It’s National Coming Out Day! And just for the record, in case it isn’t clear: I’m queer! Specifically I am a gay man married to a bisexual man. For many years I lived in the closet, and am almost indescribably happy that those days are over. So, if you’re a person living in the closet, I urge you to consider coming out. Coming out is scary. And I know that not everyone is safe to come out—a frightening number of parents throw their children out if they even suspect they are gay (not to mention the cases where parents have murdered their kids they thought were gay). 40% of homeless teen-agers are living on the streets because their parents either kicked them out because the teens were gay (or suspected of being gay), or drove them away through the constant abuse intended to beat the gay out of their kids. This statistic is the main reason I advise kids not to come out until they are no longer financially dependent on their parents. Yeah, there are many stories of kids who came out to their parents and those parents became supportive allies. But not all, by any means.
There are less extreme reasons why it isn’t safe for everyone to come out, I get that. So not everyone is ready. But…
Being in the closet isn’t just an inconvenience. Studies show that being closeted adversely affects your physical health. You live in a constant state of high anxiety about people finding out and what they might do when it happens. This affects us the same as extended trauma, inducing the same sorts of stress changes to the central nervous system as PTSD.
Coming out is scary. Some of your family and friends will react badly. There may be drama. You may have the unpleasant surprise to find that some of the people you were sure would be fine with it are not at all. On the other hand (and I speak from personal experience), you may be pleasantly surprised at some of the people who support you—one of my aunts that I was certain wouldn’t react well was the first person to say to a bunch of my relatives, “If you have a problem with Gene being gay, then you’re going to have a much bigger problem with me!”
And coming out isn’t a one and done thing. People will continue to assume you’re straight. You’ll find yourself coming out again and again. But the thing is, being out is so much better than being in that closet. You will be amazed, as you process the aftermath, at how much energy you were expending worrying about people finding out. You will be surprised at the sheer weight of the stress you were dealing with being closeted. Like me, you may discover that a lot of health issues were fueled by that stress, and they get a lot better once you’re no longer hiding, deflecting, thinking of plausible lies, and constantly dreading someone finding out.
I wish we lived in a world where fear of being who we are wasn’t so real.
But one of the small ways we can make the world a little less scary for queer people is to come out. As a teenager, the one time I saw a gay couple on a news program being interviewed about the gay rights struggle probably saved my life. There were two men admitting they were gay—two men who had been in a committed relationship for years and seemed happy. It was a ray of hope I desperately needed.
And that’s one of the reasons I am out. It’s why I mention my queerness as often as I do. So that some frightened queer kid might see that, look, there’s a gay man who is happy, has a good life, has people who love him, has friends—gay, straight and otherwise—who have his back. So, maybe, we can be a glimmer of hope for them.
No one deserves the closet. No one deserves that fear and self-loathing. When you’re ready, come out. It really is a wonderful world outside of that closet.