While there is a lot to be said for being out to all comers, there is a certain something that comes with being a closeted gay (okay, bi/pansexual and gender fluid or whatever you want to call me) man in a semi-conservative environment. You get to play spy. I often find myself wondering how many allies or opposition I might have, and it could really go either way. I work in a liberal state in a conservative county in a town reknowned for being one of the forerunners in the women's rights movement. The statistics say that it's about a 60-40 split between acceptance and dismissal of LGBT individuals. It can make people hard to peg even though they're comfortable talking about things they might not be if they knew I was LGBT.
It doesn't help that there is a subtle adherence to gender norms and with that a certain homophobia. A more overt example is the liberal use of words like "gay" and "faggot" as universal negatives, but it runs much deeper than that. There was a situation at work, much more awkward than actually offensive that played out thusly:
Coworker (upon noticing my pink socks): Are those your girlfriend's socks?
Me: Uhh, no, these are mine.
Coworker: Did I just say something wrong?
Different Coworker: He likes pink, so what...
(the conversation continued on about the difference between pink and Salmon)
And it goes both ways, I get that. I can't honestly expect to wear pink, orange, green, and purple socks with smiley-faced stars on them without gaining a few odd looks. But I also don't see why one thing or another has to be particular to on gender, or why it should prompt a discussion.
I think a lot of the time people find themselves either in a situation that is new, or with a type of person (an LGBT person) that they might not have a lot of experience being around. Nervousness breeds awkwardness and often people will spit out whatever's on their mind just so that something breaks the silence. Unfortunately since experience is lacking, that something will typically transfer the awkwardness to the unusual individual in question.
It played out harmlessly and I don't really care any further than it gives me something to think and write about. It helps that I choose to be somewhat closeted more out of convenience than out of any sort of fear. I'm bi/pansexual, gender-fluid and dating an FtM trans male. That requires more explanation than I care to take the time to give, and even if I did, I'm not sure my older coworkers would really understand it anyways. Plus I kind of sealed my fate when I introduced my partner as my girlfriend. What am I supposed to do, say "uh...actually that's wrong." (On second thought, that sounds kind of amusing.) I think we'll get there eventually, but it'll take time.