I went for a haircut recently, and I lied to the person who cut my hair.
The hair she cut wasn’t the problem. My hair’s pretty short; my needs fairly simple. She didn’t accidentally carve the Grand Canyon into my scalp.
I didn’t lie when she asked me if I liked what she’d done. I lied during the small talk; when she asked “do you have a girlfriend?”
I said I didn’t. And then I said I was single.
That was the lie.
I had a boyfriend. I lied about his existence. And it’s been bugging me ever since: why did I do that?
I’m an out, gay man. I work for the UK Government on LGBT equalities policy. I’m the vice-chair of the Civil Service LGBT+ Network. I scream homosexual. But I lied.
Worse, I doubled down on it throughout the rest of the ensuing chit chat.
Coming out in every moment
People reminisce about coming out. They especially like to do it today, on National Coming Out Day. They talk about “when I came out” like it was a one time event; like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, at once leaving behind the suffocation of the closet and being born anew.
It’s comforting to think of it that way, but it’s not really true. You don’t come out in one moment; you come out in every moment.
To your mum. To your sister. To your colleagues, and your friends. To your hairdresser.
It’s easier the second, third, fourth and fifth time, but you still have to do it that second, third, fourth and fifth time. You have to do it all the time.
And do you know what? It’s exhausting.
Sometimes it’s just easier to lie
There are ways to minimise the effort you expend on coming out continually of course. Wearing rainbow lanyards or pin badges. Dropping the word “boyfriend” or “partner” into conversation at the earliest available opportunity when meeting people.
Any LGBT person will know the feeling of doing the moral-mathematics in their head when they’re in a situation with someone that doesn’t know they’re LGBT; a fruitless endeavour to try and calculate a persons reaction if you say the G word. Making the decision is never without cost; and sometimes it’s mentally cheaper to shut down the conversation by saying you’re single – or even to invent a whole other heterosexual life – than it is just say they presumed wrong.
Sometimes, it’s just easier to lie.
Or, at least, it’s easier to lie in that moment. As you might be able to tell, that I lied to my hairdresser has been bugging me ever since.
Maybe I lied because of some internalised homophobia. Maybe it was because I convinced myself the hairdresser would react badly from a series of unconscious biases. Maybe I just had a moment of panic. Whatever it was at the time, the lie carries a cost.
Perhaps the reason it’s playing on my mind though is more basic than that. Maybe I just couldn’t be arsed to come out to a stranger again; and maybe, as an allegedly out and proud person, that’s just a bit scary to admit.