Today is National Coming Out Day. If Ray were still alive, it would also be the day we’d be celebrating the twenty-sixth anniversary of our commitment ceremony (he promised to stay with me for the rest of his life, and he did). My (very-much alive) husband Michael and I don’t have any anniversaries that are close to this date, but this is the twentieth National Coming Out Day we’ve lived together.
I’ve written about why I think it is important that every queer person (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, pansexual, nonbinary, genderfluid, asexual, aromantic, two-spirit, questioning, et cetera) who can safely be out of the closet to do so. Study after study has shown that the more queer friends and acquaintances a straight person has, the more likely they are to support equality for LGBT people. Studies also show that queer and questioning teens and children who have positive queer role models in their community are significantly less likely to attempt suicide than those who don’t.
But it is also important for your own mental and physical health. Being in the closet means living in a constant state of fear. You second guess everything. You’re constantly worried about being rejected by friends or family members if they find out. All that anxiety and stress takes a toll on your mental and physical well-being.
Make no mistake: the fear is real. About 40% of the homeless teens are in that situation because they were kicked out of their homes by their parents when the parents found out they were gay or trans (which is why I advise young people to be very careful about coming out while still financial dependent on their parents). Even if you wait until you are a self-supporting adult (I was 31 years old when I came out), you may still face rejection from people you have loved and counted on your whole life. One of my grandmothers forbade any other family member of mentioning me in her presence. A friend I had thought of as closer than a brother since we were teen-agers was quite angry when I came out and to this day (he happens to be married to a distance relative of mine, so I still hear about him from time to time) insists that I’m going to burn in hell because I’m gay.
But, not everyone reacts that way. And some people will surprise you. One of my aunts who is otherwise quite politically conservative declared that anyone who had a problem with me being gay would have a bigger problem with her. Some people who had been acquaintances that I thought would just shrug and move on became genuinely close friends because coming out to them is an act of making yourself vulnerable—and when they react to that vulnerability with acceptance, that changes the way you perceive each other.
Once I was no longer spending all of that time and energy trying to hide part of myself from anyone, I found that I had more energy and enthusiasm to do the things I love. And when you’re doing that, you meet other people who love some of the things you do. Coming out meant losing (and in some cases evicting) more than a few people from my life. It wasn’t a loss, though, because those people had never loved me for who I was—they liked the mask that I wore when I was closeted. And that’s true even of the relatives who had suspected I was gay for decades and had spent many years praying that god would change me. Those were people who were not adding to my life—their love was conditional, and one of the conditions was that I live a life of fear and without love and intimacy. Separating myself from those people, made room for a much more wonderful and supportive found family.
I was lucky enough to fall in love with a sweet man who loved me back. And after he died, I was lucky again to meet and fall in love with another (though very different) man who loved me back. Being able to love and be loved and not keep that love a secret is something that straight people take for granted that many literally can’t comprehend why being out matters. Once you experienced it, you’ll be amazed at how long you put up with concealing your real self.
So, if it is safe for you to come out, you should. You’ll find that standing out in the light, being true to yourself, is so much better than hiding in the dark!
Oh, and some of you may find this article useful: Trevor Project Releases Coming-Out Handbook for LGBTQ Youth.