It Was a Big Deal When I Came Out. Now How Do I Go Back in?

Your Other Dad says that labels can get in the way of your love life.

(Photo/Sharon McCutcheon)

Dear Other Dad,

When I came out of the closet, it was a huge deal. My parents weren’t excited about it (esp. my dad) and they didn’t want me to tell other people at first. Eventually they came around and met my boyfriend (who I really loved at the time). They let me hang up pride stuff and my Mom went to Pride (which was a LOT for her). My problem is that lately I’m not sure I am gay. I’ve been seeing this girl I really like and I feel more attracted to her than any guy. I feel fake flying a pride flag when I may just end up living a straight life anyway. I don’t want to tell my parents because I know my dad will say “I told you so” and I don’t want to tell my gay friends because it will disappoint them. What should I do?

 — One Way Door?

First off, the problem is not yours; it’s a reflection of society. For all the progress we’ve made toward inclusion around LGBTQ issues, sexual minorities are still burdened with the task of announcing their orientation in a way that straight people are not. The idea of a default is so hardwired into culture that to diverge from strict heterosexuality comes with an expectation that one must “come out.”

This is problematic because it suggests that we remain eternally fixed in our attractions and romantic interests for our whole lives, making labels more important than the variety of our experiences or our interactions with specific people. That’s just not how attraction works.

While many people only experience one kind of attraction, many others experience a wider array. Some people live much of their life strongly identified with one orientation only to have it upended by physical attraction to someone who defies the established pattern. Others feel deep romantic attachments that aren’t sexual but are nonetheless intense and sometimes lasting.

When there is a diversion between your assumed identity and your practice, it can really throw you for a loop. But that’s only because we’re so used to labels being narrow.

For example, let’s say you were sexually attracted to girls but your emotional crushes were on boys. How useful would it be label yourself straight (only true physically) or gay (only true emotionally)? Even saying bi could be a problem as it would suggest things that weren’t true depending on the recipient. An accurate description in practice would be that you’re homoromantic and heterosexual — but there’s no t-shirt for that. A label only gets in the way here.

I’m not saying that a simple label isn’t at all useful; it’s a great shorthand if it truly applies — but even then, it needs to be freed from the notion that it must strictly define a person’s actions 24/7. I have always identified as gay, for instance, but have had what I call personality crushes on men, women, and gender-nonconforming people alike. The older I get, the more aware I am that it’s my reaction to a person, not a whole gender, steering the ship.

What I’m getting at here is that I think we’d all do better if we stopped thinking of “coming out” as a defining concept; that would negate the need to, as you put it, “go back in” if our desires change. Whether you call yourself straight or gay, you should feel comfortable pursuing romantic and sexual relationships with anyone who lights you up. We all need to be able to say “this is who I’m interested in right now,” without it requiring some realignment of a giant cosmic tote board that tracks which camp we’re in.

When you broach this topic with your parents, approach it not as being about your category but about your practice; tell them you’re interested in someone new and that she’s a girl. When they ask if it means you’re not gay, tell the truth: all you know for sure is how she makes you feel. Let them know that you can’t guarantee how you might feel about anyone else in the future, but this is where you are now, and that you’re glad you can be honest with them about it. (And if your dad says “I told you so,” be clear that the period you had a boyfriend was every bit as much a real part of your life as this time is now.)

When you tell your gay friends, say exactly the same things. Make sure they know how much you appreciate being able to trust them with your truth. If they’re disappointed, remind them that the famous slogan “love is love is love” has to apply in all directions and it means following your heart where it leads.

So do you get rid of all your pride stuff? Up to you. It could lessen the pressure if you feel like it is signaling openness to potential partners that you don’t actually want. But remember that many allies also display pride symbols to show welcome and solidarity. (And you aren’t just an ally: experientially, you’ve been part of the community.) Having a pride flag up doesn’t mean you can’t have heterosexual relationships, just as declaring yourself straight doesn’t mean you’ll never again be attracted to a guy.

Keep in mind that the identity that feels truest in this moment doesn’t erase your past or determine your future. There’s no point in burdening your new relationship with more existential weight than it can bear; stay in the moment and try to enjoy what you have together.

You don’t owe your family or your society any explanation for who you are attracted to. But everyone benefits when you love and live honestly.

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