The term “coming out” is a peculiar one. News to no one, it traditionally refers to a gay person’s exiting “the closet”—a figure of speech likening hiding one’s sexual orientation to entrapment in a petite, murky room, completely alone. Debutantes are presented to upper-class society in lavish gowns during cotillions to introduce themselves as fine young ladies. Jews such as myself stand in front of their congregations reciting the Torah to announce reaching adulthood. But for the gays—and now the entire LGBT+ community—we must “come out” of an isolated space that, until that point, was all we knew. We’re not proudly announcing anything, we’re fearfully admitting. We emerge into a world we’re told won’t accept us and publicize what we’ve always been: a deviant of heterosexual society.
Today is National Coming Out day, which was established in 1988. If I’m being realistic about where we are in terms of LGBT+ rights, I couldn’t be more in favor. We do need to be encouraging our youth (actually, our elders as well) to share their true selves with loved ones if it’s something they feel they must hide. By making it a nationwide day, we’re effectively removing the notion that individuals are alone in coming out. Speaking from personal experience, of course, that degree of loneliness has remained unmatched during any other phase of my life, ages later. We’re saying: “Today’s the day. It will never feel like the ‘right moment.’ Tell everyone who you really are; those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.”
Ideally speaking, the fact that we need this day is a crock of shit. The reason kids are being encouraged to “come out” is because we as a society pushed them into that closet in the first place, likely back when they were just toddlers learning about the differences between boys and girls from their parents or advertisements or what have you. Society is, in many ways, hurting these children by attacking their identities and then asking them to come forth and report it later in life by “coming out.” We are asking the victims to make things right. People who have discouraged others from being their true selves should be the ones suffering. Parents who have told their children that they wouldn’t accept them if they turned out to be gay, or encouraged boys to watch football over Gilmore Girls—those parents have some admitting to do, too.
Of course, I know this isn’t realistic. Society is going to keep shoving these kids into ill-fitting boxes informed by gender binaries that will discourage trans individuals from seeking out their medical needs, or gay, lesbian and bisexual youth from admitting what’s going on in their God-given minds. The need to “come out” will likely be there long after my children, or my children’s children. But what can change is our approach; victims of our societal standards aren’t the only ones who have something to confess to. Those who have instilled these standards should “come out” and apologize.
My point is that today shouldn’t be so one-sided! I can give a personal anecdote.
I never officially came out to anyone. People had fairly strong assumptions about my sexuality throughout my entire life. During the early years of elementary school, I was often called “Boy-Girl.” When that memory first resurfaced just now, it came with a heaping side of resentment. But then I remembered something: I’m pretty sure I came up with that nickname. It was before I was first called a “faggot”—a word I didn’t understand upon hearing it. It was unfamiliar to my mom, as well. Regardless, I don’t know when exactly I got pushed into that closet, but my point is that I wasn’t born there.
I started dating guys in college and brought my first boyfriend home to my parents without announcing exactly who he was. My mom had made two beds for us that weekend, and I told her we’d only need one. She had nothing to say about it either way and quickly began calling this boyfriend her “fourth son.” My dad invited him to a family home in Vermont for a yearly reunion as well as a trip to Jamaica, which was really his way of welcoming him into the family. The whole “this is my boyfriend” speech never even happened, let alone the “I’m gay” thing. I guess this was a classic case of “show, don’t tell.” Maybe I’d picked that up during a writing course. Or maybe, despite knowing my parents were fine with gay people, I was beyond terrified to utter the words after decades of keeping them to myself.
For the above, I cannot put my gratitude into words. 40 percent of homeless youth belong to the LGBT community. Can you even? The fact that I wasn’t shunned from my family in itself is a miracle. That they accepted me with open arms is pure insanity. The next part is just straight up cheesy.
Sitting at an Italian place in my hometown, a suburb of Philadelphia, I saw my dad cry for the second time in my life. I could swear it was the second time he’d ever caught himself crying in his own life. Talking me through various romantic pursuits, he veered off course a bit and asked when I knew I was gay. When I told him I was only six or seven years old, I saw a sense of panic develop in his eyes. Then a glimmer of moisture. He told me that the thought of his “little boy” feeling like the world hated him for who he truly was was devastating. He asked me why I introduced my ex-boyfriend to my mom before him, scared I was afraid he’d have a bad reaction. In so many words, he “came out” of the closet, admitting that he’d never explicitly told me it was okay to be gay, or tried knocking on the door that separated me and my closet from the rest of the world. I took it as an apology.
Truthfully, while I do feel bad for myself (my life is a constant, narcissistic pity party), I actually feel pretty bad for my dad. Sure, there are set backs happening right now for the LGBT community. But we have more visibility than ever in this country, kids have more ways to connect and chat with one another about their gender or sexuality. We’re still running the race, but when my dad was younger, the athletes hadn’t even shown up to the track. Who knows how many men, women and everything in between lived during a time in which they couldn’t express themselves, perhaps taking their secrets to the grave. It’s crazy to say this, but what if my dad had really wanted to live his life as a woman? Was he in an environment that would’ve allowed it? Was coming out of the closet even feasible for him?
My point is, there’s a lot to be celebrated on National Coming Out day. Hopefully, this day is the first day of liberation for people throughout our country, or maybe even our world. But let’s make this a two-way street, adorned in rainbow flags. If you’re an ally to the community, use today to kick off a lifestyle that tells the people around you that gay is okay. Tell your loved ones that it’s okay for boys to like boys or for girls to like girls or for people to feel like they’re not a boy nor a girl. We all have a bit of “coming out” to do, including making sure no one feels like they have to hide in the first place.
Featured image via CNN