Our Comedy Editor discusses the difficulties inherent in coming out...over and over again!
Even in this day and age, coming out is not a fun experience. For me, telling my mother was the most distressing experience of my life, and I don’t think I could do it again. My wife had a much easier time of it with her parents, but we spent many an awkward evening on her grandparents’ verandah. There are friendships we both had that have never quite recovered from it. Granted, these friendships can’t have been that good to start with, but it’s still tough.
But that part can be done in a week and consequences will start to wane over time, even if that’s a lot of time. Life is such, however, that you will go on to meet new people and each time you are supposed to judge whether they are worth coming out to. Within my own friend circle, my wife and I will oftentimes be introduced as "the lesbians" – even by other lesbians, which I’ve never quite understood. It seems to be a nickname we’ve acquired. Still, job done.
With new colleagues, I’ll slip a quick "my wife" into conversation. I’m getting better at it. But some comings out I have yet to master – and I’m realising the irony of this is that I am so terrified of being judged that I make pre-judgements on who will judge me. A 25-year-old makes references to my "husband" and I am quick to correct her. But faced with a similar experience recently by a colleague in her 40s, I managed to answer "And what does your husband do?" using the brand new pronoun of 'mmfferryeah'. "Mmfferyeah, a playwright." I kid myself that I’m mostly worried about embarrassing the person I’m talking to. That’s largely bollocks. The colleague later discovered and plainly couldn’t give two hoots.
But then there’s the next layer out – shop assistants, bus drivers, people you meet on the street. The common argument here (and by common argument, I mean excuse I make in my head to absolve myself of all personal responsibility) is that really, my sex life is none of their business. What I do in the privacy of my own home … my argument starts to crumble. Gay rights have come a long way in the past 50 years. There have been times in the past and there are still places in the world where people have risked tremendous abuse and physical violence just to walk down the street hand in hand. If it weren’t for these people, I wouldn’t have a wife now. Yet I continue to use the ‘mmfferyeah’ pronoun for fear of being – shock horror – looked at askance.
Widespread adjustment of the social norms is the next stage in the gay rights struggle. So I’ve been trying to make an effort. It’s not going fabulously. Last Friday I was in Marks & Spencer and lost my wife; I thought she might be in the changing room. Changing rooms are a particularly tricky beast. You can’t resort to the old cover-all of "I’m looking for my partner." They’re female changing rooms. Either you out yourself, or you have the assistant believing your boyfriend is a peeping tom or a transvestite. So the ‘friend’ word comes out. "I’m looking for my friend." Eugh. Not good enough. In the next few years, I want to have children. Do I want them to see that they should only to refer to their Mummies being married behind closed doors?
So I took a deep breath, but was once more flummoxed by realising the sales assistant was of Asian origin. No headscarf or overt religious paraphernalia; she was just, you know, a bit Other. My head leapt to the same conclusions as with the 40-year-old colleague and I nearly chickened out on the basis that she wouldn’t understand. I approach the changing rooms.
I was right, she didn’t understand. I was met with a look of incredulity. I immediately put this down to her being shocked and appalled at never having heard such a term in her incredibly sheltered upbringing. Most likely she spent most of her time cooking and would later enter into an arranged marriage; her parents would change the channel if they encountered gays on the television. There is, of course, no chance that her look of bewilderment was down to the rushed delivery of my one, carefully rehearsed, line. What a bigot I really am.
I tried the same thing later in TK Maxx and was met with blank indifference. I’m not sure if that’s progress, but I'll keep trying, knowing it will never get me shot or arrested. And I will try to enunciate.