So, October 11th is 23rd “National Coming Out Day”. For the record, I officially hate national anything days. For those of you who really know me, I barely tolerate Christmas, Thanksgiving, or really any other holiday. National Coming Out Day is one of those vexing days for me. It’s a very uncomfortable day for me: I know there are people who are struggling to say “I’m gay” for the first time. I know this is a day that can draw unwanted attention from various hate groups. I know it’s a day that I’m not sure how to handle.
Coming out … ack. It’s such a process: there isn’t a guidebook or roadmap. Coming out is terrifying. I still can wind up in dry heaves just thinking about having to do that again. It’s not like a person can come out and then have it be “over”. I’ve found it to be an always going on process. Start a new job? Sit next to somebody on a plane? Presumed straight. Granted, I don’t exactly wrap myself in seat 12A and turn to the person next to me and say “Hi, I’m a left-handed lesbian who likes to travel and if you’d mind NOT opening your lap top during the flight, I’d be happy.”
If I had a wish for Coming Out Day (aside from there not being a need?). It would be the following: educating people on what to say when somebody tells you s/he is gay. When I think about some of the responses … see my comments about dry heaving. Coming out affixes a label. For good or for bad, everybody has ascribed meaning to the label. (I still laugh when somebody once commented to me, you don’t know how to change your car oil? But you are a lesbian!). So for good or for bad here are some things (maybe slightly altered to protect the individual who said it) that were told to me:
1) “Wow, this comes as a surprise.” Ok, look, the person who just told you s/he is gay has just shared a deeply held “secret”. Are you affirming that keeping it a secret is good? Or that s/he has hidden self-identity? (Keep in mind, many LGBT people think “people don’t know the real me (and thus wouldn’t like me)” while making the decision to come out.
2) “It’s ok.” Um. Yeah. What’s ok? That I’m standing and admitting everything I tried to be was a sham and I lived in secrecy? Or that it’s ok to be gay?
3) “I love you anyway.”
4) “It’s not a big deal.” I get this one: what a person is saying is that it doesn’t change anything. Here is the issue: for the person coming out, every person that s/he choses to tell is a risk. Maybe not of physical violence but the end of a friendship, a change in the relationship.
Coming out is a big deal: not in the flag waving, hand clapping sort of way that drives me bonkers. When somebody comes out to an other person (gay or straight), things change. Friendships can change. People who were thought to be allies might drift away: people who you fear loosing might help the person coming out more than imaginable.
Gay, straight if somebody choses to come out to you, s/he has placed an enormous amount of trust in you. It’s a struggle on both ends (especially among close friends and family). The first few times somebody forms the words it is painful. Later on, it’s a matter of risk (see an earlier blog about being forced out in the work place). But if you are lucky enough to have somebody come out to you, the best response is simply the gift of your presence with the simple words of “Thank-you. Do you need to talk?”. And those of us who are out, need to remember the struggle to find the words – and try to find ways to uphold those who are struggling to find their voices. And to those of you coming out: It’s hard. It hurts. And never discount your friends based on what you think they believe.