Starting HBS marks the first time I have moved since “coming out.” Personally, it has been a much greater learning experience than I had ever imagined. For one, I was single again after a long relationship. Before that, when people asked if I was dating someone, I answered “Yeah-he’s a great guy-his name is Scott.” They wrinkled their brow, paused, thought a second, figured it out, and the conversation moved on.
Being here as a single guy however, there is not always the easy and clear opportunity to let people know my sexual orientation. I had forgotten about the heterosexual assumption that most people make as I was-and still am-frequently asked if I have a girlfriend. I never quite figured out a good way to answer that question other than simply saying “No.” For the first few weeks, I actually contemplated staying in the closet. Some people seemed uncomfortable. Plus, I wanted to be known as a “good guy” or a “smart guy” and not “the gay guy.”
But then I remembered why I came out in the first place. I have found that it can be really difficult to build friendships with people when you do not share who you are and what is important to you. Further, avoiding the question or hiding part of yourself from other people can drain a lot of energy.
I also realized that while most people are supportive, they still have many questions. After canvassing some fellow students, these were some of the themes that came up in our conversations that I thought would be helpful to share.
1. There is a great deal of diversity among the gay/lesbian/bisexual community.
I realize this statement sounds obvious, but this was a big lesson for me. Stereotypes are the primary reason I stayed in the closet for my first 23 years. I thought there was one way to be if you were gay and in particular that you could not be gay and a “real man” at the same time. It wasn’t until I met other guys who broke this stereotype for me that I really understood this notion.
I remember meeting a guy in the gym named Ray- he was an ex-marine, the strongest guy there. We were talking after the workout when he mentioned his partner, John. I was floored. I basically thought you had to be “Jack” from Will & Grace if you were gay. This notion was particularly true for me with a gay twin brother and a gay older brother (I know, my poor mother).
My twin and I, for example, are totally different. He is taller, thinner, funnier, Agnostic and has the impeccable fashion sense. I am average height, more serious, Catholic, like sports, and give praise every morning that I am actually able to match my clothing. [EDITOR IN CHIEF’S NOTE: His friends agree that Billy’s ability to match is still in question.] The point here is that there are tremendous differences among gay people just as there are among heterosexuals.
2. Sexual orientation is not a choice.
By definition, sexual orientation is simply the gender to whom a person becomes physically and emotionally attracted. It is pre-programmed. A great deal of research has been done further solidifying this fact. Twin studies, gene research, and a score of other quantitative scientific tests have continued to recognize the innate nature of one’s sexual orientation.
3. The best response when someone comes out to you is for nothing to change.
I remember Student Admit Day, I was at dinner with two married couples, one former military guy and his wife, and one Midwest guy and his wife. I was wondering whether or not I should mention anything about Scott, as I knew the “love-life” question would come up.
As I was contemplating whether or not to say anything, I slipped and said I was not sure if “he” was coming. And without missing a beat, one of the guys asked, “What does he do?” We then went on to discuss how easy it would be to pass the Massachusetts Bar Exam, the joys of partner relocation, etc.
That was the ideal response and made me feel really comfortable-recognizing the similarities between people and not the differences. Having a same-sex partner is simply not that different from having an opposite-sex partner, and it turned out we all had a great deal in common-interest in business, sports, our families, and were all really excited about starting HBS and someday ruling the world.
4. A person’s sexual orientation is about far more than a sexual act.
Often times, I have found that people tend to think of sexual orientation solely in terms of sexual attraction and activity. The media frequently portrays homosexuality in these terms, and certainly for me growing up, homosexuality referenced specific acts, versus referencing relationships between people. And while sexual expression is a part of a person’s life, it is certainly not the main part.
I remember coming out to a friend a few years ago. We spent a lot of time talking about my partner, our house, how we divvy up the chores, pay the bills, and so on. Her comment afterwards, which I thought was a great summary, was, “Wow, your life is as boring as mine.” She had no idea that it was actually far more boring.
The point here is that there is much more to life than one act. Being in a same-sex relationship is no different that an opposite-sex relationship. It is all the elements of human interactions that define these relationships. The most fulfilling and important aspects are simply the companionship and friendship.
5. Coming out to someone of the same sex does not imply interest in that person. (Sorry, guys.)
n the past when I’ve come out to people, I’ve been amazed that some people of the same sex correlate my coming out to them with an expression of sexual or emotional interest in them, or that I’m somehow implying that they too may have interest in the same sex. This has never been the case.
Coming out to someone is forming a bridge for a deeper friendship, but it is also a risk in that you can never be sure how someone will react or how it will affect your friendship or working relationship. However, the potential benefits of stronger and deeper relationships with people far outweigh the risks.
At HBS, I found myself being “out” more and more as the fall term progressed. And it has been great. I had forgotten the kind of invisible walls that I built in my life before coming out, and that being open about who I am brings a personal freedom I wouldn’t trade for anything. If I had one final piece of learning to pass on to others, it’s simple-if someone is out to you, that’s a license and an opportunity to talk to them about it, ask questions, and get to know a potentially interesting person.