Coming Out (but not how you think)

by Janis Cortese

Imagine if you will . . .

You're talking to someone who is on the other side of the political spectrum from you, about a social issue. You know that they hate, fear, or just are 'against' people like you, and you've been dancing around how to bring up that you're One Of Them in the conversation.

Finally, you work it in. You tell them that you're one of those people that they've decided are the agents of Doom and worthy of nothing but hatred or pity. And you know what happens next, and in what order even:

  1. The Look. 'Oh, my God. I'm sitting across from One Of Them?!' This is generally accompanied by a close and very, very obvious beady-eyed examination which they are desperately trying to hide, as if to look you over more closely, looking for the subtle signs that they must have missed that you are actually One Of Them.
  2. The Reevaluation. Oh, not of themselves -- of you. You might wish that they would reevaluate their own misconceptions about People Like You since finding out that one of their own friends or co-workers is one. I mean, once they see that a perfectly nice, inoffensive, nonviolent person like you is One Of Them, surely they'll see that they were wrong all along to regard you all as some sort of flesh-rending menace? Keep wishing. Instead, they are going to reevaluate you -- looking for those tell tale signs that will reassure them that their prejudgements about People Like You were right all along, and that you actually are as bad as they've always claimed.
  3. The Pity. Oh, no -- you're not evil! You're not a murderer or anything like that! But you are misguided, poor thing. They'll pray for you, so that one day you'll see the light and join them on the side of the angels.

Am I talking about coming out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual to a friend who had opined about how evil all those terrible gay people are? No, not specifically. Am I talking about revealing yourself to be pro-choice to a fundamentalist co-worker? Not as such, no.

Try coming out as a gunowner to a liberal leaning friend, though -- it's amazing how the thought process is so utterly similar to that of the fundie learning that one of their friends is actually gay, isn't it? Any left-leaning liberal who is reading this was probably patting themselves on the back just a few seconds ago, smug in their assumption that they were going to be tacitly congratulated for being so wonderful and tolerant as they continued to read this piece. As you read this (if you still are reading this), you were probably casting a right-wing fundamentalist Republican in the part of the moustachio-twirling heavy in the above hypothetical conversation. You certainly weren't envisioning yourself.

And yet how many of you are in the process at this exact moment of round-filing me in exactly the same steps as those I enumerated above? She's . . . she's a gunowner? Oh, my God. Wait a second, let me go back and reread all of her other articles, there's bound to a clue somewhere . . . oh, well. She's just misguided, poor thing's been bamboozled by the NRA, obviously . . . ' Steps 1, 2, and 3, in that exact order.

I think you really do have to be a gunowning queer in order to appreciate how utterly identical both of these reactions are -- from both the right-winger upon learning that I'm queer, and the left-winger upon learning that I'm a gunowner. I've always considered myself liberal and still do, and that made the sudden jolt of recognition when I was first treated like a leper by another liberal all that much more painful when I realized what it was. When I realized that the most recent time I had seen this exact same attitude was when I had gone to the San Diego Pride Festival and listened to the pitying and smug pronouncements of a right-wing fundamentalist who had staked out the admissions line handing out pamphlets to two women standing before me and generously offering to help them 'rejoin society.'

'You poor thing, I know you don't mean to support child abuse and baby killing, you're obviously so well-meaning, but you've been duped by the Liberal Media! Here, let me enlighten you,' says the anti-choice Fundie.

'I can see you're a perfectly nice person and you don't mean to spread AIDS and all, so if you pray hard enough I'm suuuure God will relieve you of your disgusting sexual infirmity,' says the gay-bashing Pamphleteer.

'Oh, no, I know you don't think you're supporting the massacres in Littleton and Oklahoma City, but you really, really are! Poor thing, though, here let me deprogram you from the NRA's insidious mind control rays,' says the anti-gun Lib'ral.

And 'Isn't it just horrible how people can be fooled into becoming horrible, hideous monsters?' think Fundie, Pamphleteer, and Lib'ral privately, clucking their tongues. 'Why, these poor mindless little sheep . . . '

And I walk on by.

Copyright © 1999 by Janis Cortese

07/04/07 at 22:28