Today is National Coming Out Day, a hashtagged holiday that suprisingly has been around for almost 30 years. Jason posted a pic of him as a teenager, with bleached tips and a precocious face, with a "holiday greeting," I knew I had just the pic to match it. That limp wrist. That effusive grin! Born this way, indeed.
Coming Out. Big heavy sigh. A thousand feelings.
If I'm being honest, I was outed against my will to my parents by a poorly cleared internet explorer cache. A tale as old as... AOL, I guess. My mom confronted me about it, and it was very, very threatening. Not that she threatened me but that I suddenly got a sense of how much was directly challenged by my sexuality. All her future family plans, all her faith, all her hopes for me. It apparently wasn't on her radar.
But I honestly can't imagine that it came as that much of a surprise. It was at a time where I was being very dishonest about a lot of my life to my parents. The stock, textbook double life of a closeted teenager. They had to know something was up, and looking back at family pics... I mean, seriously. But even before that. How many times had I come home from elementary school, crying over the relentless bullying. Being called a faggot many, many times a day. In fourth grade my dad had to have a talk with me about "not being so weird." In sixth grade me and my mom had a frank discussion with me about wanting to kill myself instead of going to school. In seventh grade I had one friend, a girl, similarly outcast. In ninth grade my friends were a motley crew of guys from church who HAD to be my friends, effeminate goth boys, very pretty skater boys, and just a ton of girls.
But on the day she confronted me about it — it was... challenging. She told my dad, told me that she told him, though they never spoke to me about it, not that I can remember, anyway. That whole period is pretty vague, honestly. I was kicked out for a night, I think? More for how angry and hostile I got during the confrontation than anything else.
Later, when I decided to go on a mission, I'm sure they hoped that the threat had "passed." I was out to my mission president, but for all intents and purposes I had gone back into a very specific type of closet: the Mormon "struggling with same-sex-attraction" closet. I dated girls when I got home, none ever really took, though I really did wish, at the time, that they would. I just wanted something like normalcy, to fit in a script. I took some home to meet my parents, and you could tell they were THRILLED. But in the end, I couldn't deny what I was, and after a time, I didn't want to. I dated guys, but more or less stayed in the closet.
The next time I came out to them was when I finally took Dave home, told them I was dating him, that I really, really liked him. They were supportive, though subtly crestfallen. In a lot of ways he was the Mormon girl they'd always wanted me to settle down with, he just happened to be a guy. But. When I told my mom one day, a couple years later, that we were probably not ever going to break up (a cringe here, for the events of 2015), my mom had one last pang of grief over it. It was emotional again, and I think it was when she finally let go of the future that briefly slipped away in high school.
At work I was still in the closet, though, and it formed a subtle wedge with coworkers who were rapidly becoming friends. I had to keep them at arms length, as it seemed inconceivable to me to introduce them, at that point, to such an obviously important part of my life that I had completely hidden from them. When I changed jobs, I did so fully out, from day one. It was demonstrably easier. And when I went back to my old job, on my introduction email I included a photo of me and my then husband in front of our new house. Some of those old coworkers were stunned, but eventually got over it, and were more than understanding as to why I had been secretive before. With every disclosure it became easier and easier, not only to voice but also to perceive the benefits: the lack of stress, the emotional honesty, etc.
A couple months ago Lydia messaged me asking if one of her friends could ask me some questions about coming out. I readily agreed, though the exchange never happened — she may have gotten shy, she may have marshaled her strength and done it on her own, maybe she asked someone out.
But if it had, I would have told her that coming out is scary, hard, sometimes dangerous, always emotional, liberating, excruciating, fantastic, daunting, self-affirming, declarative, imperative, and in the end... always usually often totally worth it. I would have told her that the first time is the scariest time, and that with every subsequent coming out — and there will be many, hundreds, thousands maybe — it gets easier and less challenging.
I would have told her to follow her own time table, to trust her gut, but to at least commit to always be moving towards living a life of honesty — away from lies, away from shadows, away from shame.
I am reminded daily of the words of Harvey Milk, words that I am sure would have terrified me earlier in life, that today I see the wisdom and a brilliant, fierce truth in:
“Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and for all. And once you do, you will feel so much better.”