And so another fall begins. It’s that time of year when I surprise gay guy friends whom I’ve met in the last 8 months by revealing that against all of their expectations, I’m an NFL fan. Gay brunches must be wrapped up by noon. I only attend house parties where I’m assured something other than relegation to a spare bedroom at game time. Indeed, Sundays with Stacee are about to become a strictly-regulated affair. With a deep breath and a great deal of ambivalence, I once again reveal myself, coming out to gay men as an NFL fan.
It’s actually kind of fun to surprise people with the unexpected aspects of self. Each of us has them. These are the things that make us human and distinct from one-another. I, for example,
- Am white (mostly Euro-mutt, but a fragment of Cherokee)
- Was raised in a middle class home in San Antonio, TX
- Had parents of differing religious backgrounds who divorced and remarried, allowing me to experience a variety of familial and child-rearing circumstances
- Had my intelligence and creativity nurtured as a child and adolescent
- Identified as gay when I was 13
- Identified as transsexual when I was 19
- Identified as a woman when I was 22
And none of that took into account the experiences I had in moving around the country, changing careers, or growing a network of friends and family-of-choice. All of that enriched the development of interests and hobbies I picked up along the way, like watching NFL games.
Each of us exists beyond the restricted space of any one aspect of our identity. Oftentimes though, people miss the person because they see us only in terms of our most obvious trait. As such, they ascribe values and expectations that are based on the most observable characteristics.
Ask any person of color to tell you about assumptions they’ve encountered in white people;
Or ask a lesbian woman or gay man to tell you the assumptions they’ve encountered in heterosexual persons;
Or ask a bisexual person to tell you what’s been assumed about them by people who are gay, lesbian, or heterosexual;
Or ask a Muslim what’s been assumed about them.
Or someone who’s fat.
Or someone who’s from the Southern U.S.
You get the drift. People often see us in a narrow and confining way, and are always surprised when we reveal ourselves to be something deeper, richer, and more nuanced than what first appears at the surface.
Yet, I can’t get mad at anyone for succumbing to a very natural tendency. All creatures on Earth have to learn to size up others creatures pretty quickly. Our brains are wired to look at a person, make a quick assessment of danger or no danger, and go on about our business. This is why we’re often told, particularly by marketing folks, that others make up their minds about us in the first 20 seconds or so of interaction. That’s not a lot of time. Many people have difficulty updating their understanding of us, even as we reveal fairly innocuous facts.
As we have opportunities though to encounter people who differ from us, we have the choice to resist the immediate instinct to differentiate “like me/not like me.” Our summary judgements and expectations for the individual aren’t necessarily reduced to a few quick reads of what we see before us. We recognize that much more can reveal itself over time if given the chance. If we’re interested in learning more, this is where the opportunity exists.
And it’s here that I get to come out as an NFL fan. I sure hope others will find the courage to do the same. You’re out there. I know it!
I’m still down for the Oscars Party, though.