Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Coming out: The changes a couple of decades can make

Kim and I have talked about the differences in our "coming out" a lot. The amount of differences aren't that surprising when you think about the times. She came out in the late eighties and I came out this year.

The first difference is that I barely had to "come out" at all. Kim and I flirted, talked, had fun and then I moved in with her. I told my family that I loved Kim and there were one or two conversations about the fact that Kim was, indeed, a woman. There were no big declarations, really. I told my friends by casually mentioning that "hey, this is my girlfriend." and not a single one of them were shocked or dismayed. I have not been disowned, threatened, or even merely groaned at because of this.

Kim however, had to make the information known. And her family still doesn't accept her as they should. Her mother "tolerates" her, but does not accept her. I am "her", "that woman", and most commonly, "your friend."

Another huge difference is that I don't look over my shoulder to find out who is watching me all the time. Kim came out in a time where gays and lesbians were not very much accepted at all. We all still have a very long way to go, but that is not so much the case anymore. There are still some hateful people out there who wouldn't mind "teaching those girls a lesson" but they are the exception to the rule.

Kim is constantly aware of who is around us. She makes sure that if she leans over and kisses me or pats me on the shoulder, that neither of us would be in danger if one of us were to walk away. There are times this is frustrating, but I also get why she does it. Part of it is simply that I am too trusting of other people no matter what situation I am in, and part of it is because she has been conditioned not to trust that people will just accept that she is a lesbian until they have proven themselves.

By the time I was in middle school some of my classmates had come out. By high school many of my closest friends were lesbians and gays. I can't remember a time where I didn't know someone who was gay. Kim is completely stunned by this. She is stunned by the ease in which her daughter can talk about her friends and their teenaged love lives and not even take a second to distinguish between her straight friends and her gay friends. Jenny and Nancy's story comes out (pun is accidental) the same way Fred and Lisa's story does. She is stunned that some of my oldest friends were firmly and completely out by the time they were thirteen or fourteen years old. Not only were they out, they were accepted.

I'm not saying that it is always this way. Some people are still completely unaccepted by their families and their peers. And gays and lesbians still have a long way to go in terms of rights and representation. But the atmosphere is stunningly different now.

It's exciting to think about. You can feel the changes in your veins.

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