I’m writing this in the wake of France winning the World Cup, so the horns are blaring outside and I find myself more of a sports fan than I ever have been in my entire life. The smell of firework smoke mixed with ethanol and cigarette smoke lingers in my nostrils, and I admittedly wonder why, unlike my peers, I was never the macho-type who loved watching football (American or otherwise) from the get-go.
Almost every gay kid growing up experiences some sort of gender-nonconforming situations. I wasn’t an exception to that, having been the kid to prefer my sisters’ toys to my own (In fact, my younger sister grew to be a lesbian, and she preferred my toys. We used to trade all the time – secretly of course). This “preference” displeased my father, who was all about being the macho man, and I felt myself confused and ashamed of who I was. I never cared for watching the football games or the baseball games, and I especially didn’t care to play any of them. My dad, having been a hot-rod baseball player in high school, seemed to take personal offense to this.
Identifying as gay in the heart of Indiana (having gone to the same high school as Mike Pence) was obviously no walk in the park. Despite this, I still came out at the green age of 13 to my friends, and at the age of 17 to my family. I imagine that my emotions were similar to those of many others throughout the process. I was in denial for a long time, and afraid of the reception. I felt isolated and lonely, and like some strange creature with 7 eyes and a set of tentacles. I could feel the stares on me like laser pointers, waiting to zap me into oblivion.
And now here I am, in a foreign country, 8 years after the first time I said “I’m gay” to anyone. I’m fully comfortable with the fact that I’m gay, and yet I hesitate to bring this up to my coworkers, even when they playfully tease me about my love life (warning, the French embrace sex as a topic of discussion more-so than in the US). I find myself wondering what it means to be me, and if being gay is something that, even after all these years, I have accepted to its fullest.
The issue is that I haven’t had to come out in a very long time. It’s been nearly three years – at the start of my MIT career – that I’ve had to fully embrace that process. I find the same thoughts fluttering through my mind: that being gay isn’t the defining trait of my being; that being gay doesn’t mean I have to behave a certain way; that it’s unfair that gay people should feel the need to come out when straight people don’t feel any pressure; that maybe you should just suck it up and tell people so that they stop asking you about the “girl” you’re going to “visit” in Geneva.
It would also help enormously considering my terrible tendency to get lost in thought, which usually means I end up staring at someone for an abnormal amount of time. When that person happens to be a girl, I wish I could just apologetically say “oh no ma’am don’t worry, I’m gay! I definitely wasn’t just being super creepy!” But alas….
Being gay in a foreign country means having to re-face the uncertainty of the society I live in. I don’t know how accepting the “Grenoblois” are of homosexuality. I heard two girls talking about RuPaul’s Drag Race a few weeks ago, which gave me some hope. But the fear of being cast aside still lingers. I want to present my homosexuality as something which defines a part of me, certainly – but not all of me. I want to be more than just a trait to people, something that I struggle with even in the USA. Being gay isn’t the only thing I want to be known for, and I find that “coming out” can sometimes be equated to “jumping headfirst into a box that can’t be reopened.”
My advice to myself and to others is this: stay true to yourself. I don’t feel as though I have sacrificed any of my being through this program, even if I haven’t come out to my coworkers. I’ve agreed that if the appropriate time arises, I’ll come clean fully and honestly. I’d also say to be perceptive of those around you. Find people you can trust and attempt to develop a relationship. It’s difficult in France in particular because work and social life tend not to mix. But dig in to find those relationships if you can. And finally, don’t let yourself be boxed in. You are more than any one trait that defines you, and you should command your space in this world for all it is.
While being in France, I’ve been to 2 pride parades: one in Lyon and one in Paris. Both gave me a sense of “international solidarity,” as though I was safe being all that I am in France. While it’s not always easy deciding how to present myself, I still have pride in all that I am and all that I will become.
Merci beaucoup d’avoir lu mon article!
David Rich is a senior studying chemical engineering with a concentration in materials science. This summer, he is working on the characterization of micro-needles for applications in more efficient drug delivery mechanisms in Grenoble, France.