Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 28, 2020

Looking back on the glass closet from the outside

By RUDY MALCOM | February 13, 2020

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COURTESY OF RUDY MALCOM

News & Features Editor Malcom reflects on the frustrations of flirting with closeted men. 

Let me begin with this: I am not here to out anyone. That said, I sometimes have a thing for closeted men. Maybe it’s the element of forbidden love, maybe it’s self-sabotage, maybe it’s internalized homophobia, maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline. Not to flex, but I found myself kissing one in Uni Mini last spring while waiting for my mozzarella sticks. 

A few nights later, at a party, he told me that he liked me — not once, not twice, but thrice. Three times! He said, however, that he was, for the time being, “denying himself.” I expressed my empathy and gave him my number in case he changed his mind, or even if he just wanted to talk, I said. 

Months elapsed, with no contact. Then last week at a party, I saw him. Seeking attention and perhaps a shard of intimacy, I greeted him. He smiled, seemingly ecstatic to see me. After a few moments of small talk, he told me, “We’re in different parts of our lives. But if I change my mind, you’re the first guy I’ll call.” With a wink, he left.

I have moved on. Luckily my enjoyment of the evening did not hinge on one male (I’m, like, so stable). But he is not the only closeted man to have sent me a rainbow of mixed signals. At a party this fall, someone came out to me as bi and told me that he liked me. He noted that he wasn’t ready to act on those feelings, but he also noted that “we’d get there eventually.”

We ran into each other a few more times that night. He kept flirting with me. 

“Maybe we’ll hook up later tonight,” he said. “Just kidding. Maybe tomorrow, maybe in a month. Who knows?” String me along like mozzarella.

These interactions are rather toxic, and these men’s behaviors are a bit emotionally insensitive. Experiences like these resurrect the shame that I felt in the closet and started to overcome as I started coming out. Experiences like these feed the insecurities about being gay that I still have and that, thanks to society’s numerous facets of heteronormativity, may never fully dissipate.

Of course, I understand that men like these are figuring things out. They deserve as much time as they want and need to do so. And it is not difficult to empathize with them. I recognize — and remember — how distressing being in the closet can be. 

I also recognize my privilege; I am immensely grateful that my parents accept my sexuality and that, despite many microaggressions, I have never been the object of someone’s explicit homophobia. Many of my fears about coming out were unfounded, but that does not apply to everyone. 

I’m not sure if these men want to get into why they are in the closet. I want to be there for them however they want me to be there for them, if they want me to be there for them at all. It is unclear what they are looking for. Words of comfort or advice from someone who understands? A rainbow at the end of the tunnel? A confidante for the evening? A friend for longer? More than a friend? Less? All of the above? None? Lions and tigers and bears, oh my?!

The lack of clarity can be incredibly distressing. Of course, men like these might not know what they are looking for. That is valid. But the next time some guy comes out to me, I hope that he doesn’t lead me on. If he wants words of comfort or advice, I hope that he asks for them. 

Monogamo-normatively speaking, communication is a two-way street. I will tell him to try not to lead me on. I will ask if he wants to stay in touch. I will ask if he wants words of comfort or advice. I will explain that I want to provide words of comfort or advice not because I want to get with him but because I want to be there for him. 

Barring any unlikely developments before this article is published, I am destined to be single on Friday. This Valentine’s Day, I will remember that coming out has allowed me to showcase a piece of my identity that I had long kept hidden. 

I will appreciate how being open about my sexuality has helped me take pride in other parts of myself as well. I will understand that others don’t have this opportunity. I will understand that I don’t need a closeted man to tell the world he likes me for me to love myself.

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