Amtrak Stories: An Everyday Choice

Amtrak Stories: An Everyday Choice

Acela 2004 Pan Shot - native size

Coming out is more than making that one big announcement. It’s an everyday choice. Every time we meet a new person or find ourselves in a new situation, there’s a choice. This is a part of LGBT lives that straight people likely don’t even know exists. Sure, straight people reveal personal information every time they talk about themselves, but they probably don’t pause as often to weigh the cost of doing so. The speed bump at that interview when we consider if using the correct pronoun might cost us a job. A catch in the throat as we wonder if telling the truth might put us in danger. The nanosecond between synapse and tongue when a million variables are weighed and we find ourselves facing the question: to edit or not to edit. It’s a question that can loiter in the margins for the balance of an out life.

I was getting on an early morning, crowded Amtrak train from New York to D.C. for Pride Weekend. After walking through two cars in search of the perfect seat, I spotted an empty row. But as I came upon it, I discovered the window seat was taken by a tiny, older, conservative-looking woman with gray hair. She wore a navy polyester pantsuit, even in the heat of an oppressive June day. Blouse buttoned up as high as a blouse can be buttoned. Great. Well, I’m here, I thought. And I just want to sit. So I sat.

As the train headed towards D.C., we made polite, intermittent small talk, studiously sticking to “safe” topics: weather, movies, the fact that summer never seems to be quite as relaxing as we’re led to believe it should be. As a gay man, I’m keenly aware that casually mentioning more personal details about my life is often not considered to be “safe.”

It didn’t take long before I was faced with the decision: to edit or not to edit. The older woman jokingly mentioned something her husband does that annoys her and my first response was, “Oh honey, my husband does that too!” There it was. That lightning flash. That question mark. Should I or shouldn’t I? Is she going to freak out? Should I deflect? Say nothing? Maybe mention my husband but leave out the “Oh honey” part? Is that just entirely too gay? All these thoughts ran through my head during the brief pause in our conversation. I judged myself for even thinking the thoughts. Haven’t I outgrown this? Unlearned it yet?

But what I’ve learned is that while the thoughts may never go away, they don’t control me. I went with my gut, my truth. “Oh honey, my husband does that too!” It’s possible I even leaned in and touched her arm in solidarity.

She continued chatting as if nothing had happened. I admit, her complete lack of response threw me a little. She exhibited neither discomfort nor the inclination to treat me as a sudden curiosity, like an animal at the zoo. She had registered my use of the phrase “my husband,” but it carried no more or less weight than her use of it. We both had husbands. A fact. Plain. Simple. Easy.

About 20 minutes later, she casually mentioned her niece – and her niece’s girlfriend. (Ahhhh!) I asked her if she thought they were going to get married. “Well, not yet! It’s only been 7 months. But my brother and I are hopeful. This one’s fantastic. You should see some of the winners she’s brought home!”

Ah yes, I was reminded, there’s no difference. Me and my husband of 16 years. She and her husband of 52. And her niece and her niece’s possible future wife. Equal. All equal.

We spent the rest of the trip reading and talking, and laughing. I didn’t really feel tense when I first sat down, but I certainly felt more relaxed by the end of the ride.

At Union Station, I helped her with her luggage. She gave me a fierce hug and told me to have a fun, safe Pride. I wished her all the best and told her I hoped she’d be celebrating her niece’s wedding soon. With a dismissive wave of her hand, she said, “Don’t rush it.”

-Roger Ian Rosen

Travel from DC — to hundreds of destinations across the country — is always easy and affordable on Amtrak.