though. My thing is, like, I just don’t want to see it, you know?”
“No, I don’t know.”
“You know how gays are always all over each other? I have little kids. I don’t know how to explain it to them. They just won’t understand.”
“No, I don’t think I’ve seen that. And kids will go along with anything. You can tell them whatever they want, and they’ll just accept it.”
In some situations, I am braver.
Simply insinuating that someone is homophobic or hateful is offensive because it means that we are questioning their opinions, which are brutally protected as they reflect our morals and character. But this does not come down to opinion. This comes down to human rights. It’s someone’s “opinion” that ranch dressing should not go on pizza; it’s not their “opinion” that queer people should be hidden. There is no way for someone to defend this without admitting that they are a shitty person. So where does that hate get channeled? Right at the person who has challenged them. And sometimes, I don’t just challenge these people with my words. I challenge them with my actions. To them, I am saying, “not only do I disagree with you, I am going to do exactly what it is that you dislike.” What a spiteful bitch I can be when I’m not worried about being “polite.”
“You know what I don’t get, though? These people that are dressing up as different genders and whatever. You can’t even calls them hes or shes. What are they, its?”
“Well, they’re not its. They can tell you what pronouns they prefer. I just feel like everyone can do what makes them happy, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone.”
“Nope, still obnoxious.”
God FORBID I try to stand up for other members of the LGBTQ community. I have been complained to about gay men, transgender people, and even other lesbians, as if my cisgender appearance means I am going to hop on board the Train of Detest. I am expected to side with those who are present rather than those who are not because it is not polite to correct people, especially if they think that they are making a joke.
All of these interactions are different, complicated, and challenging. But I challenge myself to stand strong.
Coming out allows me to take control of my life and speak up as a woman and as a lesbian. It’s not a single event like it is portrayed in the media. We have to come out every single day. So if one day someone says something shitty, that doesn’t mean that the next day will be the same. There are still cases where I feel that coming out may put me in danger. Scary and hateful people are still out there, especially in certain areas of the country. But after the countless times that I have had to come out, while it still makes me a little nervous, I have found that it is never as bad as I think it’s going to be. I always feel liberated. I always feel like I’m not holding anything back. I always feel simultaneously vulnerable and empowered. I have found taking the risk of being “aggressive” is worth the reward of being autonomous. I don’t care if I’m being rude: I’m a proud lesbian.
I may have been raised to be polite, but I have also been raised to be truthful. By not correcting people when they assume my girlfriend is a friend or that they assumed the wrong sexual orientation, I am accepting what they said as the truth. And by not speaking my truth, I am lying to others and to myself. I find nothing shameful about my sexuality, so I shouldn’t feel shameful when speaking about it. I worked too hard to be true to myself and my feelings to only selectively share.
I will always speak my truth. And I don’t lie to people. That’s just rude.