(Names changed to protect the innocent.)
I had the most uncomfortable workplace conversation ever the other day. It was the end of the day, and people were getting ready to leave, or else had left already. Susie, my neighbor at work, was telling me about some Taiwanese drama. Apparently, there's a homosexual character on the show, which led Susie right into asking me directly whether I had any gay friends.
The question took me by surprise, although it probably shouldn't have; my coworker is always asking me these very direct, often personal, and entirely random questions. I mean, I like her very much, but sometimes it's as if she has no filter, and so expects other people to be just as open and forthcoming with every detail of their lives.
I pretended to reflect, but I actually knew very well that my answer would be no. No, I don't have any gay friends. This is not due to any homophobia on my part, but more so it reflects the special value I invest in the word "friend," which I personally reserve for only a very select few individuals with whom I have felt a strong sense of camaraderie. By that definition, I would say that I can probably also count on one hand the number of heterosexual friends that I've had in my entire life.
I was probably considering the question more deeply than it deserved. I've had gay classmates and coworkers with whom I've been on friendly terms. I suppose, in the broader sense of the word, they would qualify as "friends."
Anyway, it hardly mattered. Susie was a little surprised that I didn't have any gay friends. Then, as if conducting a survey, she turned to another coworker, Colleen, and asked her if she had any gay friends. Colleen, not quite understanding the question, raised an eyebrow and turned to me. I just shrugged and restated the question: "Do you have any gay friends?" No, we're not at the uncomfortable part yet, but almost.
Colleen, now realizing that this was not a joke, casually named one of our male coworkers.
"Who?!" asked Susie quite loudly.
Colleen repeated the name, only this time she leaned in and whispered it, whereas she had spoken it in a normal tone the first time. I couldn't understand it at first. If our male coworker was openly gay, then why were we whispering as though it were some shameful secret? If it was a secret, then maybe it wasn't such a good idea for Colleen to be outing this guy to the one person in the office with almost no filter nor any sense of boundaries.
Sure enough, upon hearing the name more clearly, Susie responded, "Kevin is gay?!"
As she practically yelled out her question in astonishment, I immediately wished we could go back to whispering. And as Susie proceeded to repeat "Kevin is gay?!" several more times, mixing things up with the occasional "I didn't know Kevin was gay!" as well, I did not want to be anywhere near that conversation anymore.
Of course, Colleen didn't help things much. Even though she appeared to be just as embarrassed as me, that didn't stop her from naming all the other gay guys at our workplace. Some were news to me, some I already knew. Somehow all of it was shocking to Susie, who continued to loudly express her astonishment.
I wondered under what circumstances Colleen even came by all this intel. And as for Susie, she seemed so out-of-touch with who was and wasn't gay in the office, I seriously wondered whether she herself had any gay friends. I might have turned the tables and asked her, but, really, I didn't want to prolong the conversation any further.