Yesterday marked National Coming Day and if you listened very carefully, you may heard the sound of thousands of closet doors being ripped off their hinges....no really....it's true. Every moment, that goes by another lgbt person is summoning the courage to tell someone the truth about themselves. They may tell a parent, a spouse, a friend,.....they may only be able to speak the words to total strangers through YouTube. It may happen through faltering words, through tears, or by courageous proclamation....by phone call or by letter...but its happening everyday all over the world....right now.
National Coming Out Day is set aside to talk about the process of coming out......Why we do it, what the benefits are and what the risks are, all in an effort to foster awareness. That awareness is sorely needed by many, both in the LGBT community and also for the world at large. When we have a clearer idea of what coming out is and what it means to people on both sides of the process perhaps we can handle that moment with a little more understanding, confidence, compassion, and grace. It can be scary and awkward to come out to someone....but it can also be one of the most powerful ways that we can change our lives and the world around us into a better place to be. Secrecy breeds fear...and even though the official day has passed, lets blow some more closet doors off their hings shall we?
Fear keeps is the single most powerful force keeping us in the closet.....Fear that our parents will not accept us. Fear that they may kick us out and/or disown us. Fear that we have hurt a spouse or our kids because we couldn't deal with this years ago. Fear that our friends will all turn their backs on us. Fear of a life we have populated with our negative stereotypes of what it means to be gay. Fear that we will never be able to make our dreams come true or that we will be hated and shunned because we love someone of the same gender or feel like a different sex on the inside than what others see on the outside. The list is huge and they can keep us stuck in the dark....frozen up and unable to see a way out for a very long time.
From my own experience, the hardest person to come out to was myself. For a very long time I just refused to put the label "GAY" on what I was feeling. It was so much easier to blame it on external forces than to own it myself. So I stuffed all those feelings down inside over and over and over again. Occasionally allowing myself a fantasy or two and then feeling utterly ashamed over it.....I would then force it all down inside again and try my damnedest to date girls and be who I thought I was supposed to be. But you can only do that to yourself for so long,. Eventually, you will reach a point at which it is intolerable and impossible to hide it from yourself any longer. They will allow you to push them aside for a while but there will come a day when they will not move out of the way and they will DEMAND to be looked at. It was when this happened to me that I decided that what I was feeling might just be a part of myself...I was gay and I was going to have to deal with this somehow because it wasn't going to go away. But saying those words to yourself can be the single hardest coming out of all.
Yet, facing it still doesn't mean accepting it. We can be a hundred times more hateful to ourselves then any homophobic stranger could be. When you finally get to that point of saying..."I'm gay" or "I'm trans"...then your mind fills up with all the fears and judgments you have been taught over time. Wading through that stuff is tough....and some handle it with strength...others may take years to work it out. No one ever tells you that being gay only affects who you love...Not who you are as a person or what you can make of your life. I guess so many many of us assume that being straight comes with a script for life that we assume that we should follow the one that society spins for the gay and trans people too....fortunately for all, no one needs to follow a script. Your life, your sexuality and your identity are colored by who you are...not the other way around. Wan't to get married and have kids....you can do that. Wan't to stay single and party it up till your liver gives out?....you can do that too. But it will be up to you to build that life and your responsibility to see it through.....and yes, sometimes you will have to fight for it. This is true whether you are gay, straight, bisexual, or trans. All those fears you have inside of you should not stand in way. Most of them are false and the few of them that may be real you will deal with when they happen. You have everything you need inside you to meet those challenges.
Great...now you have come out to yourself.....first hurdle crossed. What about the rest of the world?
Now it gets to the scary part. How do I tell my parents?....my friends?.....my wife? Relax....don't rush,....take it slow. Telling the people we love the most can be the single most frightening part of come out. If the people we love can't accept us what do we do? This is why I will forever consider coming out as a major act of love and trust in the person we are coming out to.....Because we are standing there with our hearts in our hands and just asking to be loved.
And slow down....so many people feel like they have to start coming out to everyone they know NOW. No.... you don't. Never feel pressured to come out before you are ready. I get emails from teens all the time that ask how to tell their parents...or even if they should. There fears are well grounded. Some of us spend months building up our courage only to have our parents say, "Thats' great dear...pass the peas." while others of us get disowned and kicked out into the street. Coming out has risks. It is not going to be as bad as you fear but you can not guarantee which way it will go. You have to trust your gut and make sure you protect yourself. Have a safety net in place to catch you if it all falls apart. Have place to go if you get kicked out, have a job or way to support yourself.....give yourself some measure of protection if you feel there is a significant change of being hurt. Most of the time however, the worst that is hurt is our emotions.
If our families and friends can't accept as.....we do what we have always done as a community...build our own families again from the ground up with people who know us as we are. When fathers and mothers fail and friends vanish, You will meet new friends and people who will love you exactly as you are. And over time you wounds will heal. Sometimes, all our families need is a little time to work through their feelings and prejudices before they can be the parents or friends we knew was always in them. And if you are lucky enough to have parents who hug you and tell you it's alright....hug them back because they are very special people and to be treasured.
Every day that goes by you will get stronger and you will realize that being gay is only one part of you....and you will wonder why it's all such a big deal that everyone should fight it so hard. Life won't be butterflies and rainbow unicorns but it will be yours. If you have the courage to live it out loud, Not only will you benefit...but you will also give something back to the world if you will let them see you.
and let them see you....All the people in the church pews....all the people who vote from fear.....all the people who may not know one single gay person....all the people who though their own ignorance and fears repeat the words that made you so afraid to admit who you were...even to yourself. When our coworkers, neighbors, and the average person can look into our lives and see that they are just like theirs......the less they are able to believe that we are evil or sick people who don't deserve to treated with dignity or respect. They more they can see us as human....the less they will repeat the same words of fear and hate that you heard and that became your reasons to fear being known for all that you are. Maybe some other person will be lucky enough to never have to hear that they are a sinner... a faggot....or a menace to the good of society because the people who would have told them now know it's not true. And they know that because someone who is out.showed them by living life the best they can......maybe that will be you..
But changing the world may be too big to think about when all your thinking about is how do I get through today. Be kind to yourself and never beat yourself up for what you haven't yet found the courage to do. Coming out can change our lives....in wonderful ways...and .sometimes painful ones....but many of us survived it. We may have our scars, but we also have a lot more memories, loves, and adventures that we would never have given up for the safety of the closet. Coming out may change the world....but more importantly it can change you too......when you are physically safe enough and ready to leave that closet behind for good.
Those of us who have done it hold out our hands to you and tell you that you can make it.....might today be your day to blow the hinges off your own closet doors?
Until next time dear readers.....