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Ask Anyone

the straight and narrow-minded

I’m in a committed heterosexual relationship so I guess I’m “straight” now. I haven’t always been. Most of my previous relationships, long and (ahem) short, were with other men. The thorny issue is not my sexuality, with which I am perfectly comfortable. It’s about how to reference my past in ordinary conversation. Sometimes I’ll refer, for example, to “my ex, Phil...” and watch the perplexed looks come across the faces of newer friends and even relatives who don’t know me that well. I’m not especially interested in sharing my whole dating history every time I refer to my past—and I’m certainly not interested in confounding children or embarrassing their parents—but I would like to be free to converse the way my always straight friends do, mentioning past relationships and using them to establish time frames in anecdotes, etc. Got any advice for me?

—My Last Duchess

The Gay Perspective: Making such choices about self-revelation is not unique to your situation. We all put forward different faces depending upon the social setting and the person to whom we are speaking. Well socialized people know enough to speak more frankly with close friends than with strangers; to be more formal at a job interview than at a birthday party. You might discuss certain issues with your physician that you would not even discuss with your lover. It is a sign of social awkwardness not to be able to make such judgements with immediate facility.

My advice to you is simply that you should never feel ashamed of your past, or that you need to hide something, simply because you do not think the topic is appropriate or comfortable in a specific social setting. In addition, there may be occasions when providing a bit of education by dropping the name “Phil” and causing that perplexed look is entirely appropriate. You are inviting people in, and, in turn, giving them the opportunity to respond appropriately—or not. Your life is your life. Any friends who cannot embrace your complexities, or who expect you to be ashamed of your past, even after you’ve given them enough information to get used to the idea, should not be considered “friends” at all.

lent me your ears

I’ve been thinking I should give up something for Lent, but then it occurred to me that maybe I should do something positive for Lent instead of something self-denying. Got any good ideas?

—Do-Right Woman

The Gay Perspective: What social-cultural-community causes are important to you? Volunteer or give a donation. I agree. That would be more productive and fulfilling than giving something up. Besides—true overindulgence is a vice at any time of the year. If you want to give something up, make it something you shouldn’t be doing to begin with—like smoking, or texting while driving, or spreading vicious gossip—and once you’ve given it up, resolve to do it no more.

The Straight Skinny: Nice idea. If I were you, I’d start by making a list of people for whom you’d like to do things—family, neighbors, favored bartenders, whoever. Then make a list of things you might do: Make a pot of soup for a friend; shovel a neighbor’s driveway; take your partner’s car to the carwash; offer to baby-sit for a couple who can never get out on the town anymore.

Alternately, you could undertake some sort of self-improvement that does not entail denying yourself some pleasure. You know what aspects of your life need improvement better than we do, so I hesitate to make further suggestions. But make sure to choose something you can manage. You might take up letter-writing, for example. If you do, make your goal modest—maybe one letter per week to a friend who will surely be delightewd to receive that rarity, an actual piece of mail. That’s something you can achieve and even sustain after Lent is over.

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