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Why didn’t you TELL me?!

Posted on Jun 20, 2016

I don’t usually get upset about the behaviour of strangers because it doesn’t usually affect my life. When someone cuts me off or is a wanker in traffic, I usually just shrug and get on with my life. Sometimes I’m annoyed enough to give them the finger, but it’s soon forgotten and it doesn’t bother me. If someone is rude at the store, I just assume they’re having a bad day and go on about my business.

Then there are times when interactions with strangers leave a lasting mark – sometimes good and sometimes bad. This past weekend, I had an interaction which left me hurting, and the other person has no idea! I think they may have felt bad afterwards too, and I wish that I had been able to rectify it at the time.

I was sitting at our table at the Midsummer Festival in Burnaby when a handsome young man walked by. I spoke to him to get his attention, and he stopped to chat for a while. He was exceptionally handsome, maybe early 20’s, clean cut and slightly exotic looking. I spoke to almost everyone that walked by our table so it wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to chit chat, but usually people just smiled and replied and kept walking.

Brief encounters are my forte, after decades of customer service work. Extended conversations lead to awkward silences for me, so eventually I just smile and shrug and hope they go away, no matter how delightful the conversation was! But this time, he had such a wonderful smile and a sweet countenance, and he was interested in chatting so I engaged.

After a few minutes of chatter, I ran out of clever things to say so I tried to come up with something else to talk about. He had no Scandinavian heritage or background, so I asked him why he had come. He just shrugged and said it was something different, and it was more curiosity than interest. And I said glibly “and lots of pretty girls, too!” As soon as it was out of my mouth, I wished I had added “and boys” because he totally could’ve been gay and I didn’t want him to feel bad. He just smiled, shoved his hands in his pockets, and looked around at the crowd. Shortly after that, he walked away. Whew!

For the next few minutes I sat there and thought “geez, I hope he wasn’t gay because then I would feel bad for saying something so stupid!” Twenty years ago, it would’ve been a perfectly normal thing for me to say to someone. These days, I’m much more aware of the connotations, and I try to be more cautious with my words.

As I sat there admonishing myself, I watched him walk out of the tent. With his boyfriend. UGH!! His boyfriend was rubbing his back and then he kissed his shoulder, and I thought “awwww, look how cute they are!!!” And my next thought was “DAMN!! I wish I had said “and boys”!!!”

I wanted so badly to run after them, but what was I going to say?! “Hey, sorry, I didn’t know you were gay!” or “Hey! You two are adorable!” or “OMG, I’m so happy you’re gay!” or what I REALLY wanted to say, which was “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL  ME?!?!”

The sad truth is that he shouldn’t NEED to tell me. It’s none of my frigging business! But because we always look at things from our own perspective, all I could think was “Did I look like an old fuddy-duddy who wouldn’t understand? Was he afraid to tell me for fear of being scoffed at or ridiculed?” Or was he trying to save me from myself, thinking that I’d be embarrassed for not knowing he was gay?

Sheesh, the fact that I’m overthinking it speaks to how messed up it all is – why do we have to be so worried about what other people think?! I don’t want people to be offended by my words, and I don’t want them to walk away from our conversation feeling hurt. So if that boy felt bad, I am so very, very sorry. But the fact that he didn’t feel comfortable outing himself to me also makes me feel very, very sad. I wish we could all just be open about these things, and not bat an eye when someone corrects us about erroneous assumptions. The only way to correct the behaviour is to acknowledge it and confront it head-on. I have to admit I’ve made a mistake before I can begin to atone for it.

If you’re LGBTQ or any other human, I hope you are able to stand proud and feel safe. If I’ve made  you feel otherwise: WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?!