They Came Out And Gay Fills The Room

Scene 1: A bright breakfast room, with a man and an adolescent girl at a small round table.

GIRL:  Morning, Dad. Pass the Cheerios, please.

DAD:  Here you go. (She’s gay.) Want some coffee? (She’s gay.) Hope your history test goes well. (She’s gay.)

Scene 2: A bedroom, clothes on the floor, a few posters of athletes, an unmade bed. An adolescent boy sits at his desk. A woman stands behind him, her hand on his shoulder.

BOY:  Hey, Mom, do you get this math problem?

MOM:  Sure. (He’s gay.) Graphing an exponent. (He’s gay.) I’ll show you. (He’s gay.)


Since they came out, gay fills the room. Cheerios are gay. Coffee is gay. Math is gay.

Suppose you’re in a group, and a girl says, “I’m straight.” Usually, the rest of the room assumes absolutely nothing about her. This response, this lack of assumptions, is the appropriate reaction.  Learning that this girl self-identifies as “straight” tells nothing about her as a person, and almost nothing about her sexuality.

Now, suppose a boy says, “I’m gay.” Many people immediately assume a ton, most of it inaccurate.  Folks find themselves superimposing their own associations with the word “gay” on the individual.  In the time it takes to blink, gay fills the room.

The words “Gay” and “Straight” need to be brought down to size.  “Gay” and “Straight” are not people; they’re words. Too often, a damaging mistake takes place: we allow our assumptions about the words to become the people we associate with those words.

For many, this has to do with assumptions about sex. Some see the gay person shrink before their eyes, as a sex act associated with gay looms larger and larger. Sexuality and sexual identity are important, but they are parts of the person, not the whole person. Within sexuality is a subset: sexual activity (which varies tremendously, person to person). Some look at their gay daughter or son, and all they can see is a sex act that makes them uncomfortable. The problem with this: A sex act is not a person. And honestly, let’s keep in mind a basic truth — even with the most fulfilling sex life imaginable, even in a spectacularly grand week – the act of sex, even mind-blowing great sex, takes up only a fraction of our waking hours.

Your daughter still eats Cheerios every morning. She loves tennis, hates swimming. She watches football, eats popcorn with salt and no butter, and makes her bed every morning. Her favorite color is sunset orange, and her favorite food is chocolate.  Her favorite class is ceramics, and she has several journals filled with poetry. She also loves biology, and has several African Violets in her windowsill. She’s had the same best friend since first grade. Just like before she came out to you.

Your son still plays drums, guts his way through math, and cites sports statistics with impressive accuracy. He plays Ultimate Frisbee for his church.  He loves reading science fiction, and whips through the New York Times crossword puzzle every Sunday morning.  His favorite color is green, and his favorite dinner is steak and fries. Since seventh grade, he and three other boys have been inseparable. Just like before he came out to you

He still gets obnoxious when he’s stressed, and won’t clean his room. She still snarls when she’s angry, and stomps around for a while before she settles down.  He wants a dog; she’s happy with her African Violets.  Both are loyal and dependable, funny and smart, flawed and wonderful. Just like before they came out.

And Cheerios are just Cheerios, coffee is just coffee, math is just math.

Most important, your daughter and your son are still the same people you know and love.


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9 responses to “They Came Out And Gay Fills The Room

  1. Dexter Friede

    Why even tell anybody your Gay? That makes it Political and then the trouble starts. Why would a parent even want to tell people he or she is gay?

    • Your comment raises interesting questions. Is this issue political as well as personal? How much should each person keep private, or share with others? These are personal choices, regarding complex issues.

  2. AR

    This post and the one before it has been so helpful and hit very close to home. So glad you’re putting these thoughts and concepts out there – your words are comforting, moving and very identifiable. THANK YOU! All the best.

  3. I always write with the hope that my words will reach people and help. Thank you for taking the time to comment. All the best to you, too.

  4. Excellent post. The assumptions that come with identifying someone as gay is partly simple prejudice and partly the misidentification of the person’s orientation with perceived “gay culture.” This is at the heart of controversy some while back about David Halperin’s “How to Be Gay” (well, that and the provocative title itself). The stereotyping of an individual because of their orientation is an injustice.

    As to Dexter’s question about a political angle, it is not so much political as one of affirming personal integrity. Yes, there are contexts where announcing “I’m gay” is as inappropriate as “I’ve got a hard-on;” however, in other contexts it is necessary both to honesty with oneself and also with others. If someone is trying to set me up with “the perfect girl” I do an injustice to myself and them in not letting them know that while she may be a great person, a relationship is just not in the cards. On the other hand, it’s not my place, nor my boss’s business, to discuss my sexual orientation, boyfriend, etc, unless the conversation is mutually consensual and in some way productive at either the personal or professional level. The only strictly political aspect of being “out” is the claim to the same rights as others, namely, association and equal treatment under the law. If my boyfriend holds my hand or kisses me in public, the way heterosexual couples sometimes do, we should not be castigated, harassed, nor expelled for that behavior alone (recall the gay couple banished from the mall for a simple kiss while others were never even called on it). Again, the political element, such as there actually is one, has to do with equal protection and freedom of association – the same rights trampled when interracial couples were hounded for being seen together in public.

    Expanding on Amy’s point, it is also important for members of the LGBT community remember the distinction between orientation and ‘culture’ in that we ourselves too often come loaded with preconceptions of what constitutes a personal preference, mannerism, political position, aesthetic sensibility,etc, as acceptably ‘gay.’ The opprobrium cast on some of the LGBT community by the community itself for supposed betrayals often amounts to little more than disagreements over trifles that have nothing to do with orientation. It’s nice to experience group unity, but not at the expensive of personal integrity and honest individuality.

  5. Pingback: LGBTQIA Posts | Amy Kaufman Burk's Blog

  6. Jasmine

    I found this immensly intetesting as I have yet to come out to anyone I’m close to. I hope they are the complexity in me that is simply human. A writer I’m fond of pointed out that no matter our orientation we are all first human. @

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