Blast from the Past III: Coming out made easy
I met my boyfriend in April of 2006, a month before I graduated from college. I told him on one of our first dates that I was set to spend the next academic year teaching English at a high school in France, which turned out to be a surmountable obstacle for us. Even before I left, I did wonder just what I would say to people about him. I told myself I wasn’t going to deny I was in a relationship, and I wouldn’t say I was straight, but for the sake of some sanity in my classes and out of some fear of rural French culture, I didn’t particularly want to share any excess information.
My introduction to each of my classes allowed them time to ask me questions, either about myself or America. One of the most common was ,”Do you have a girlfriend?” which I would answer with a “no,” but “Are you in a relationship?” always got a “yes.” I figured the kids could do the math themselves.
As the English teaching assistant (or assistant d’anglais), I shared an apartment within the school with the assistante d’espagnol, a Mexican woman named Isabel.
We were both shy around each other at first, out of homesickness, a lack of familiarity, etc. But it’s not as if we avoided one another, and over the course of a few days we got to know each other quite well. I remember vividly crossing paths in the kitchen one evening and stopping for a chat.
To set the mood, I should say that the school was originally a hospital built by the Americans during the First World War. Nice a sentiment as that may be, it made for a somewhat inhospitable housing situation because living in an old hospital with windows in the doors is spooky, and it took me a while to get the place to my liking. At the time, there were no decorations in the room, so all we had were the hideous ocean-print chairs and a somber blue plastic tablecloth other a square table, along with a boxy old TV that died a slow and painful death.
Another fun tidbit – even though she’s almost ten years older than me, Isa looks about my age, while I look a bit like a high school student, traits which would not go unnoticed by our teachers or busybodies around town.
I hardly knew anything about Isabel at that point, but she seemed like a warm, friendly person, so when Isa asked me if I had a girlfriend back in the U.S., a petite amie, I told her I had a boyfriend, or a similar-sounding petit ami. It took her a second to catch the distinction, which I may have had to repeat, but she didn’t bat an eyelash, even as I felt that familiar knot in my stomach I remembered from coming out in high school.
The next day, she told me her two best friends were gay, like most of her male friends. She said she was surprised to hear me say so matter-of-factly that I had a boyfriend and congratulated me on the way I had done it. I thanked her, and said I didn’t see the need to make a big deal of out something that shouldn’t be. Of course, I didn’t mention that this was a theory I had never tested outside of the confines of a famously left-leaning liberal arts school.
But the fact that this works was a lesson well learned. Nowadays, she calls me her petit frère (“little brother”), and she’s my grande sœur (“big sister”). Even if I’ve got more than a foot on her.