Coming Out in Rural America

I went to graduate school thinking I was straight. Then I realized I wasn’t.

I came out of the closet almost two years ago, right after deciding to do my graduate research in Montana. Suddenly, I had an extra consideration on my plate: What would it be like to be gay in Montana? What will it be like to be gay wherever else my career takes me?

On the whole, I love it here. Montana feels like a pretty accepting place, but it’s a mixed bag. During Pride week, the governor, Democrat Steve Bullock, flew the LGBTQ Pride flag above the state capitol for the first time in the state’s history. Republicans immediately criticized him for it.

I’m used to living among people who unequivocally accept LGBTQ people. I came out to my parents via email the same week I figured it out myself because it’s no big deal in our family. Others aren’t as lucky; some people’s families still disown them.

I assumed that you come out of the closet and then you’re out. It’s not true. It’s a continual process of deciding who needs to know, and how and when to tell them.

In Montana, the first challenge was housing. I looked into renting a room from a straight couple who told me they thought gay people were fine as long as they kept it to themselves. The implication was that being gay is icky. I did not come out to them or rent from them.

Then I looked into another rental with a woman and her female “roommate.” When I arrived to meet the “roommate,” we immediately recognized each other as gay, and then came out to each other. They are a couple, and I rented a room from them for the summer.

At my research site, I don’t bring up my sexuality. My research participants are, on the whole, absolutely fantastic people whom I both like and admire. But what if even a few people wouldn’t participate in my study if they knew? I’d rather not take chances.

Then I met someone special. She’s my first girlfriend. We’ve only been together a few weeks, and who knows how long this will last, but I’m in my late 30s and it is the first time in my life I’ve felt this way.

I watched all of my peers pair off as teens, and then get married in their 20s and 30s, while I remained alone. Couplehood was a slice of life reserved for other people, not me. Finally, it’s my turn too. I’m so happy I could sing.

What I didn’t expect, after being out and proud for nearly two years, is how my first gay relationship would shove me partially back in the closet.

Opinions are split among queer friends here, but many feel it’s not safe to look like a couple in public. Most people are accepting, but it only takes one person to beat you up. And I know people who have faced violence for being gay here.

It’s odd walking around town with my first girlfriend, keeping our hands off each other and pretending we’re just friends while straight couples around us can freely kiss. Then I go to work at my research site and pretend the most exciting thing in my life isn’t happening, in case that would harm my research.

Again, most people are good, and kind, and accepting, but most isn’t all. Our work for acceptance is not done until queer people can live their lives as freely and easily as straight people do. We’re still not there yet.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
September 20, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Unipolar Governance of the Multipolar World
Rob Urie
Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!
Miguel Gutierrez
El Desmadre: The Colonial Roots of Anti-Mexican Violence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pompeo and Circumstance
Andrew Levine
Why Democrats Really Should Not All Get Along But Sometimes Must Anyway
Louis Proyect
A Rebellion for the Wild West
T.J. Coles
A Taste of Their Own Medicine: the Politicians Who Robbed Iranians and Libyans Fear the Same for Brexit Britain
H. Bruce Franklin
How We Launched Our Forever War in the Middle East
Lee Hall
Mayor Obedience Training, From the Pet Products Industry
Louis Yako
Working in America: Paychecks for Silence
Michael D. Yates
Radical Education
Jonathan Cook
Israelis Have Shown Netanyahu the Door. Can He Inflict More Damage Before He Exits?
Valerie Reynoso
The Rising Monopoly of Monsanto-Bayer
John Steppling
American Psychopathy
Ralph Nader
25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare for the 2020 Elections
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid Made Official: Deal of the Century is a Ploy and Annexation is the New Reality
Vincent Emanuele
Small Town Values
John Feffer
The Threat of Bolton Has Retreated, But Not the Threat of War
David Rosen
Evangelicals, Abstinence, Abortion and the Mainstreaming of Sex
Judy Rohrer
“Make ‘America’ White Again”: White Resentment Under the Obama & Trump Presidencies
John W. Whitehead
The Police State’s Language of Force
Kathleen Wallace
Noblesse the Sleaze
Farzana Versey
Why Should Kashmiris be Indian?
Nyla Ali Khan
Why Are Modi and His Cohort Paranoid About Diversity?
Shawn Fremstad
The Official U.S. Poverty Rate is Based on a Hopelessly Out-of-Date Metric
Mel Gurtov
No War for Saudi Oil!
Robert Koehler
‘I’m Afraid You Have Humans’
David Swanson
Every Peace Group and Activist Should Join Strike DC for the Earth’s Climate
Scott Owen
In Defense of Non-violent Actions in Revolutionary Times
Jesse Jackson
Can America Break Its Gun Addiction?
Priti Gulati Cox
Sidewalk Museum of Congress: Who Says Kansas is Flat?
Mohamad Shaaf
The Current Political Crisis: Its Roots in Concentrated Capital with the Resulting Concentrated Political Power
Max Moran
Revolving Door Project Probes Thiel’s White House Connection
Arshad Khan
Unhappy India
Nick Pemberton
Norman Fucking Rockwell! and 24 Other Favorite Albums
Nicky Reid
The Bigotry of ‘Hate Speech’ and Facebook Fascism
Paul Armentano
To Make Vaping Safer, Legalize Cannabis
Jill Richardson
Punching Through Bad Headlines
Jessicah Pierre
What the Felicity Huffman Scandal Says About America
John Kendall Hawkins
Draining the Swamp, From the Beginning of Time
Julian Rose
Four Funerals and a Wedding: A Brief History of the War on Humanity
Victor Grossman
Film, Music and Elections in Germany
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ahmet Altan’s “I Will Never See the World Again”
David Yearsley
Jazz is Activism
Elliot Sperber
Captains of Industry