Patrick Saunders, Editor of Georgia Voice

Patrick Saunders: Embracing my inner go-to gay

When I came out close to 15 years ago, a lot changed – some of which was expected, a lot of which was not. One thing that fit squarely in the latter category was that, now that I had announced this fact about myself to the world, I was therefore assumed by all straight people to be an expert in all things gay. A go-to gay. An Encyclopedia Gaytannica, if you will.

The most common questions I got were about sex. Ohhh, the numerous sex questions. “Yes, we actually do that.” “No, not that I’m aware of.” “Yes, we do, but I haven’t tried that yet. I’ll be sure to alert you as soon as I do, though.”

But people also inquired about all manner of the facets of LGBT life. One family member asked me early on after I came out why I had to go to gay bars. Why couldn’t I just go to “bars” in general? I explained to them that all “bars” are straight bars, so whether they called it one or not, they had been going to straight bars their entire adult life. I also talked about the role of gay bars in LGBT life, how they have been places of refuge and how, pre-Internet, they were one of the only places to go to find other gay people.

And there’s no statute of limitations on getting questions about being gay. I get asked things to this day, as I’m sure all of you do.

Just the other day, a family member started talking to me about how they don’t like labels, and how people should just love whoever they love without having to call themselves gay or straight. I agreed with them in theory, especially about the “love whoever you love” part – it continues to confound me how some LGBT folks will be marching in the street shouting about equality and how love is love one day, but then abandon that entire message the second they meet someone who’s bisexual or doesn’t fit squarely on either end of the spectrum.

But the power and significance of saying you’re LGBT has not diminished. I talked to the family member about how it’s unfortunately essential that we tell people we’re LGBT. I talked about how important visibility is in the strength of our movement.

One thing I hope that I’ve impressed upon those family members and other straight people that ask me about being gay is how thankful I am that they did so. Yes, sometimes it’s unfortunate what we have to address with people. Sometimes it’s annoying, and it might even be offensive. But it’s imperative that we keep doing it.

It’s imperative that we keep that dialogue going with people, and while we’re the ones often put in positions of fear, we have to acknowledge that people outside of the community might feel scared off or intimidated or wary of being offensive, so they never ask the questions. It’s vital that we share our knowledge with people; it’s the only way we’ll understand each other instead of being afraid and scurrying off to our Facebook holes to have our views reinforced without question.