When I was abroad and socializing with the oil workers I mentioned the last week, there were several times when these middle-aged men would try to create drama within my study abroad group (composed of 20-somethings). One of these incidents was one of them insisting to me that another person in my group was gay, and you could tell by “just looking at them”.
I’m not going to touch on the idea of creating drama over sexual orientation (that’s a whole other blog post). Even after I started to come out to myself, no one on that trip could tell I was gay. Everyone that I came out to at home was surprised. It felt like my homosexuality was pouring out of every part of me, but my ‘straight acting’ of the past was just too good. I had pretended to have crushes on male celebrities and tried to convince myself that I was in love with several of my male friends. It never felt real to me, but I guess I was fairly convincing. The markers that seemed so obvious to that oil worker were wrong, but all of the markers I had weren’t ‘gay enough’.
Can you always tell that people are gay by just looking at them? At the beginning of the trip when this occurred, I wasn’t even out to myself yet, but no one was picking up on what in hindsight was pretty obvious gay vibes. Even after being out for 6 years, I still get surprised reactions; they couldn’t ‘see’ my gayness. Before I cut my hair short, I would go to Pride parades and events with my male gay friends and automatically be pegged as the ally or hag tagging along. Now, there are times when I look at myself and think I look ‘gayer’ than other times, but those visual markers don’t necessarily give me away. My hair could be in a faux hawk, and I could be wearing skinny jeans and a plaid shirt and people have still be surprised when I refer to my girlfriend.
Is there a mysterious gay vibe that I’m not emitting? Being a lesbian is a crucial part of my identity, and honestly it frustrates me that people don’t see it when I think I am making it obvious. Is it that it’s so obvious to me, but surprising for everyone who assumes heterosexuality until proven other wise? Is that what has kept me safe when I have been traveling with my non-profit? I feel gay all of the time, but I guess since straightness is assumed ( I usually dress in the middle of the butch/femme spectrum) I get lumped in with all the other heterosexuals. I don’t mind that when I’m traveling with my organization if it protects me, but I get frustrated that people can pick up on gay vibes from other people and not me. What separates me from all of the other women you can ‘just tell’ are lesbians?
Even though I’m grateful that assumed straightness protects me from homophobia abroad, it’s a double edged sword. Having people know that I’m a lesbian is crucial to my identity. I feel like less of myself while under this protection, and I feel like I’m lying to everyone involved.
I want to be my gay self all of the time; I just have to wait until being my true self wouldn’t get myself or my organization hurt.
I won’t hold my breath, but I remain hopeful.