Groundhog Day

Posted: 3 July 2008 in joy, other folks, queerlife, work

For the last three years, I’ve had the opportunity to usher in more than a thousand new officers and for every group there was a time for introductions.  Hi, I’d say, I’m so happy you’re here.  And then, after some pleasantries, I’d tell them about my partner.  I felt like I always rushed through it so as not to give the impression that I was trying to turn them gay with merely the gaze of my eyes.  Before I could stand up there, I had to conquer the terrible butterflies while rehearsing the story again and again in my office, quietly, with the door shut, trying to muster non-gay-ray energy with which to meet their eyes.

I could have left that part out.  Or, I could have only mentioned D. when (and if) she came up.  There are all sorts of ways to keep your orientation quiet, should you wish.  But I made a conscious decision before I ever stood in front a group to lay it out there to take or to leave. 

I had some backlash, of course.  In one of the earliest groups, shortly after my introduction, I was assisting one person while another glared at me.  The glarer turned to me, and in a soft, harsh voice said, “Go ‘way.”  I assumed I must not have heard him and so I said, “Excuse me?” and he repeated, louder “Go ‘way!”  Since I hadn’t known this future diplomat for longer than 20 minutes and all he had heard about me was what I had said, I had to assume he was afraid the gay might rub off on him.  Another fine gentleman told me that the reason he had been avoiding me was that his wife had left him for another woman.  He was holding a grudge, he said.  Lovely, I thought, more promiscuous gays.

I had days where I thought that the constant coming out was more trouble than it was worth.  It was exhausting to lay it out there to every new group of people.  People who just stare back at you, taking it all in.  But I did it, regardless of the jitters and the constant throwing up feeling, because I was sure that someone in the class needed to see that I could stand up there, being gay and successful and happy, regardless of what others might think.  Occasionally, someone would thank me for making them feel welcome, but mostly, it was a silent effort.  If I opened the door for anyone, I never knew.

I’ve spent much of this week saying goodbye to these thousands.  Through email, in person and by phone, the thanks yous and good lucks have rolled in.  I’ve tried to respond personally, despite feeling sad but happy, overwhelmed and empty.  One email in particular made up for all the “Go ‘way”s and measured avoidance.  It spoke to exactly what I had tried to do, to make a space where someone who didn’t know if he or she would be accepted could stand knowing that there are other officers, successful, well-liked officers, who are also standing there.  That the Service has a place for us to be ourselves.  That thank you made up for laying myself open over and over for three years.

For all those mornings where I thought I might die if I had to come out to a group of judgemental strangers one more time, this email assured me that every last second was worth it.  There are points there, and they’re all mine.

  1. digger says:

    I wish you had been in my A-100 (Dink was great, but straight). And I wish we had gotten a chance to serve together before you left.

  2. backlist says:

    Perhaps we’ll find each other in academia. And, if you’re at FSI before July 23rd, you can always stop in!

  3. WKC says:

    Because if his wife had left him for another man, he would’ve sworn off interacting with straight men forever. Why the heck is tolerance not on the entrance exam?

    It takes a lot to give people a look at something at the core of one’s identity. I seldom ever feel up to it, even with most of the friends I actually know.

  4. backlist says:

    right – tolerance isn’t required in diplomacy. I’ll never cease to be amazed at what skills we consider expendable.

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