National Coming Out Day is tomorrow, October 11. It’s a bit contrived, I think, to have a single day set aside for this purpose; fundamentally, I believe any day should be Coming Out Day. Even more fundamentally, I wish there was no need for such a thing as “coming out,” that everyone could feel comfortable and unafraid of simply being who they are.
The reality, of course, is that harsh judgment and discrimination are still around, and that it can take an enormous amount of courage for a person to stand up and say, “This is who I am. My orientation is not mainstream.” The cost of coming out, for many, can be incredibly high; the cost of remaining closeted can be equally high.
I’m writing about this because I have wrestled with the idea of coming out in a more public fashion, myself. As a result, I’m grateful that such a thing as National Coming Out Day exists, because it provides an impetus for action, a reminder that many thousands of others will be making brave acts of self-revelation all at once. This collective action declares that love and desire are not shameful, but worthy of respect and celebration. It declares that the drive towards self-expression and honesty about one’s life can outweigh considerable risk.
I have come out many times. It never seems to end. As a young adult, 20 years ago, I came out to my friends and family as bisexual. I spoke on panels with other college students about it. I volunteered for the Peer Listening Line, a hotline for LGBT youth, at Fenway Community Health Center in Boston. I marched in pride parades. I joined other PLL volunteers in speaking to an auditorium full of high school students; one of those students would attend my college the following year, and tell me how much it meant to her to hear me speak and that it helped her with her own coming out process. Years later, I joined the Welcoming Congregation Committee at my church (First Parish in Cambridge, UU) and came out to the whole congregation on a Sunday morning. And there were many times I would make new friends and find myself having to decide whether or when or how I would take the risk of self-revelation about this aspect of myself, regardless of whatever relationship status I happened to find myself in. It seemed to become more difficult over time, somehow, particularly in the context of marriage to a man, and to the fossilized visions of what it means to be a married woman and a mother in this society.
Why would I choose to write about this? What’s in it for me? The truth is, the energy required to maintain silence on this aspect of my life weighs upon me, even though I’m not as closeted as some. I’m not a fan of keeping secrets about myself. I don’t want to feel closed down; I want my energy to flow freely, easily. I think I can be a better person when I’m not contracted. I think I can also provide some inspiration and support to the many others who find that their relational center doesn’t jive with what has been demanded of them in an industrial, patriarchal, competitive culture. I believe that each act of honesty moves us closer to collective openness, mutual respect, and the sort of culture that I would prefer to live in.