Coming Out in the Kitchenware Aisle

It has often been said that coming out is not a one-time event but a constant process. This is true no matter how “out” you are. Even if you’ve brought your partners to your co-workers’ parties or been interviewed by the press, there are still moments every day where you can, for that moment, choose blend in.

My life is peppered with examples, all as ordinary as interacting with a store clerk. One summer my partner, Henry, and I came across a tag sale and decided to browse. I was pleased to find a knife block amidst the utensils—my other partner had just moved, and I thought a block would be useful for his new kitchen. As I was busy examining my preoperative purchase, the man in charge of the tag sale came over to see if I needed help. After telling me about how useful a knife block would be, he asked me what I wanted it for. I replied that I thought my boyfriend might find it useful. It was about then that Henry came to see how I was doing. A jolt of adrenaline hit me: I knew what was going to happen next–what the clerk would assume. As expected, the tag sale clerk started asking a perplexed Henry, who had no plans to move anytime soon, about his new place. I felt awful, and I wondered why this situation with a total stranger should possibly affect me this much. How could a perfect stranger, who I would probably never see again, cause me such distress? Truly, humans must be social to the core if someone with so little relation to me can so powerfully enforce a social norm without having the slightest idea that he was doing so.

And then I had my choice: Henry is a quiet person, and the clerk would have really never known whether or not we were buying the knife block for his kitchen. We hadn’t been very affectionate; it wasn’t clear that we were romantically attached. This clerk meant nothing to us; he didn’t have to know. But another wave of adrenaline hit me, and I knew I wasn’t willing to do that, not for the clerk, but for me–to prove to myself that I could do this, and that I was unashamed of my relationships. Speaking as if I couldn’t get the words out fast enough, I said, “No, my other boyfriend.” And, deciding I didn’t want the knife block after all, I left the perplexed clerk. It wasn’t until half a block later that I realized how much I was shaking.

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