Coming out is a unique challenge, and one that is difficult to relate from one person to another. Like so many other aspects of the human experience, it is different for different people. For me, the challenge has not been in admitting an attraction to a person of the same sex, or in accepting that people know about a relationship of which I am half. What I fear about the process is the lack of control, the idea that once I say this out loud it gets away from me. I fear that absent from me, this piece of information will replace everything else that people know about me as an individual. I fear that this will become everything I am. There may be people who feel comfortable with allowing their sexuality to define them– I am not one those people. I have gone to great and sometimes extreme lengths to protect myself from this dynamic, and to work through the experience of coming out on my own terms.
This week I have had the very painful experience of being publicly outed via an article written by a person with whom I was secretly in a relationship my senior year of college. The article does not name me – it does describe me, my room, the fact that during that year I was a captain of the lacrosse team. It names our college. I only know about the article because I was so easily recognized as the person in the story that friends of mine called me to warn me that the author had shared this article on numerous social media platforms. I’ve worked very hard to conceal this part of myself, and needless to say, this is not how I would have chosen to have it exposed to anyone with an internet connection and a few basic facts about my life – friends, family, coworkers, employers.
Nominally, the article is about how being in a relationship with someone who has not come out can feel like a step backward for someone who has. As the former in that dynamic, I cannot personally relate to the challenge it creates for the latter, but I have distinct memories of expressing my concerns about it at the time. The feeling I feared was resentment. I don’t want you to resent having to hide. I don’t want you to resent yourself. I don’t want you to grow to resent me. I think it is fair to say that my concerns were justified. Even setting aside the remarkable fact that the author absolves herself of any responsibility for the consequences of the relationship, the article still has the overwhelming bias of something written to hurt rather than to help. If the goal was to warn a person who is comfortable with their sexuality against a relationship with someone who is not, then physical descriptions of my friends and myself were probably dispensable details.
I am incredibly fortunate to have a support system that in the last few days has rallied around me with fierce protection. I am also fortunate that the relationship described in this article ended two and a half years ago, and with that distance, the pain of being outed on the internet is less than what it would have been in the weeks following our breakup. Not everyone who might find themselves in my place will be so lucky. I cannot begin to guess why the author decided now to tell this story, but I am glad, if of nothing else at all about the situation, that she waited. I never knew exactly why she decided we should break up, and I always felt like I wasn’t a part of the decision. It took me a long time afterward to accept that if one person wants a relationship to be over then that’s all it takes to end it. I went over the breakup in my head for months, eventually settling upon an explanation I now know to be reasonably accurate: a relationship with someone who had not come out was no longer worth its emotional consequences.
Imagine the pain of losing a person you love because you are afraid to admit who you are. Imagine that then that person tells everyone who you are anyway. I don’t have to imagine. My only consolation is that I don’t love her anymore.
We had a secret relationship, and we kept that secret together. That we kept it because I was unwilling to make it public doesn’t change, for me, that we were adults who had agreed freely to this situation. I guess I was wrong to assume that the secret would remain a secret once she no longer cared about me. It’s difficult for me to imagine what she thinks has been achieved by exposing my secret now, and harder still to imagine that her story couldn’t have been told without such brazen disregard for my identity.
Beyond the fear and the shame and the obvious fact that no person should ever be forced to confront the exposure of their sexuality by another person, outing someone strips that individual of their right to make a very important decision. The wonderful and terrible thing about sexuality is that no one gets to choose it. But we all get to choose what we will do with the feelings we have. I had hoped to make the decision to embrace my sexuality on my own – I looked forward to a time when I felt comfortable and confident enough to share that part of myself. What agency I had in this part of my life is gone. The fear will dissolve, and the shame will fade and the buzz, however imagined, that surrounds the accusation – this person you think you know, she isn’t what you know – will die and disappear. Life will go on. But I will always know that I never got to make this choice. I will never get to say, this is who I am and I’m proud of that now.
The end of this story is that I am okay. I feel anxious, sad, angry, embarrassed – sometimes all at the same time. But I have been fortunate in the way that this has happened for me. My family hasn’t disowned me. My friends support me. I’m not suicidal. I’m not going to lose my job. Everyone should be so lucky, but not everyone is. There is never a reason to out someone. Not because you think it will help them, not for the sake of journalism, not because someone did the same thing to you, not to assuage your own pain, not to tell a story that you believe needs to be told. There is never reason to take away a person’s right to decide who they are and how to share that. Had I been allowed to choose, I would never have come out in this way, right now, but someone else decided that was their decision to make.