When I came here to France, besides my coworkers, I knew nobody.
That was OK since I immediately signed up for unlimited phone to the US and high-speed internet (all for 30 euro a month with basic cable included, thank you progressive European telecommunication regulation) and whiled away my time calling American friends and watching YouTube.
It's was one of the harder parts of transplanting myself to the other side of the world, trying to find a small community again. In December when I visited my brother in Germany, I confided that I felt like I was still living in America, considering that I was still living 95% of the time in English, knew a reason to vote against each presidential candidate but not the name of the mayor of St. Etienne, and was drinking far too much instant coffee.
So in January, when I got a call from the manager of a private English tutor list, saying that there was a family who wanted to talk English once a week and would pay me in dinner, I jumped at the chance. It sounded like a host family, people who could help me adapt to this new town.
It's funny because I'm far too old for a host family. I came to France on a contract to work, everything else was just detail. At my age my mother was already married and pregnant with her first child after moving half-way across the world to the US. My father was in Turkey serving in the Air Force when he was my age. I couldn't be the child of a family at this age - I'm supposed to already know how to make friends in a new country and get by just fine, no matter the language or cultural differences.
We agreed that I'd come over on Tuesdays at 7. They were a lovely middle-aged couple, I found on the first Tuesday; N cooked an impressive gratin (not from a can, the style of cuisine to which I've become habituated and which has become my low, low standard for good food), and I sat around with L after dinner drinking cognac (Rémy Martin, so I couldn't say no).
And I didn't mention the fact that I was gay at all.
It wasn't that I avoided it; it just never came up. No questions about girlfriends, no questions about the site after I mentioned it, no questions about plans for marriage.
Since we were speaking in English, we stuck to those great high school foreign language class topics, like travel, geography, food, weather, their home. Those things you learned how to say in Spanish in high school are what they learn to say in English out here. It's invigorating conversation.
I showed up the next week, Tuesday at 7, and no one was home. No one called me; I didn't call them. And I didn't go the next week. A couple months have passed.
Since then I've met a few more people, gotten to know some of the French gay boys, and have been seeing a boy who lives in Paris.
Just last week I ran into the woman who runs the private tutoring list at the university. She was in the lobby of my building as I got back from work and she asked how my job was going.
Good, I said.
How's your family?
Strange question, since she's never been to Indiana, but I said they were good.
No, not your real family, your host family!
I explained the situation and she told me she'd get on it. They were personal friends of hers, you see.
So this past weekend in Lyon, spending it with A who came down from Paris, I told him about the whole kebab.
Are you going to see them this Tuesday? he asked
If I did (I didn't), I probably would have told them about my weekend. Oh, this boy came down from Paris to spend the weekend with me in Lyon. And last week I spent the night with a guy out near Firminy....
I don't know their thoughts on gays, so what if they got upset? What if they kicked me out of their house? What if L shouted, "Not in this host family! We have no exchange son!" while N sobbed, "My American son, a homosexual. Where did we go wrong? Did I coddle him too much when I passed the salad? Was the way I offered dessert over-bearing?"
Well, it's looking like I'll never know.
My coming out to my parents was surprisingly calm since my parents simply replaced one dream of how I'd live my life (nice wife, several kids, a stable career) with another (nice male permanent partner, several kids, a stable career). I feel that in a way I didn't really come out to them considering how I bite my tongue sometimes about my personal life. I have a second coming out to do, but it isn't going to be funny like the one I dreamed up over the weekend.
If it ever happens, it won't be a single event. It seems sometimes like coming out is a whole lot more than just having a party, telling everyone I'm gay, and moving on. It's more complicated than constantly coming out to new people. It involves more than the sex of the people to whom I'm attracted.
If anything, I'm imagining being truly out as a consuming frankness, making it a standard so high I don't feel like living up to it. On the other hand, I tick off the "Totally out" box on online profiles. I know what's being asked, but at what point does one really earn the right to label him or herself as "Totally out"?
Whatever the answer to that question, if I do come out to my host family, if I do see them again, I'll wait until after the Rémy Martin. I can't afford it, and there's no way I'm putting my chance at getting some more in danger.