Coming Out, On The Hour Every Hour
When “Are you married?” no longer means “Tell me about your husband.”
Summer Street Photography
“Marriage,” the word, grew up last year in a pretty big way. Marriage put on its big kid clothes, got dressed for a special occasion, went out on the town, and stayed out past midnight. Marriage matured. It expanded. It opened its arms and embraced millions of new- queer- people. Marriage got its gay on. And thank goodness because some of us really want to put a ring on it.
So, let’s consider this: now that marriage is as much a gay affair as it is a Christian, Pagan, or agnostic one, when do we uncouple this meaningful word from the assumptive heteronormative world? That’s a bit of a mouthful. How about this: when does Marriage come out as bisexual? Or, radically, a-sexual?
For more than 15 years I’ve spent my time working as a hairdresser in fancy salons all over the country. I’ve spent loads of time with folks from all walks of life, and have had what feels like every conversation many many times. People will tell you that hairdressers double as therapists. That our clients are devoted to us because we take care of their outer, and inner states of being, in equal measure. And it is true. We spend as much time (if not more) listening to people as we do cutting, coloring, or sweeping up hair. We hear about it all. Divorces, deaths, babies, affairs, mid-life crises, career changes, weddings… lots and lots of weddings. We give advice. We stop what we’re doing to go find Kleenex. We put our hands on shoulders, and give them a gentle squeeze as if to say you are not alone, I completely understand. This aspect of the work is what keeps me in the industry. I care a great deal about people and it is not hard for me to be with them in this way. However, when the tables turn, and I become the subject of our time together, my otherwise honest, interested, authentic self takes a nap, and my highly curated, go-to, back-up hard drive of canned responses takes over. I am a master at turning a conversation back towards you, and away from myself.
How was your weekend?!
-It was great, how was yours?
What did you do?
-Oh you know, just took it easy. How’s _____ going?
How’s the dating scene around here?
-Oh I guess it’s probably pretty good. Have you tried that new ________ around the corner?
Do you date or go out much?
-I’m a homebody. How’s _____ going?
You get the gist. But honestly, it’s not that I’m uninterested in their questions. And it’s definitely not that I’m in any way comfortable operating on auto-pilot. In fact, a day spent floating on the outer surface of myself is more exhausting than sitting through a million and one therapy sessions. Or an EST conference. Or an episode of the most recent season of The Good Wife. But I digress…
You’ll be rightly wondering by now why, after so many years, I continue to be this way. After countless hours of shared intimacy with hundreds and hundreds of people it seems strange, even to me, that at work I morph into an uninteresting, shallow, and reserved version of myself. For a long time I’ve justified my behavior by explaining that it is impossible to go deeper and be more thoughtful about my life while simultaneously doing hair. (Bangs, blowdrys, and bobs do require real concentration). I’ve also explained (and this is so true) that being asked the same questions on the hour, every hour, day after day is enough to do a lady in. At a certain point one’s responses become rather rehearsed and so well worn that thinking is mostly not required. And that my friend is the energy-saving point. I know--rude, not to mention dull and a little pathetic. Still, these justifications are not untrue. But, they don’t really tell the whole story.
So, what does this have to do with marriage getting it’s gay on? Moving on to that now…
Here it is- Easily, one of the most common questions exchanged between strangers is this one: Are you married? And, like every other hairstylist out there, I’ve been asked that at least one thousand times. And, every time, I promise you, the preemptive assumptions and implications are the same: Are you (fellow straight person) married (to someone of the opposite sex)? And, if answered yes, the question is immediately followed by (in my case) this one- What does your husband do? And, ugh.
The conversation almost always goes one of two ways:
Are you married?
-I am! So tell me how ______ is going!
Are you married?
What’s your husband’s name?
-Well, actually I’m, um, married to a woman….um, yeah so Emily is great…yup,…
OH!!!……so…, um, well do you think I should get those bangs, or….?
Granted, I work in a pretty hetero neighborhood tucked inside a very queer city. My day to day is spent primarily in a straight world so, arguably, few people I encounter are keeping gayness top of mind. And, I can’t really hold it against them. Especially when I, a gay lady, can’t even muster the fortitude to wear the rainbow a bit more on my sleeve. Regardless, straightness isn’t the problem. The problem is when powerful words imply straightness when in reality sexuality has nothing to do with their actual meaning. So, I am totally over the straight associations with the following words-
The hard truth here is this: even for a gay woman who’s been out for more than 20 years, who considers herself political, strong, and self-assured, fielding the question are you married feels like an uphill climb, for the sake of (often) strangers, that I don’t have the oomph for. And believe me, I wish that I wanted to educate my well-meaning but sleep walking, on autopilot comrades, in my small queer way. I wish that I wanted to use my tiny corner of the world as a classroom for folks who find the idea of gay marriage radical and progressive. I wish I had it in me to embrace the opportunity and imagine that each time someone asks me if I am married, on the hour every hour, I might blow their mind open by these simple words-
Yes, I am. My wife’s name is Emily.
Because here’s the thing: as long as the word marriage leans straight, and as long as we engage one another with presumed heterosexuality, we reinforce the idea that gay marriage is fringe, unusual, different, and abnormal, inadvertently perpetuating the idea that gay people are rare exotic birds, and not the everyday boring pigeons we actually are. It’s time (and it has always been the time) to simply figure that anyone might be anything, at anytime, period.
In the meantime, I’ll try to remember this:
- Let’s keep it kind: people are almost always well-meaning.
- Let’s keep it to the point: being honest about our gay marriages doesn’t have to mean exalting dissertations on queer theory or gender politics.
- Let’s keep it positive: it’s not a“job” but rather an opportunity to educate the folks we interact with by our honest, out, examples.
- Let’s keep it real: the world, and the word, will change, slowly or not, one thinking person at a time.
It always has, and it will always continue to do so. Thank goodness.