October 11 is National Coming Out Day. On one hand, it is pretty awesome that there is such a sense of community engagement that there is a day of national awareness. On the other hand, it is really sad that there has to be a national day of awareness in the first place.
The first National Coming Out Day was in 1988, when I (and probably the majority of people who read this blog) was still young enough that I wasn’t really sure about the difference between boys and girls yet, other than if I hit my older brother it was OK, but if he returned the favor he got into trouble. Not that I ever used that to my advantage …
There are so many reasons for members of the LGBTQ community not to come out:
- LGBTQ people are at a higher risk of sexual violence
- In 29 states you can be fired if your boss thinks you are lesbian or gay. Thirty-two states allow for firing based on gender identity. (Arizona is in both categories.)
- Same-sex marriage is still illegal in more than half the country, including Arizona
The list goes on and on, punctuated by violence and discrimination, hate and fear.
But somewhere between 1.6 and 10 percent of people identify as LGBTQ, and according to the Human Rights Campaign, one out of every two Americans has someone close to them who is lesbian or gay. Planned Parenthood says one out of four families has a member who is LGBTQ. To put those numbers in perspective, in Tucson, that means, statistically, between 16,000 and 90,000 people identify as LGBTQ.
The process of coming out is different for everyone, and different every time. It is also something that, on average, LGBTQ people are doing at a younger age than previous generations. And, thanks to the Internet, there are some amazing resources to help.
In honor of National Coming Out Day 2014, I have something to say: I am gay.
That is a terrifying thing to say, no matter how many times I say it.
The thing about coming out, and why there needs to be a day of awareness, is that coming out is not a one-time thing. Sure, I said it once, but I will need to say it again. In my life, I have had to say it multiple times, just to myself.
As the youngest daughter in a family that was about as straight as you can get (military, law enforcement, fire department, etc.), being gay was something that happened to other people.
My parents would talk about how being gay wasn’t inherently wrong, but … There was always a but. Without even recognizing it, I came to understand that being gay was fine for other people, but not for me.
Growing up, sure, I knew I liked girls, but I wasn’t “gay”! I was “experimenting,” or I would quote the Kinsey Institute about the fluidity of women’s sexuality. I would insist that it wasn’t gay if you had a boyfriend. And I would do all this to myself. I never talked to anyone else about my confusion.
In college, I tried to come out, and it went so badly that for the next 10 years, I worked really hard to convince myself, and everyone else, that I was 100 percent heterosexual. That is a hard thing to do, and it takes its toll.
Finally, two years ago on my birthday, I said it, aloud, to my best friend: “I think I am not straight.” I was also more drunk than brave. Luckily, the next day when I sobered up, she wouldn’t let me off the hook. It was terrifying, but also wonderful. I told my sister-in-law next, and her reaction was the best: “I have known you were gay since we were kids. Thank God you finally admitted it. Now you can start being happy.” She used the term “gay” before I did. If it weren’t for the two of them, I would have crawled back into that closet pretty quickly.
I didn’t plan on telling my parents. I have two sets of parents, the “mom set” and the “dad set,” which makes it that much more nerve-wracking.
I was seeing someone, and pretty happy about it. One day I was at the mom set’s house, and my mother said something about how things seemed to be going so well for me, and now all I needed was to meet a nice man. It just kind of came out, no pun intended, that I was seeing a nice woman. Again, it didn’t go well. My mother said that I just hadn’t met the right guy yet. My step-dad still thinks I am going through a phase. When my mother told me that she would rather see me spend the rest of my life alone than be “that way,” I left. It took a while for me to speak to her again. Now, they are still not happy, but they pretend to be OK with it. Hopefully one day they actually will be.
I still haven’t told my dad set of parents. My dad thinks that the only reason someone is a lesbian is because she can’t get a man. My mom says that it “just isn’t OK.” I am terrified of losing them, though I know that they love me no matter what. For me, like a lot of people, there is that part of you that wonders which will be stronger: their love or their beliefs?
I think what makes the dad set so hard is because I am closer to them.
Unique family dynamics like my own, as well as the prejudice that still permeates our society, are some reasons why there is still so much fear surrounding the prospect of coming out. There are so many reasons to remain silent, but there will never be change, never be acceptance, as long as people still give into that fear.
And there are so many more reasons to be honest with yourself and the world about who you are. Parades would be at the top of my list (and are also why I love that I am Irish).
If you are LGBTQ, and you feel safe and comfortable doing it, happy National Coming Out Day, regardless of whether it is the first time or the hundredth time you have said those words.
If you are straight, reaffirm your acceptance of the people in your life, because whether it’s the first time or the hundredth time they’ve come out, those words are hard.
And, if you are LGBTQ and not ready to come out, it’s OK. We will be here next year, and the year after and the year after, until there is no more fear, no more hate, no more closets.
The most terrifying, wonderful, liberating words I have ever said: I am gay.
I am sending the link for this to my parents. I hope their love wins out.