National Coming Out Day
Tuesday was National Coming Out Day. The following was supposed to be posted in time for that day but events of the day hindered me. Still, it would be bad form to let the day go unremarked upon because ultimately, it’s not so much a prompt to come out only on that day, but as a day set aside to provide encouragement and support for closeted individuals to make the decision to come out, on whatever day and in whatever way is most positive and empowering in their own lives.
The traditional way this is done is by sharing one’s own story. The power of this storytelling is in the incredible diversity of our experiences. Far too often, I think, LGB/T people are intimidated by the feeling that they do not have the “classic” experience with their identity (or orientation) and it makes them question their authenticity. Banish that thinking. There is no “classic” coming out experience. Some of us are welcomed and affirmed, others are rejected and betrayed, and a million other variations along the spectrum in between. Some of you may have heard this before, but here’s my story, in brief.
I’ve know that I should have been a girl from around the age of six, at least. My first distinct memory of that identity locking into place was during the first month of first grade (no kindergarten in the 60’s where I lived) but my memory of preschool years is very spotty and possibly it was earlier. I definitely knew I was “wrong” before then even if I wasn’t certain in what way. But it was not a thing that was spoken of back then, particularly in my part of the world. I would harbor the secret for almost four decades before I exposed it to anyone in my life (notwithstanding various things that happened which gave evidence to those around me that there was something there, but I don’t want to make this story too awkwardly long).
I’ve been married for almost 26 years. Along the course of the time we’ve been together, there were occasional moments when I’d make some comment to her to hint that maybe something was there to be said. On a couple of occasions I played with her make-up to see how she’d react. But I always lacked the courage to follow through. She’d spent a decade dealing with emotional difficulties of her own and had over the previous couple of years found effective treatment to get into a good emotional space and so perhaps that gave me “permission” to speak up. While lying together on the Sunday afternoon before Labor Day, 2008, I made some remark about how I wish I could feel what she felt during intercourse (it was that kind of conversation) and she jokingly said “well maybe you need a sex change then.” To that I replied “I would if I could, seriously.” and from their launched into hours of conversation.
Initially she was supportive within reason, knowing that there’d be some time before anyone else would know she tried to accommodate me in some small ways. Over time she grew increasingly more hostile, for a few years we were almost constantly at war but we persevered. Now, over eight years later, she’s still not fully supportive. She’s resigned herself in many ways but she still deadnames (proudly), still uses male pronouns, still opposes major physical changes whenever the opportunity arises. But we have endured.
Fourteen months later, on a chilly November day, three men showed up at our home. Her brother, her brother-in-law, and a third man who’d been a family friend for years. All three deacons in the Southern Baptist church where we’d been married and which had granted me a license to preach before she and I had even met. By this time, a lot had changed about my physical presentation, and I had privately outed myself to some half-dozen people that I’d wanted to tell face-to-face. They had, they said, “heard things” and they were there to investigate the veracity of this gossip. In my coat pocket, my nail polish concealed for the moment, I clinched my fist in a sort of “fight or flight” moment but I quickly came to the conclusion that this was the moment. I would not be shamed, I would not apologize, I would not “confess.”
Rather, I would be bold. Confident. I would engage the debate and I would make my case. I proceeded to explain what this condition was really about, defend it against charges of “sinfulness” and answer questions. Ultimately, the Deacon said “I was afraid you’d lost your mind so I had to come here and see. I don’t think you’ve lost your mind.”
While my interactions with her family have been tumultuous and sometimes offensive, we parted that day on reasonably good terms and I was officially “out.” I’ve never regretted it, despite all the aggravation which has followed in the years since.
My encouragement to you, if you are closeted and reading this, is this – I won’t promise you there will not be loss, there may well be. What I will promise you is that doing so is an act of changing the world. Together, collectively, that’s what coming out is – transforming the culture, changing the society, and thereby making the world a better place for the rising generation of young people who’ll come after us. To remain in the bondage of the closet, by contrast, is an act of submission, contrition, shame. I understand that some people have some logistical reason (“If I come out I’ll be fired and I have to support my family”) but that calculation, however valid, is STILL an act of submission to an oppressive culture. Please do not choose that path lightly. We need you out here. The world needs you.
Photo by: Michael Dorausch