My heart sank the first time a friend told me, “We’ve all been wondering when you would come out.”
After feeling like I had overcome one of the largest obstacles I have yet faced, it seemed like my decision was being reduced to something trivial — something that was only a matter of time. The only thing I could do was smile and say, “Everyone has his process.”
That line — “We’ve all been wondering when you would come out” — seems benign, but damn did it sting. It was a tacit communication that everyone knew I was struggling. It was a reinforcement of the internal isolation I had felt and hoped was self-induced.
I don’t think I’m alone in encountering this sort of response from fellow students. That attitude, which combines genuine acceptance with flippancy, seems fairly common on our campus. And although it does indicate tolerance and support, it also signals a problem at Yale.
I am a practicing Catholic from Galveston, Texas, and I have every intention of returning to my home state after graduation. This means that I will be denied the same benefits of married couples if I choose to live my life with someone, as no union or marriage between same-sex couples is recognized in Texas. I cannot utilize the resources of my own church to potentially adopt a child and start a family. I can be fired from my job simply for being gay, both in the public and private sectors. And while this was all weighing on my mind, at Yale my future was apparently reduced to a matter of time, a triviality.
Whereas many college campuses and workplaces, cities and states are trying to make sense of how to accept and integrate individuals that identify as lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual or queer, Yalies have mostly met the challenge with full embrace and acceptance. Even better, this tolerance isn’t a new phenomenon at Yale, known for decades as the “gay Ivy.”
But today, while we’ve embraced non-heteronormative lifestyles, we have fallen into a culture that leaves sexual speculation unchecked and not for the better. Too many students are subjected to questions about their sexual orientation from inquisitive peers. Even worse, these questions often fall outside their range of hearing, in their absence.
I get it. It is fun to guess “who is and who isn’t.” I do it with some regularity myself. Uncertainty breeds mystery, and who among the Yale population isn’t up for trying to answer a challenging question?
But when the conversation reaches the point at which we are identifying our friends as “gay” or “straight” based on our own perceptions, we force their hands. We deny them the respect they deserve and the autonomy of self-identification. I hate to think of the number of people that remain closeted to avoid the fate of being labeled as a “sophomore surprise.”
When we say someone “should just come out already,” we lose sight of our friends and our peers, their hopes, fears and uncertainties in navigating the sexual spectrum. We forget that discrimination and violence, particularly toward transgender citizens, exists domestically and abroad. We forget that our friends’ home communities may not be as accepting as we would like to believe they are.
Lost amid speculation is the individual; that the people in front of us are the products of family and personal hopes and expectations that existed long before we met them; that they will live much of their lives outside of the accepting Yale bubble; that the labels they take on now may entail discomfort and discrimination.
We often toss around the words “gay rights” and “progress.” But while Yale remains an example for society as a whole, we don’t always approach sexuality in a productive way. What we need in order to further support and embrace our LGBTQ friends is not speculation. What we need is patience — support for friends not only upon exit from the closet but when they are inside and in the dark.
I have faith we can provide it.
Kyle Tramonte is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.