So, I missed coming out day. I know, I am a terrible lesbian. But I had an experience recently that reminded me of what coming out really is and what it is not. The philosophical question of what it means to be out. Is anyone ever really out of the closet, or is it all an illusion of the mind? Something we say but in the same day may have to do again?
Not too long ago I visited a friend and for the first time formally met her mother. Earlier in the day, my friend and I went to a consignment looking for deals and her mother was interested in what all we got. Well, I didn’t get much- only some yarn for my partner. Well, when I brought up my purchase it was quite vague- I just said I had bought the yarn which led to the question about my crafts. Well, let me just lay it out for you- I don’t craft. I am not the one to knit, crochet, or quilt. That is all my partner. When her mother asked me this though, I felt that familiar tightness in my throat and silence.
I have been with the same woman since 2009. That’s right, 8 years. Good times, bad times, scary times, and everything in between. Yet, despite this I still sometimes choke on those two words: “My girlfriend”. I feel them rise up within my throat and then stop short before rolling off my tongue. My brain fills with endless questions, all centering around: “What will they say?” followed by, “Then what will I say?”
The prospect is intimidating and exhausting. I do not feel that it is shame that intimidates me, though it is fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of having to answer questions to someone that you don’t really know, but also fearing that should you want to get to know them you will have to say it eventually. But what if they reject you because they assume all you will talk about is your “Gayness”? In my particular situation, in that moment, I was afraid of making a bad impression.
I cared. I cared about what the woman across from me thought even though I shouldn’t have. I cared that she would think less of me for love even though the kind look in her eyes and genuine interest she showed contradicted my doubt. Before I could utter the familiar lie, “My friend crochets/knits/quilts” my friend confidently said, “Her partner does amazing projects”. The weight those words lifted from my chest was immeasurable. One less time I had to “come out”.
I write all of this because that situation brought to my attention again how often members of the LGBTQIAA have to come out. It is not just once, telling their parents. Or twice, telling their friends. Not even three times, telling extended family. No. It is every time you introduce your family to someone. It is living in a town where you desperately want to share details of your life that should not be private but not knowing who you can tell and who you cannot.
This isn’t something confined to small towns and rural areas. Sure, the reaction may differ and the feelings of the person that is doing the telling. However, there is one fact that remains: coming out never stops. From the first time there is never a last time, and the effect that may have on you or someone you know may be one of liberation or one of fear or anxiety.
Yet, there are things that can be done that may make it easier on someone you care about that is a member of the LGBTQIAA community. Be proud of them. You don’t have to agree with them to love them, don’t give them hushing looks when they seem as if they want to share. Encourage them to be who they are and offer them support and acceptance. Realize that sometimes it takes more than personal strength to carry those words within them. Let them know what you would do to protect and support them.
In the event you feel alone, know that there are resources out there for you. 1-888-843-4564 is the national LGBT hotline. 1-866-488-7386 is the Trevor Lifeline. If you are a parent look for local PFLAG organizations, talk to your child, and most of all share with them your love and respect.