As I am sure many of you already know, today is National Coming Out Day. Every year when October 11th rolls around, I start the day by wondering why we need to have it. In truth, that thought is wishful thinking. Em and I live in the “Boston Bubble,” where our rights are really equal and almost no one bats an eye. I have to remind myself that that is not what it is like everywhere else – and that’s when I remember why National Coming Out Day (and coming out in general) is important. The attitude in the US toward marriage equality is so rapidly changing for the better, which is so so fantastic.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
The domino game of states with marriage equality is the most amazing thing to witness, and makes me feel so validated and happy. And it is BECAUSE people keep coming out. When we come out, our friends and family and neighbors can put a face to the acronym. Coming out is totally necessary, and every single brave person who comes out – and every person they come out to – is a part of the movement toward equality.
Coming out is not a one-time thing. It’s not even a three- or four-time thing. I have to make decisions every week, sometimes every day, on whether to come out – to clients at work, while I’m getting my nails done, at the store … and I’m not always brave enough. I’m ashamed to say I often choose the easy way out. When the woman doing my nails compliments my ring and says something like “your husband has great taste!” – I often choose to respond, “I know he does!” And every time it feels inauthentic and a get a sinking feeling in my stomach. Like the truth isn’t comfortable or good enough for the moment.
So, for today, I’m going to share with all of you my coming out story (because, I mean, you already all know that I’m queer). Well, I’m going to share with you the beginning of my coming out story – because that story hasn’t ended (and probably won’t).
I came out to myself just after my 19th birthday. I was a freshman in college and I had spent the first semester harboring a serious crush on a girl who lived in my dorm. College was the first time I had met any queer women. Actually, that’s not true. One of my friends in high school came out as bi, but never acted on it and later “took it back.” She also used to say that she liked girls but she would “never have sex with a girl because vaginas are gross.” (I am in no way discounting her experience – more commenting that it didn’t have the same impact on me as meeting queer women who dated and slept with and were in relationships with other women). ANYWAY I spent a semester hanging out with this girl who I had a crush on every night, telling myself that it was a totally normal friendship to want to just lie in bed together for hours playing with each others’ hair, not even talking. And then I went home for winter break, and spent some time with an older friend (ha – she was probably 25 at the time?), who came out to me as bi. After validating her feelings and saying the things good friends say, I went down to my car and just sat there for probably 10 minutes. I just sat and thought and felt this big, life-altering thing bubble inside me. I thought to myself about how I had never really ever had a crush on a boy, and how I made excuses for that (there are just no cute boys in my little town!). I thought about how I often thought of girls in sexual ways, and that my constant attempts to tell myself that “that’s normal, a lot of teenagers think about people of the same sex without being gay” were just a big load of denial. I thought about my intense female friendships, and all of the feelings that I had squashed over the past few years. And I thought about that feeling that always crept in from the back of my mind. That feeling that I might be different. That feeling that I always pushed away so quickly that I never really thought it through. And when I was done thinking about those things, I texted the friend who had just come out to me, “me too. OK? now you know.” And that was it. I couldn’t take it back. I pressed send.
Hindsight is 20/20 of course. I was raised in a big Irish Catholic family, and we went to church every week. I had learned that it was “okay to be gay, but not okay to act on your feelings.” So luckily it wasn’t the hellfire and damnation viewpoint that gays will go to hell etc etc, but I certainly was raised to really really really not want to be gay. Now that I’m looking back, I can see all of the clues I missed. As one example (because this post is getting kind of long and I have to get up the courage to give myself a trigger shot in like a half hour), I recall going to my check up at the doctor when I was 12. I must have been 12, because I believe that that is the age when your medical information officially becomes not your parents’ business unless you want it to be – and my doctor gave me a survey to fill out with the assurance that only she would see it. It was mostly questions like Have you ever tried drugs? Have your friends tried drugs or alcohol? Do you feel safe at home? etc. But there was a prompt on the 3rd page or so that really stumped me. I am attracted to … __ boys __ girls __ both __ I don’t know. I remember so clearly sitting there and staring at the question. And I remember skipping it, filling out the rest of the packet, and then going back. I also remember being terrified because I didn’t even know why it was tripping me up so much. I am pretty sure I ended up checking off “both” or “I don’t know,” and then erasing it and checking of “boys” instead.
After sending that text and acknowledging, in print, that I wasn’t straight, I am pretty sure I cried for a good chunk of the drive home. But by the next morning I felt like a huge weight had lifted. Like, okay, that’s what that feeling is. I’ve mentioned before that I have OCD – my symptoms were very significant for the last 2 years of high school. I was having panic attacks multiple times each week. Once I sent that text, my anxiety significantly decreased. As a freshman at a fairly artsy college in Boston, I used to “do art” on the weekends with friends (sometimes under the influence), and often found myself drawing X’s over my mouth, which I never could explain – but it totally stopped after I sent that text. I went back to school and systematically came out to everyone who meant something to me. I was extraordinarily nervous every single time, but I didn’t experience one negative reaction. Most people were entirely nonchalant. It was actually kind of jarring that people were so blase about something that was so emotional and HUGE for me. Either way, I can’t complain. And after a couple of weeks, once everyone knew, it became just another thing about me and I was able to move onward and upward. It was so freeing and exhilarating.
I didn’t come out to my parents for another year and a quarter after that. I didn’t know where to begin, I was worried about how they’d react, and I had this irrational fear that they would send me to a conversion camp (they really would never ever do that – I don’t know why I fixated on that fear). On top of all of that, though, I didn’t know what to say. Back then, I really didn’t identify as a “lesbian.” I had come out as “bi” to most people, but that word didn’t sit right with me either. I knew I liked girls more, but wasn’t closing any doors. I kept telling people that I didn’t like labels, but that “love is tender and knows no gender.” On advice from some friends at my very first National Coming Out Day (October 11, 2006), I decided that the best way to do it would be to come out as in a relationship with someone, rather than with a label. So that was the plan. When I started seeing my first girlfriend (I wouldn’t even call her a girlfriend – just a girl who I dated), I thought about it and procrastinated. Then, like a month later (ha) when she broke up with me by starting to see some guy and calling me to ask advice about him, I was devastated and decided to call my mom and tell her all about it so she could comfort me. It took me 2 phone calls but I finally got it out. I managed to talk about this girl without using any pronouns at all for a full 5 minutes, and finally at the end said something like, “and it was a girl.” My mom cried because I was crying, but she told me that she and my dad loved me no matter what and just wanted me to be happy. It was just what I needed to hear, though I could tell in her voice that it was really hard for her to come to terms with. My parents have come a really long way and are nothing but supportive of me now, but it was something that didn’t really get talked much about after that phone call. I brought it up again a few months into my relationship with Em (probably 3 months after the initial phone call), and my mom said “it’s a girl again, isn’t it?” Like I said, they’ve come a long way since then.
Coming out was freeing, painful, terrifying, exhilarating, and the single best, bravest thing I’ve ever done. And it continues to be all of those things. It is so many things – and one of them is important.
“Gay brothers and sisters,…You must come out. Come out… to your parents… I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives… come out to your friends… if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors… to your fellow workers… to the people who work where you eat and shop… come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake.” -Harvey Milk
So, that’s my story. If you made it this far, I am sincerely impressed. Thank you for reading it.