Those awkward water cooler conversations
A new year, and back to the office. Spare a thought for newbies getting to know their colleagues. Hopefully 2016 won’t bring many of those awkward moments I think of as ‘coming out’ about bereavement.
Coming out is now old hat, but I reckon few straight people realise that it’s an on-going process in the life of most gay men. It’s those little day-by-day interactions. The ordinary questions where the gender implies heterosexuality, confronting you with the choice to say – or not – ‘Actually, it’s he’. Those moments when you suddenly become aware of casually using a gendered pronoun about your partner that reveals your sexual orientation. Or those times when you realise you’re either conforming to or breaking ranks with a stereotype.
When you’ve lost a close relative, there’s a more subtle but similarly awkward process of coming out to ‘new’ people. Ice-breaking conversations turn to that nice young man who was recently widowed – who expects that at 30? – and you find yourself having to decide whether to disclose how close to the bone this may be. Suddenly it’s not so much ice-breaking as staking on thin ice.
In my case, 20 years after my twin sister’s death, I’ve developed a sixth sense. I can usually tell if it’s going to happen. The conversation veers to nieces and nephews… Alarm bells! The logical follow-up question to ‘No, I don’t have any’ is: ‘Oh, do you have any brothers and sisters?’ So it’s a split-second decision. Do I just say no (which in itself is true), or do I volunteer that I once had a twin? Once down that road, where do I stop, when the circumstances of her death were terrible – guaranteed to shake up any polite small talk?
Where does this leave me? With an odd trade-off. I don’t want to become centre of the show, and to change the mood of those ordinary getting-to-know-you water cooler conversations. And yet I don’t want to act in a way that seems to deny my twin ever existed.
As you can imagine – or perhaps know from personal experience – it has to remain a work in progress.