Friday, December 03, 2004

"Outing," Personal Politics, and My Rather Clueless Friends

This story is just so bizarre I had to share it. Please share any insights because I'm not sure my reactions are justified.


Mark: My best friend from high school. Currently lives in Seattle. Came out to me after we left college. Is very guarded about his sexuality. One of the friends I visited for Thanksgiving. I talk about him from time to time, just because he's my friend.

Kathy: Another friend I knew in high school who happens to live in DC now. We don't keep in touch much anymore. She hasn't kept in touch with Mark for probably seven years now. Mark never came out to Kathy. Kathy somehow got a job at a small firm which shared space with my firm, so she wound up getting somewhat pulled into a group of people I hang out with.

Debra: A friend of mine here in DC, who worked in the same space as Kathy and me, and one of the "group of people I hang out with" as mentioned above. Hereainafter, the "group of people I hang out with" will be identified as "Debra et al."

Me: Me.


So I went to visit Mark (among others) over the Thanksgiving holiday in Seattle. A fine time was had by all.

Debra et al. decide to get together for a happy hour last night. I decline to attend, for various reasons. I did not know Kathy was going to attend.

At some point in the evening, someone mentions me and my trip to Seattle over the Thanksgiving holiday. It is, after all, no secret. Somewhere, though, someone manages to mention Mark's sexuality. Out loud. In front of Kathy.

"Oh, now it all makes sense," she says. Mark has now been "outed" to Kathy.

Keep in mind, Mark is very sensitive about the whole "coming out" thing. He's been keeping the whole issue on a "need to know" basis.

And Kathy still keeps in touch with people from high school who know him.

See the dilemma here?

Frankly, I don't know what I could possibly do. I mean, I suppose I could call Kathy and ask her to keep this information to herself. I think that's really the best I could do. (Actually, I just tried it, and I don't think I even have an accurate number for Kathy anymore.) So I could just say "That's just too bad," and let the world go about its course, even if it includes Kathy leaking to all our high school friends that Mark is gay.


Okay, the real reason for this post: What bugs me more is Debra's reaction to the whole thing. She's the one who related the "oops we outed your friend Mark" story to me, and I just about lost it. My recollection of the conversation:

Me: Oh my god, that is sooo uncool.
Debra: Whatever. It's not like it's a big deal. It was so funny.
Me: It's not funny!
Debra: Oh, but it is.
Me: No, it's really not.
Debra: Oh, but it really is.
Me: Uh, NO, it's REALLY NOT.
Debra: No, really, it is.
Me: Mark's not the most "out and proud" homosexual. Kathy still keeps in touch with people! You don't think the first thing she's going to do is call Lance, or Tim, or Loren -- none of whom Mark has come out to -- and say, "Hey, remember Mark? Did you know he's gay?"
Debra: You know, we just never gave it a second thought. It's just not a big deal.
Me: Uh, it is a big deal! Did you at least ask her not to tell anyone else?
Debra: Again, we just didn't think we needed to. It's just not that important.
Me: Aaaagh!
Debra: Look, I just don't think sexuality is something to be ashamed of, so it's just not a big deal.
Me: Easy for you to say when you're heterosexual and your sexuality is correctly assumed by most of the world. You don't get to choose whether someone else should or shouldn't be outed. And when you out someone, you need to realize that the outed person may not appreciate it, and work from there.
Debra: Whatever. It's just not a big deal. I don't see why you're making such a big issue out of it.

So I'm taking some issue with the flippancy with which Debra is taking this. She doesn't think it's a big deal, and she's the master arbiter of whether someone else's sexuality should be the topic of discussion or not? Does this mean that she can go about broadcasting the names of all the people she knows who have had abortions, because she doesn't find anything particularly shameful about exercising one's right to choose?

Sure, it was an honest (if idiotic) slip to talk about Mark in front of Kathy when I wasn't even there. (Frankly, I don't even know how Mark's sexuality could possibly have come up in their conversation. They could have discussed me and my trip to Seattle. They could even have talked about the fact that I was visiting my friend Mark. But why did his sexuality even enter into the discussion? My sexuality, fine, fair game. But Mark's?) But then to brush the whole event off as "funny" and "not a big deal" when, for some people, it is a big deal... well, that just kinda burns me.

Am I wrong?


melyssa said...

no you're not wrong. frankly anyone's personal information (whether assumed correct or incorrect by society) is just that ... personal.

my boss thought she needed to tell (via a board report, no less!) our board of directors i am getting married in 2005. she did this without asking me. now on the surface nothing seems to be wrong with that. it's a happy occassion that is meant to be celebrated, right? right. but it's a happy personal occassion. i didn't make an announcement to the people at the office, so why did one need to be made to the board of directors?? and my coworkers think they are getting invited? it's laughable and frustrating all at the same time.

so when i read your story about your friends Mark and Debra, knowing Mark's situation is much more sensitive than mine, i must say you are right.

p.s. thanks for letting me vent about my situation in your comments section.

Me said...

I'd be irritated to. I'd be rethinking my choice of friends if they were so cavelier about it. I was also told that I had extremely high standards of integrity (and I was told that as if it was wrong...)

Matthew said...

Well, I come down onto two sides of this.

First and foremose, I think it is up to Mark - and only Mark - to decide who knows that he is gay. It's nice that Debra is so opend-minded and isn't phased by Mark's sexuality, but she needs to realize that:

A) when it comes to his sexuality, Mark is the one who makes the call about telling people, regardless of what she (Debra) thinks)


B) just because she (Debra) is cool with it, doesn't mean others are or will be.

That having been said, and without knowing the intimacy (non-sexually speaking) of Mark's friendships with his old schoolmates, I think he's living with sham friendships if these people whom he calls friends don't know about him being gay. Our sexuality is something ingrained into our lives in a tremendously important way. It affects so much about existence, far beyond the bedroom. For heterosexuals, it's about husbands & wives, kids and grandkids, what size house to buy (to fit the family in), what school districts to live in, priorities for college, etc. For gay people it can be much the same.

In my opinion (and it's just my opinion, mind you, Mark must not have very deep friendships with these people he's so worried about, if they don't know about this quite significant aspect of his life.

So, while it's no one's business but his to tell (or not tell) those he knows about his sexuality, it most certainly says something that he is so afraid of his supposed 'friends' finding out the truth about him. In other words, if his friends have a negative reaction, then perhaps they weren't really his friends in the first place?

Of course, this wouldn't apply when it comes to the job/career situation. That's a whole different ballgame, and I can see why he (and lots of other gay people) wouldn't want co-workers, bosses, etc. to know the truth.

Take care.

Dennis! said...

Everyone, thanks for your comments on this entry.

Matt, I agree with you on both points. Mark still has "issues" with his sexuality and I guess he'd just as soon avoid the topic in most of his life relationships, although he has come out to his closest friends as well as to his parents. Of course, his issues with his sexuality does not mean he should be kicked out of the closet by people who have never even met him.

Augh. I'm still peeved.