When Friends Come Out

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Comstock Images

One of the first e-mails I got when my plane landed Monday had just two sentences: "Are you back?" and "Don Lemon is gay." A friend wanted to fill me in on all the "breaking news" I'd missed while in the jungles of Brazil, but in the most casual way possible. Like "Your dog ate my memo" and "The world went on without you."


Thing is, the world — well, the heteronormative one, at least — is supposed to stop when someone previously packaged as "straight" suddenly bends the rules, but these days the bell curve appears to have switched things up a bit. So when CNN anchor Don Lemon announced via Twitter (linking to an interview with the New York Times about his new book, Transparent) that he was gay, the sound of the earth shattering wasn't so loud. It was more like a hammer on a mattress.

On Monday, Lemon told CNN colleague Joy Behar that he's never lived a double life. "I don't really know about the down low because I haven't played that game … I was born gay, just as I was born black." I'm betting that his friends picked up on that years before he ever came out to them. Actually, I'm hoping that they did.

Tiny Fey captured it best in her new book, Bossypants, when she described a life-altering moment in a friend's life: "In my experience, the hardest thing about having someone 'come out' to you is the 'pretending' to be surprised part." There's all the elongated vowel sounds to consider. The overstretched "o" of "Nooo?" and the drawn-out "e" in "Reeeally?"

"Your gay friend has obviously made a big decision to say the words out loud," writes Fey — author, actress, proud friend of the out and proud. "You don't want him to realize that everybody's known this since he was 10 … "

That's what I was thinking when, a week after sophomore year started, one of my best guy friends told me he was gay. First off, everyone in the universe (defined by the entire population of our dorm) knew this. (Never mind his awkwardly timed allusions to a long-distance high school girlfriend. They went to prom together, I think.) Second, I found him devastatingly attractive. Last, there was that time when we were sitting on my extra-long twin and a tickle fight had just gone to the cards — and nothing happened.

Point is, we were very close, and I just assumed that he assumed I assumed nothing would ever happen between us because we both liked guys. I even remember making a point to mention repeatedly in casual conversation about phallic fruit — for example, that my mother was a lesbian and I, therefore, was an expert on homosexuality and coming out of the figurative closet, since my mom had done so 10 years prior to my birth. I also jokingly called him "gay boy" in the elevator one or 10 times to just put it out there. This made sense to me. My constant gay fishing was a way of making a safe space. I was in no way laying a trap for a life-changing proclamation.


Oddly, I was the very last person from our group to whom my friend made his coming-out announcement. I knew this because everyone else told me to prepare myself for the very moment it happened. We each wanted to offer up the exact authentic amount of shock and awe. We wanted to be helpful. And our friend, wanting to make us feel useful, allowed each of us a private audience for our performances. To this day I believe my "Whaaat?!" followed very quickly by "OK, duh!" was something special.

Helena Andrews is a regular contributor to The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.


Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.