Today is National Coming Out Day. If Ray were still alive, it would also be the day we’d be celebrating the twenty-second anniversary of our commitment ceremony (he promised to stay with me for the rest of his life, and he did).
Since I am still occasionally surprised to learn that someone I know or work with hasn’t figured out that I’m gay: my husband (Michael) and I are both men, and we’re very much in love with each other and happy together.
But while I’m (re-)stating what I think ought to be obvious, I would like to announce that I am a card-carrying liberal gay man who thinks:
- that people have a right to self-defense but those who irresponsibly allow guns to fall into kids’ hands resulting in death or injury should face severe legal consequences and not be let off because “they’ve already suffered the loss of a child”;
- that the death penalty has a place in a well-run justice system but so does jury nullification;
- that a constitutional amendment banning flag-burning is as un-American as anything could possibly be, but people who fly a flag should learn the flag code and stop leaving their flags out at night and in the rain;
- that war and violence are terrible things we should always work hard to avoid, but the people who risk their lives in service to their communities and nation deserve our respect and gratitude;
- that the police who risk their lives to protect their communities deserve respect and gratitude, but they are there to serve and protect everyone, not just the ones that obey them blindly or have the “right” skin color, et cetera;
- that the right to assemble and petition our government absolutely allows people to march, protest, chant, and otherwise demonstrate in public places, but if you’re not willing to pay the price of possibly being arrested for blocking your fellow citizens from going about their business, you are doing it wrong;
- that people have the right to control their own bodies, but refusing to get your children vaccinated demonstrates a criminal level of ignorance, is the equivalent of child abuse, and puts neighbors, friends, and strangers at risk for preventable and sometimes fatal diseases;
- that truth is not subject to a popular vote, but when the 18% of the population living in rural communities that receive more benefits from the government than is paid for by their own taxes holds the rest of the country hostage to prevent paying for programs that will save lives of people they know and love something is seriously wrong;
- that our continued reliance on fossil fuels is destroying the planet, but people who blindly protest nuclear power plants can’t do basic math about energy needs and energy sources;
- that proportional representation would greatly improve our country, but so would at least one of the major parties actually moving to the liberal side of the middle of the road;
- that people have the right to believe what they wish, but a public official who has taken an oath to uphold the law gives up some of their rights while they are doing their job;
- that the right to believe as you wish includes the right not to believe at all, but rabid atheists are no less annoying than the other kinds of fundamentalists;
- that being polite costs nothing while reaping great rewards, but no one should have to put up with disrespectful behavior;
- that there isn’t enough science education in our schools, but there isn’t enough art, music, or history either;
- and that you get out of life what you put into it, but you also get a lot of both the good and the bad through no fault or merit of your own.
Seriously, coming out is a big step. It can be very scary, because when you’re in the closet, you’re living in constant fear of rejection. Particularly if, like me, you grew up in a fundamentalist religious family and community. And losing people you love—people who you have depended on—is not just scary, it can be devastating. It can turn your life upside down.
One problem is that staying in the closet is no guarantee against that devastation. Someday someone is going to figure it out, not at a time when you’ve picked and prepared yourself. Even if you are never discovered, the constant fear of that happening along with the worry of what people’s reactions will be corrodes your soul. I wound up writing about this on Tumblr the other night, because a friend was responding to someone about their fear of how their religious family would react if they ever came out.
Coming out was hard, and there was drama (oh, was there drama). I put up with all the wailing and the angry letters (28-page handwritten letter from out aunt outlining all of the words and topics I would not be allowed to bring up around her, explaining several times that if I brought my partner to visit we would not even be allowed to call each other honey, et cetera). But while many reacted badly to begin with, it wasn’t everyone. Another one of my aunts was the first to call to tell me she loved and supported me. She made it clear to folks on her side of the family that if they had a problem with me being gay, they would have a bigger problem with her.
Regarding the drama: you have to treat any drama about your coming out as your parents (or whoever) throwing a tantrum. They are trying to force you to pretend to be someone you aren’t for their convenience. And just as when a child throws a tantrum, you can’t reward that bad behavior. Dan Savage, the sex advice columnist and gay activist, puts it this way: the only leverage adult queer people have over parents and other family members is our presence in their lives. We shouldn’t fear losing them, they should fear losing us.
It took a few years for some of my family members to come around. I remain grateful that my mom and one set of grandparents did so before my first partner, Ray, died. He had only a short period of time of feeling welcomed into the family. Now, years later, my husband Michael isn’t just welcomed, sometimes I feel as if some of them like him more than they do me. And I’m okay with that!
A few of my relatives never became accepting before they died, and it was their loss. I think coming out is better than not telling them. If for no other reason than your own health. There will be some surprises. Some people who you were certain before you came out would never accept you will become your biggest defenders. Some people who you thought might understand will disown you and go to their grave without reaching out. You will definitely learn which people really love you, and which only love the idea of who they think you ought to be.
The thing is, being loved for who you are, instead of the illusionary non-queer person you pretended to be, is wonderful. The sooner you are able to find those people the better. And remember the wisdom of Dr. Seuss: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
And if you don’t believe me:
Nick Laws and Matt Lush on National Coming Out Day:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)