When I tell you that I’m gay…

…I am actually NOT telling you about my sex life.

This is important. In fact, it’s one of the most misunderstood aspects of gay life. For so much of my life, I’ve felt conflicted about when it is appropriate to tell people about my sexual preference. And rightfully so. It’s complicated. When I tell someone that I am gay, I am actually telling them something about me that straight people generally don’t say. Of course, they don’t say it because they don’t have to. In most of the world, it is assumed that a person is straight, so there is no need for a man on an airplane, when asked about the ring he wears, to tell his seatmate that he prefers girls over boys.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

All my life, I have carried around a varying amount of guilt and shame, some of it stemming from the idea that perhaps I am “oversharing.” Because so many times in my life I’ve heard people say things like, “It’s okay if you’re gay. I just don’t want to hear about it. I don’t feel the need to tell people about my sex life, so why do you need to do that?”

When people say things like this, they may be well meaning. They also may not mean well. Not important. What I want to say is that this is an extremely unfair argument.

Here’s why:

-When I tell you that I’m gay, I’m sharing with you NOT my sexual history or my likes or dislikes in bed. Instead, I am telling you who I am.

-I’m telling you that unlike a straight person, I must decide what to call my partner, since there is no official word for our relationship.

-I’m telling you that when I walk down the streets of my neighborhood in suburban Phoenix, I must decide whether or not to hold the hand of the person I love (the answer, by the way, is no).

-I’m telling you that I have spent a good portion of my life being told that the most famous book in the world, the one upon which a large portion of the world bases its morals, hates me. It’s unclear whether that is actually so, but I have certainly heard about the Bible’s hatred of me enough. Until you’ve heard that a million or so times, you probably don’t understand its impact on your soul.

-I’m telling you that every year when I fill out my taxes, I must lie. There’s a box that says, “Single” that I must check, because to the federal government, I am single. But in reality, that doesn’t describe me at all.

-I’m telling you that while people spout off about whether or not my relationship should be considered equal to that of a straight couple, my partner and I pay approximately $5000 a year more in taxes because we are not considered a couple.

-I’m telling you that when I was younger, the day came when I realized I was not like my family of origin in an extremely fundamental way. They were all heterosexual, and I was not. You can pretend this is like being lefty when everyone else in your family is righty, but that argument falls apart quickly. They don’t kill or jail people in many parts of the world for being lefty.

-I’m telling you that when I was younger, the worst possible word a person could use as an insult described who I secretly was inside. Think about that for a second. I had to make the decision, every day of my young life, to reject or accept that label, to partake in calling others that name, or not. To accept or reject self-hatred.

So please, the next time you feel compelled to tell a gay person that he needn’t express his or her sexuality because it isn’t “your business,” remember these words. You may mean to say that you don’t wish to hear about that person’s sex life, which is fine. That’s true for me too, when it comes to about 92% of the people I sit next to on airplanes. You may mean to say that, but what you’re really saying to that person is that you don’t care who they are.

And that’s a terrible thing to say to a person.