We were talking about gender, and the difference in friendship rules for boys and girls. One of the girls asked if anyone else had the experience of their parents allowing their sons to invite female friends home with no questions asked, but if she wanted to have a male friend visit she’d be asked if he was a potential marriage partner.
This group of high school youth from Springfield were participating in a training on how to facilitate dialogue about identities. Through the fall and hopefully beyond, these young leaders will guide their peers from high schools around the region in exploring identity differences and similarities, with the goal of making connections and improving relationships with each other.
I recognized her question as the moment to ‘put my two cents in’ and come out.
It’s been years since the awkward days of experimentation – trying to figure out when and how to tell family, friends, students, colleagues . . . let alone juggling the ethics of timing and with whom it was even necessary or morally right to name the explicit label.
For many years, my strategy has simply been to ‘just be’ and trust that my sexual orientation will come up – or not – in an organic way. I decided to act as if everyone already knows – that they can perceive the evidence and make the reasonable assumption for themselves. Generally, this has worked well.
It still happens, though, that there’s a first time one says it in a new setting, with new people. “Coming Out” doesn’t happen just once, but repeatedly, over and over again, because many people remain subtly homophobic and prefer to assume a person is heterosexual until informed otherwise.
The persistence of homophobia means there is always a bit of charge when one comes out in a new context.
The realization is always visceral. We were participating in a student-designed activity on gender. She asked and I recognized, in this group of bright and funny young people – some of whom I’ve known for a few months now but others who I was meeting for the first time – that this was the moment.
“It’s not the same thing,” I said, “but there’s a similarity. When you’re gay, the person you’re bringing home doesn’t match the gender your parents expect. Everyone always knew I was a lesbian, but no one knew what to say about it. This adds a whole different layer to growing up.”
No one responded directly – the time for that team was over and we needed to turn to the next team’s activity. In the next few minutes, as the conversation moved to another topic, every single one of those young people found a way to make eye contact with me. Their acknowledgment was simple and clear: accepted.
Facilitation Training: Identity Dialogues
South Hadley High School, South Hadley MA