Hey, I Have A Question

By: Nathan Klembara

*Ding* A Facebook Messenger alert.

“Hey, I have a question.”

It’s from a relatively new friend I made while working on a project in Spain, I’ll call him “Alberto”.  The simple message is a bit confusing in the moment.  Alberto and I message each other often, and he’s usually much more direct than this.

Facebook Messenger dings again.

“Remember this night?”

He sends a photo.  It’s a photo of me, Alberto, and another friend walking home to the project residence.  I do remember that night.  I remember the only reason why that night was important.  My heart skips.

It’s the night I came out to them.  It’s the first time I ever came out to anyone I met while in the field.

I stare at the three little dots at the bottom of my computer screen.  I don’t really understand why I’m so nervous.  When I told them I was gay, they were cool.  I was later comfortable with the decision.  It didn’t change our relationship at all.  But my anxiety won’t let me be calm.  Why would he be asking about this all these months later?  What if my sexuality was a problem?  Why was I so nervous?  Heck, what if he wasn’t going to ask about that at all?

Finally, I hear that familiar ding.

“This was the night you said you were gay.  It’s not a problem at all, don’t worry.  I was just surprised, and admired you that night.  We hadn’t known each other very long.  Are people more open about this  in the US?  If you don’t mind me asking, why did you do it?”

I didn’t know how to answer.  Alberto and I have shared personal stuff before, so this question wasn’t necessarily out of the blue or inappropriate for our relationship.  We have often leaned on each other in the few months we have known each other.  While I was comfortable with the decision to come out that night in the field, I had never put much thought into why I had come out then, and why I hadn’t come out on other field projects.

There is no universal “coming out in the field” story.  Every experience is different. Where are you working, with whom are you working, among other things, affects your ability or desire to come out in the field.  This is my story; this is only one of my experiences.

I may not have had a great answer at the time, but I could tell him definitively that no, people in the US don’t necessarily have it easier here than in Western Europe, and that many people can’t be open about it, especially in archaeology.

But why did I do it?

Because I realized I was, all things considered, in a relatively privileged position. I was working on an academic project, and most everyone around me was younger and university-educated.  Drawing on stereotypes, I was comfortable in this demographic. The crew I was working with were also warm and inviting, although I was the “new guy”.  This framed me and my identity in a specific way, one that was very different than if I was working on a government project, or in CRM.  It was a safer space than many archaeological projects.

But why did I do it?

Because I had already spent over a month in a foreign country I had never been to before, with a group of people I had never met before, whose language I did not know (which was on me, and everyone there was so helpful and accommodating in this regard!).  As is any new experience, it was stressful and anxiety-inducing.  Keeping another part of me hidden, a large and important part of me, was too much. Coming out was a liberating and, at that time, necessary, experience.  With everything else going on around me, I just needed to be me. 

But why did I do it?

Because I only came out to a few, close people who I trusted.  I didn’t come out to the entire crew that night.  I never came out to the entire crew.  My field director never knew, my supervisors never knew, my roommate never knew.  I’m sure if I had, it wouldn’t have changed anything about our relationship.  But I couldn’t help but remember all of the homophobia, both direct and indirect, I had experienced on prior field projects.  I needed to be me, but it was enough to be me to just my closest friends.

But why did I do it?

Because it was 5:30am after a long night of dancing and drinks.  My filters were down.  I just didn’t care in that moment.

But why did I do it?

Because I wanted to.

That’s it.  And that’s all that matters.

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