Today is National Coming Out Day. If Ray were still alive, it would also be the day we’d be celebrating the twenty-third anniversary of our commitment ceremony (he promised to stay with me for the rest of his life, and he did).
I’ve written more than once about why I think it is important for all Queer people (by which I mean people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Genderqueer, Nonbinary, Pansexual, Genderfluid, Questioning, Polyamorous and their Allies) to be out about who they are. Because it can be dangerous to come out (kill the gays laws exist in many parts of the world, while here in the U.S. about 40% of homeless teens are children who were kicked out of their house by their parents for being queer or being suspected of being queer), there are some people who probably shouldn’t be out until their situation changes. But being in the closet is harmful in many ways. Studies and history has shown that the fastest way to get other people (and society at large) to accept and support queers is when queer people come out.
The more straight people who actually know queer people, the more minds are opened.
So, in case somehow it isn’t clear: I’m queer. Specifically, I’m a gay man married to a bisexual man.
Being in the closet takes an incredible emotional toll which affects your physical health as well. 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. The fear of losing people you love—people who you have depended on—can be debilitating. The constant anxiety of what people’s reactions will be corrodes your soul.
The thing is, staying in the closet is no guarantee against that rejection. Someday someone is going to figure it out, not at a time when you’ve picked and prepared yourself.
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 one 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.
If and when there is drama about your coming out, you have to treat said drama 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, I’m pretty sure some of them like him more than they do me. And I can hardly blame them!
A few of my relatives never became accepting before they died, and it was their loss.
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 being out doesn’t just free you. Being out frees others.
HRC Celebrates National Coming Out Day 2016:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)