Allow me to make a simple, heartfelt request to my beloved friends and family: Please, stop asking me whether specific individuals are gay.
Sometimes, your inquiries come from a genuine desire to know the other person as s/he is, much in the spirit of my recent “To Know and Be Known” post; you might be concerned for the other person, or you might want to accommodate the differences in the way s/he experiences the world. (I deeply appreciate the compassion this attitude demonstrates.) Sometimes, your inquiries don’t carry any particular weight; you may not know the other person well, or you may just be curious in the moment during a conversation about something else. And sometimes, your inquiries are just gossipy; shame on us for treating something as momentous as sexual orientation as gossip fodder.
Regardless of the circumstances, though, your asking me if someone else is gay puts me in an extraordinarily difficult position regardless of whether I happen to know for sure if the person is or is not actually gay. When I was in the closet and began quietly coming out to certain individuals, I implored them not to divulge the information to anyone else, and I did so for a number of reasons. I remember how important confidentiality was for me then, so I continue to take very seriously the trust others place in me when they come out.
For that reason, when you ask me whether someone is gay or straight, I’ll typically respond with a standard line: “That’s not my story to tell.” I do this so my answers are always consistent—it wouldn’t be too tough to decode my language if I answered with a resolute “No” for some people and an ambiguous “I won’t answer” for others—but I don’t like how that standard answer sort of implies, maybe incorrectly, (a) I actually know that person’s story, and (b) I’m avoiding answering with a “Yes.” I don’t want to give the wrong impression about anybody. If anyone has suggestions on how I can better handle these requests, I welcome your advice.
Obviously, this little etiquette conundrum reaches at much bigger questions about disclosure and reputation, but we can save those for later. I simply want to ask you to stop asking me about other individuals’ sexual orientations. If you have reason to be curious about someone else, feel free to ask, “Is _____ openly gay?” or, “Has _____ shared publicly about experiences with same-sex attraction?” Those are harmless questions, as far as I’m concerned, because they involve information someone has already chosen to disclose publicly. (_____ might actually want others to know about his/her experiences.)
Otherwise, I mean it sincerely when I say, “It’s not my story to tell.”