At the beginning of my freshman year, I faced a pretty common problem: I didn’t know how to tell my suitemates I was gay. I thought about talking to each of them individually, but that felt way too redundant. And while the group dinner option was definitely a time-saver, it meant we’d all be stuck at the same table, poking at our tilapia with our forks and fishing for a follow-up conversation topic.
So I didn’t tell them. In retrospect, it’s clear to me that my aversion had to do with the convention itself. In its standard, confessional form, the act of “coming out” only reaffirms homophobic views—for example, the idea that homosexuality is weird, and that my suitemates could justifiably have felt uncomfortable about living with me.
At the time, though, I thought I was just being cowardly. I just really, really did not want to talk to them about it. So, to avoid a direct encounter, I went to a vampire-themed (ugh) LGBTQ dance party and hooked up with a cute blond guy. A week later, I brought him back to my room. We passed my suitemates on Old Campus, and that was how they learned about my sexuality.
It was actually one of the more liberating experiences of my life—so easy! And fun! There had been no uncomfortable statement of difference followed by some formal statement of acceptance. No weird hug. No “thanks for telling us.” We had sidestepped the transaction of coming out and moved right to being equals—bros, even. The next day, one of them asked, “So, do you like him?” and sagely advised that I play hard-to-get. I was thrilled.
The standard script for coming out is much more imposing. It has you sit people down and solemnly inform them that you’re gay, which implicitly affirms the belief that a person is straight until otherwise declared. This is fucked up because, consciously or not, the assumption of heterosexuality makes all other sexualities deviant. It’s the reason people are closeted in the first place: society assumes we’re all straight, and the fear of rejection outweighs the desire to clarify. In what should be a moment of empowerment, the script has you reaffirm the sexual hierarchy. Out loud, you’re saying, “I’m gay,” but you’re really being forced to say, “Please forgive my abnormality.”
I’ve only once ever come out like this, and it was awful. I had been in the closet all through high school, but college was about to start, and I wanted to tell my friend before we parted ways. I spent the whole day panicking. I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous as the moment right before I told her. She handled it perfectly, but no reaction could have made up for the aneurysm I had almost given myself. Not easy. Not fun.
I recognize that what I’m advocating for—a casual, no-big-deal approach to coming out—is not a universal option. In many places, the fear of disownment or physical violence is very real, and the stakes are that much higher; social acceptance is our luxury as college students at the gayest school around. However, so long as we have this luxury, I think we should use it in a way that reverses, or at least challenges, the heteronormative assumptions underlying the traditional coming out process. We should prove that there’s a better way.
So toss the script! It’s outdated and degrading and entirely unnecessary. Just pick a friend and tell him about your crush. You’ll say, “He speaks Farsi!” but really you’ll be saying, “I’m gay, and it’s normal.” Because the thing is, the closet is a social construction perpetuated by gay and straight people alike—once we all stop agreeing to its existence, it will cease to exist. A person’s sexual orientation will no longer be newsworthy, and we’ll all be able to focus on what really matters: finding sexual and emotional satisfaction, whether that means true love, a stranger at Toad’s, or something in between.