Sally Sheklow

Terminal Talk

Sunset Flight, photo by J. MeyerI was hanging out at O’Hare International, waiting for a delayed flight (is there any other kind?). Out of sheer boredom I said to the young woman next to me. “Your flight late, too?”

Note that I did NOT ask, “What’s your sexual orientation?”

Nonetheless, as she recounted her travel snafus, she managed to blithely slip in “Luckily, my husband’s home with the kids.”

Just like that. No qualms about revealing her intimate domestic arrangements to a complete stranger.

“That’s good,” I said, non-committal.

But it ate at me—the glaring discrepancy in freedom between gay and straight. Heterosexuals don’t go through coming out jitters, no tentative moments, no holding their breath until the other person indicates acceptance of their, uh, lifestyle. It’s not like they need to chant some confidence-building mantra like I’m het, you bet, get used to it. They’re simply free to cash in on their privilege.

This galls me.

I’m tempted to respond, Oh, so you’re hetero? Tell me, what’s that like?

But I’m polite. I wouldn’t want to impose the discomfiture we homos suffer countless times every day, weighing each situation to determine whether it’s okay to reveal ourselves. This woman, like me, has endured a day of late flights, missed connections, and jet fuel inhalation. That’s torment enough.

But still.

Lost Baggage, photo by J. MeyerI couldn’t let it go. I’d need a casual, not too in-your-face way to assert that my reality’s as valid as hers.

“My partner,” I started, then realize the genderless term could be misinterpreted. A pronoun was required, grammar be damned. “SHE stayed home.”


Ever notice how well-meaning (but underexposed) straight people, as soon as they find out you’re gay, will take your outness as a green light to ask everything they’ve ever wanted to know but had no one to ask, like you’re the walking encyclopedia on The Gay Experience?

Not that I’d forego an opportunity to educate the truly curious.

“I have kind of a stupid question,” she said, fishing for permission.

I graciously took the bait, not wanting to seem in any way ashamed of who I am. “There are no stupid questions.” I braced myself for some nosey inquiry about my sex life. “Shoot.”

Turned out she and her husband have a gay friend (don’t they all?), who is very flamboyant and always making jokes about being gay. “Is that normal? Could he be insecure or seeking approval or maybe asking for help?” (What? As in Yipes, I’m gay. Help! I don’t think so.). She asked, in all earnestness, “How can I be supportive?”

Does having a female partner make me an expert on gay men’s neuroses? What the heck. I’m not a psychologist, but I’ll play one in an airport terminal. Another opportunity to step up and march in my one-person gay pride parade.

By the time our flight was ready for boarding, my accidental Queer Studies 101 student was fully versed in the many ways she could be an ally.

I’m here, I’m queer, I give lessons.

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