I wanted to clear up a possible misconception about something I wrote in Friday’s post. I had written about how my graduate school history department learned I was gay. In it, I wrote:
The first time I went into a gay bar was in New Orleans. A friend took me to one while we were at an academic conference there. She had been the first person I’d ever come out to, and she wanted to take me to the gay section of New Orleans. […] This was also when everyone at my grad school found out I was gay. For about the next week, the news of my sexuality spread like wildfire. It wasn’t that I’d hooked-up with anyone that night. I was just the subject of gossip for about a week.
Going to a gay bar in New Orleans happened the first week of November 2001. I had come out to my friend and her boyfriend the previous spring (in fact, the Friday before spring break) at a party late one night where a fair amount of drinking was involved. I'm one of those people who remembers everything when they've been drinking. At least that was the case when I was younger and had a better memory. I spent about two weeks wondering if all the courage I'd mustered to come out would even be remembered. I was happy to learn my friend did remember it, and we were able to discuss it when we were alone. She did so much to help me get comfortable with my sexuality. She treated me no differently, and we could easily discuss our attraction to various men. That might not sound like much, but it was something I’d never been able to do before. Before coming out to her, I had always kept everything about my sexuality completely internalized.
She turned out to be the perfect person to come out to first. I remember the first time I spoke with her after the initial coming out. We were at a small bar in Mississippi with a patio in the back. Most people who sat back there drank beer and smoked pot in the darker corners. She and I went out there for some privacy. My sexuality changed our friendship for the better. I was able to talk to her about things I’d never discussed with anyone. I could talk about hot guys with someone instead of keeping it all in my head and acting like I was not trying to check them out. We became so much closer because of the open nature of our friendship.
Eventually, I told another friend of mine in the department early the next fall. So, when we went to New Orleans in November for this academic conference, only three people knew I was gay, and they all kept my secret. While we were at the conference, I was staying in a hotel room with my friend and another female graduate student. The three of us were hanging out with each other a lot during that trip. On the night in question, we had been at a reception at the Presbytère, one of the buildings next to St. Louis Cathedral.
Two other guys from our grad program had latched onto us at the reception and were expecting to continue to party with us. These two guys were lecherous and obnoxious. My female friends and I wanted to get away from them. The three of us discussed what we were going to do. The guys mentioned they wanted us to go with them to Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club which had recently opened. None of us were keen to go to a female strip club so I suggested we tell them we were going to a gay bar knowing they would not follow us there. They were not secure enough in their masculinity to do that. My friend had already told me earlier she wanted to take me to the gay district of New Orleans. When I suggested going to a gay bar to get rid of them, my friend asked if I was sure. In doing so, I would essentially be coming out to these guys. I felt it was time to be out more so I said I was sure. We split with those guys and went to the gay dance club Oz at the corner of St. Ann and Bourbon.
I knew telling the two guys we were with earlier I was gay was going to spread. There was no way they would keep that quiet. By the end of the next week, the news had spread through most of the history department, and a few professors did say genuinely nice and encouraging things to me. We went out a few weeks later for my birthday (November 30), and by the end of the month, there was no one in the history department who did not know I was gay. The reactions were mostly positive. The only negative reaction was from our one Canadian professor (ironic since Canadians tend to be more accepting) who I think was trying (and failing) to be positive, but still, I was appalled when he said to me, “Congratulations, I hear you’re a fruit.” He always was a little socially awkward and not the nicest person. Eventually, his visa ran out and he returned to Canada. He was not missed.
The point of this post is that the friends I initially came out to kept my sexuality to themselves until I decided to come out to others. I knew when I told those two guys about going to a gay bar, I was coming out to the entire history department.