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OutLoud: Terminal Talk

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A course in Queer Studies 101.

By Sally Sheklaw

Sally74I was hanging out at O’Hare International, waiting for a delayed flight (is there any other kind?). Out of sheer boredom I said to the young woman next to me, “Your flight late, too?”

Note that I did NOT ask, “What’s your sexual orientation?”

Nonetheless, as she recounted her day’s travel snafus, she managed to blithely slip in, “Luckily, my husband’s home with the kids.”

Just like that. No qualms about revealing her intimate domestic arrangements to a complete stranger.

“That’s good,” I said, non-committal.

But it ate at me—the glaring discrepancy in freedom between gay and straight. Heterosexuals don’t have to go through coming-out jitters, no tentative moments, no holding their breath until the other person indicates acceptance of their, uh, lifestyle. I’ve never met a heterosexual who needed to chant some confidence-building mantra like, I’m het, you bet, get used to it. They’re simply free to cash in on their privilege.

This galls me.

I’m tempted to respond, “Oh, so you’re hetero? How special.”

But I’m polite. I wouldn’t want to impose the discomfiture we homos suffer countless times every day, weighing each situation to determine whether it’s OK to reveal ourselves. This woman, like me, has endured a day of late flights, missed connections, and jet fuel inhalation. That’s torment enough.

But still.

I couldn’t let it go. I’d need a casual, not too in-your-face way to assert that my reality’s as valid as hers.

“My partner,” I started, then realized the genderless term could be misinterpreted. A pronoun was required, grammar be damned. “My partner, SHE stayed home.”

Ever notice how well-meaning (but underexposed) straight people, as soon as they find out you’re gay, will take your apparently comfortable outness as a green light to ask everything they’ve ever wanted to know but had no one to ask, like you’re the walking encyclopedia on The Gay Experience?

Not that I’d forego an opportunity to educate the truly curious.

“I have kind of a stupid question,” she said, fishing for permission.

I took the bait. “There are no stupid questions,” I assured her, then braced myself for what was bound to be some nosey inquiry about my sex life. “Shoot.”

Turned out she and her husband have a gay friend (don’t they all?), who is very flamboyant, she said, and always making jokes about being gay. “Is that normal?” She asked, “Could he be insecure or seeking approval or maybe asking for help?” (What? As in, Yipes, I’m gay. Help! I don’t think so.) She turned to me in all earnestness, “How can I be supportive?”

Is there something about my having a female partner that qualifies me as an expert on gay men’s neuroses? Oh, what the heck. Why not take it as another opportunity to step up and march in my one-person gay pride parade? I’m not a psychologist, but I’ll play one in an airport terminal.

My airport buddy got an earful. I summarized the history of antigay oppression and the Stonewall Rebellion. I reviewed the stories of Brandon Teena, Matthew Shepard, and Gwen Araujo, emphasizing that LGBTQ youth have three times the average incidence of suicide. I talked about the good work of PFLAG, how friends and family can support queer loved ones. I topped all that off with a list of heterosexual privileges and how to use them to advance gay rights, equality, and justice.

By the time our flight was ready for boarding, my accidental Queer Studies 101 student was fully versed in the many ways she could be an ally.

I’m here, I’m queer, I give lessons.

Eugene, Oregon, writer Sally Sheklow outs herself everywhere she goes.

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