“Coming Out” has a myriad of meanings. It can mean admitting to oneself an attraction for members of the same gender. It can mean acting on those feelings in a physical way, or taking part in social situations such as clubs, organizations, bars or shops. It can mean being out to oneself, to one’s friends, to one’s family or to those in one’s workplace. It can and does mean any, all, or a combination of these things. One thing is certain: Coming Out is a lifelong process, not a one-time deal, much as we may wish it. Coming Out is perpetual growth into understanding who one is and the possibilities of the life we live.
Many heterosexuals ask, “Why come out?” It’s not easy to come out to oneself. We have all heard the jokes, the hurtful stereotypes and the horrendous myths that circulate about LGBT people. Society tends to hate or fear that which it does not understand. It’s very tempting to hide in the closet. But the closet is a painful and lonely place to be, even if the reason you stay is survival. It takes a lot of energy to deny feelings, and it is often costly. Many LGBT people turn to alcohol or other drugs to numb themselves against the pain society inflicts. Many consider and attempt suicide.
LGBT people do not Come Out to hurt their families and friends. We Come Out to begin healing the hurt society inflicts upon us. We Come Out to affirm and assert our worth as human beings first to ourselves, and then to others. The vast majority of LGBT people report feeling “a weight being lifted” from their shoulders. Admitting that you actually are what many in society think is the worst thing to call you can be a rather cathartic experience.
“What you do in bed is your own business.” Not true. What I do in bed should be my business. Unfortunately, society insists on making it their business and passes laws to restrict our relationships. Society deems what we do in bed as legal or illegal, whether or not our relationships have merit and meaning, and concerns itself in deciding if we should be parents. In most of the United States, we can be fired from our jobs, kicked out of our apartments, denied bank loans and turned out of stores and restaurants because of our sexual orientation.
In Coming Out we begin the process of taking back control of our own lives. Rather than sitting back meekly and allowing others to dictate how we should live our lives, we begin finding our voices as individuals. Those two small words, “I Am,” contain the seeds that, with nurturing, can grow a healthy, vibrant, empowered and productive individual able to contribute to the betterment of society.
Coming Out is a very personal, complicated process. And one that should not be entered into lightly. After you utter those two powerful words, “I Am,” it is veritably impossible to take them back. Parents have been known to disown their children, kick them out into the street, cut them off financially. Churches have removed members of their congregation. Friends have turned their backs. People you once knew, loved, trusted and depended on may become strangers. “National Coming Out Day” is not meant for everyone to get up and announce to the world “Yes I Am.” It is only for those who have the strength to do so. For others, it is meant to encourage you to begin the life journey. If you can’t proclaim yourself publicly, perhaps you are ready to admit it to yourself privately.
As for me, “Yes I Am.” And you know what? I’m glad I am. In being so, I have learned the joys of unconditional love, of empathy, and of accepting and appreciating humanity in all its infinite, wondrous variety. I am who I am because of this journey. And I am enjoying the ride.
Collingsworth is the Queer Issues Coordinator.