Over a decade ago, I worked in a large bookstore. It was a mostly fun job, largely because of the people who worked there.
I’ve worked in several bookstores over the years, and one thing I’ve noticed – and one thing that a lot of people often overlook, or try to – is that, for whatever reason or reasons, LGBTQ folks tend to make up a disproportionately large majority of the staff. Possibly not true for Christian bookstores, I admit, and I’m not sure about those few dying second-hand stores, but chain bookstores aren’t exactly institutions of rigid heterosexuality, if you get what I’m saying. And the people who work there are, by and large, anything but judgmental. I mean, I spent something like three years working with a woman who was a beaver. That was just her thing. She insisted she wasn’t a furry – “Furries are people who have an animal form,” she used to say, “I’m an animal with a human form. See the difference?” – and everybody just shrugged and completely failed to care, because she was a nice person and good at her job.
Anyway, now that the stage has been set, as it were, an inspirational little story from my retail adventures in the 1990s.
One fine spring day, one year – about this time of year, in fact – a bunch of us from the store went off to a party together. There were a couple of supervisors, and a few of us regular peon types. There was also this one woman, whom we’ll call, for the purposes of this story, Cathy. She was a supervisor, for inexplicable reasons; she was a person for whom the term “space cadet” might well have been invented. Perky and cheerful, yes, but also forgetful, and absent-minded… and more than a bit of a gossip. If you wanted to know what was going on in the store, she was the woman to talk to, though if she didn’t know something, odds were good she’d invent it…
Well, all of us from the store were sitting around a table together, drinking and eating and conspicuously failing to socialize with people whose lives didn’t revolve around books, as tends to be the case, and suddenly Cathy had an announcement to make.
“I went out drinking with James last week,” she said, in a loud yet conspiratorial fashion, “and he told me a secret.”
Ah, James. Always James, never Jim or Jamie or Jimmy, or any other diminutive. Another of the supervisors at the store, he was fairly quiet and not super social, but had a truly wicked sense of humor, once you got to know him. We worked mornings together fairly often, despite neither of us being morning people. He was extremely smart, very competent, highly reliable. A good guy, basically. The exact opposite of Cathy, in almost every respect.
Well, fast-forward a couple of days, and James and I are scheduled together one morning. It’s mid-morning, and the store is slow as hell. “Hey, James?” I say to him. “Can we talk for a second?”
He gets this sort of confused, pensive look, but agrees, and we wind up in the assistant manager’s office. I shut the door.
“So, what’s up?” James asks.
“Well,” I told him, “I was at that party over the weekend.”
“Oh, yeah,” he says, nodding. “How was it?”
“Nobody’s told you about it, I take it? It was pretty boring, mostly, but it had its moments. Cathy was there.”
“Yeah?” he says.
“All of us from the store were together, and she suddenly announced that you’d told her a big secret.”
Maybe that wasn’t the best way to approach the subject, because his eyes widened and his face completely drained of color, and he said, very nervously, “Oh.”
“Yeah,” I told him, “I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out.”
“I should have known better than to confide in her,” James muttered, with a fair bit of anger.
“Yeah, well, anyway. Listen. So after a couple of moments, Cathy comes right out and announces that you’re gay.”
James nodded, but didn’t say anything, so I continued.
“Well,” I told him, “all of the rest of us more or less said, in unison, mind you, ‘and?’. And Cathy said ‘And what? That’s it. He’s gay.’ And we all said, again in unison, ‘Um, yeah. We know. Not news.'”
Well, James looked at me with a very confused, very complicated expression for a long, long moment, and finally said “…Really?”
“Really,” I told him, nodding. “I’m not trying to be an asshole or anything, but, well… Everyone knows. Nobody cares. That’s the way it is. I figured you should know… and that nobody else was going to tell you.” And it was true. Everybody knew, and had known, more-or-less forever.
Except Cathy, obviously. But she was a space cadet, remember?
In a lot of ways, it was one of the better things to happen to James. He’d been in a transparent closet for several years, trapped by both the belief that nobody could tell and the fear that everyone would hate him if they knew. He’d gone so far as to avoid dating anyone, lest they call him at work or come visit and “out” him. He wouldn’t even go to any of the nightclubs, lest he run into one of the other employees, and spoil his secret.
Fear is a terrible, and irrational, thing.
And it was all completely unnecessary, because everyone already knew, and nobody cared.
He never exactly came out, at work, per se. There was no announcement, nothing like that. There was no point; everyone knew, even Cathy, now. But he did lighten up quite a bit, with that burden lifted off of him. He stopped living in constant fear, I think. Stopped censoring himself, so as not to inadvertently let something slip in conversation. Stopped buying his LGBT books at a competing store, and started buying them at work, with his employee discount.
Started going to clubs and dating and having fun and getting on with his life, which he’d basically put on hold for several years out of entirely misplaced fear.
Anyway, I guess the point of this winding trip down memory lane is this: there will always be assholes in the world, and bigots, and people who are just generally mean and stupid. But people who like you aren’t going to stop liking you just because you tell them you’re gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, or whatever. The smart ones probably already know. (The dumb ones you maybe don’t really want to be friends with, anyway.) And if they know, and they still like you, they probably don’t care in the slightest.
Just some food for thought…