There is a kind of silence gay people often encounter, a lull that occurs during casual discussions that only the observant can detect. In a group of people where topics range from sports to showbiz gossip, to politics and current events, a conversation about marriage or kids creates a pause when it’s the gay person’s turn to speak. Usually the subject gives an excuse or tells a white lie, and the rest of the group glosses over it and moves on.
If you are gay and people at work have an inkling, you will usually not be asked about your significant other or about kids. They will assume you have neither or that you would rather not discuss it. It’s the same lull you get when people talk about wills and trusts, dependents and life insurance policies. It’s as if you couldn’t possibly have someone looking after you or have someone to leave your assets to when you die.
I guess people assume we are single, or that we don’t want to discuss our “sexuality,” a term that is weird because any gay person knows it’s not a “sexuality,” but a life. A coupled homosexual knows that like heterosexual couples, there are 23 hours left in the day (or more) not devoted to sex, and that’s only if you belong to the extremely rare couple that actually has sex every day.
Gay people have lives, mortgages, families, children, homes, yards, and gardens we tend in the summer. We have people who love us and usually we would love to talk about our partners if ever we’re given a chance. But oftentimes we’re not. We’re relegated to a perpetually single, childless corner. Some of our families will never know that we’re actually all set and there will be someone holding our hand when we die. Most parents won’t even know (or want to know) that at night we get hugs and kisses and are kept warm by someone special – in a way that is far from the sexualized scenarios our heterosexual counterparts are so obsessed about.
It’s this obsession that keeps the disgust alive, the aversion to same-sex relationships and marriage. Majority of people are still stuck on how “unnatural” gay relationships are just because there is no penis for a vagina, forgetting the reality that many couples are lucky to even get penis in vagina on a regular basis. Marriages and relationships are not all about sex, and anyone who’s been in one knows this. But it’s always easier to think others lower or consider them flawed, dirty, or immoral – because it makes us feel better about our own imperfect lives.
It’s unfortunate because most of us are loved, and live happy, fulfilling lives. Sometimes we’re even eager to share wedding or engagement plans, or our dreams of having children of our own. It’s sad because the silence, the fear, or the lack of interest in our lives (or the obsession with specific parts) results in our loved ones never getting the chance to be happy for us. The reluctance to discuss our lives, or considering our significant others not worthy of being brought to a party or mentioned in conversation is sad, especially when a male relative can pick up a hooker on the street today and have her automatically be acknowledged by his clan.
This treatment of gay and lesbians results in young people learning that their life must remain a big secret, because it will never be welcome – not to their families, friends, or coworkers. It teaches gays and lesbians that it’s dangerous to divulge the most meaningful parts of their lives. It keeps us from sharing that we know how to love and be loved, that we are “normal” adults who would also appreciate a spot at someone’s barbecue party or Sunday brunch.
Most of all, this imposed secrecy about our lives leaves young gay men and women to exist in the shadows. It’s hard to come forward with questions about safe sex or domestic abuse when majority of people around us would prefer that these concerns never be brought up. It’s impossible to express worries of sexually transmitted diseases when most people still believe that HIV/AIDS is a punishment for our “immoral lifestyle.” A woman can’t run to her parents after she’s been physically abused if they won’t even accept her lesbianism and would blame her for “choosing” that kind of life.
Guarding our “alternative lifestyle”
“You’re a mystery woman,” a colleague said to me at a company function when I said that I just came from a trip recently. Unlike what occurs in the usual small talk, I do not get the follow-up question of “With whom?” or the more subtle “With family?” but then it may also be because I don’t volunteer information such as “My husband and I…” since I have none, although I have a wife but I’ve never had the luxury of mentioning her name in the workplace.
This is just one of the many things straight people take for granted, the assumed openness in conversations people have when they have no fear of being judged or viewed differently for an “alternative lifestyle.” I work in New York where it should be more than okay to be gay. The truth is I probably will not suffer any consequences if I openly discussed my orientation. But from years of gauging environments I have found that even in the US, my personal life is still referred to as “cute,” met with a blank stare and a topic change, or worse, faced with ignorantly offensive questions. I still get asked who the man or woman is in my relationship, and I still get told that my sex life is hot. A man I didn’t know once approached me with sex tips he thought I should perform on my wife (with my wife beside me), as if I needed his help. I also get asked what I would do to have a child (as if it’s impossible, and as if it’s every woman’s objective). As a result, I hardly volunteer my personal details to people I don’t care much for. Sometimes it’s better to be glossed over than to deal with this kind of intrusion.
The next time you’re in a situation where there is a gay man or a lesbian around you, figure out if you have a genuine interest in them. If you know they are coupled, ask how their partner is by name, or ask for the name of that person you see around. Ask what they do and what they like as an acknowledgment of their existence in your friend’s life. Invite them to a meal or to have drinks, like you would any other couple. I know it’s an effort, but it’s difficult for us to volunteer or put ourselves in new situations when we’ve been made to feel unwelcome in the past.
But if you are just intrigued or curious, and won’t be able to resist asking intrusive personal questions you wouldn’t dare ask a heterosexual counterpart, or if you’ll be too awkward, fumble unnecessarily with pronouns, or treat the people in front of you as a novelty, please refrain. Leave us to our silence as we prefer it over the disappointment of having yet another person belittle, ridicule or ignore our otherwise meaningful lives. – Rappler.com
Shakira Andrea Sison is a Palanca Award-winning essayist. She currently works in finance and spends her non-working hours keeping her silence in subway trains. She is a veterinarian by education and was managing a retail corporation in Manila before relocating to New York in 2002. Her column appears on Thursdays. Follow her on Twitter: @shakirasison and on Facebook.com/sisonshakira.
Androgynous boy image from Shutterstock.