This week we celebrated National Coming Out Day. This
holiday was established in 1988 when the Gay Rights movement was very focused
on the need for visibility. You may remember the slogan, “The Personal is
Political”. It is true that the more people recognize the gay people in their
lives, the more they see gay people as part of their community, the less
prejudice we should see. I see positive changes here in my lifetime, for sure.
But you may note how many years it really took for us to have openly gay
celebrities, politicians, and public figures in the media on a regular basis. A
lot of time has passed since 1988 and we are still growing our awareness. We
are still developing safe space for sexual minorities to “come out”.
The conversation I would really love to see happen around
National Coming Out Day is about how much coming out is actually a daily
process. Yes, daily. Not at all a one time finish line one crosses. There are
significant coming out moments in one’s life, with family or a potential
romantic interest. But in truth, coming out has to be a constant choice
involving assessment of whether or not one is in a safe place to show this
aspect of one’s self. At each new class or job, will I mention my orientation
here? Walking down a street, will I show my love for my partner here? Standing
in a checkout line, will I get bad service or a bad attitude of we hold hands?
Meeting a new landlord, neighbor, teacher, student… in many cases, a decision
to share or not. A choice that can feel like protection, but can also feel like
In the past the metaphor of being in the closet was more
relevant as many people had to live nearly entire lives hiding this piece of
who they were, with few moments of getting to step out into the light so to
speak. Now for many people the metaphor of armor may be more relevant,
something that one must put on at certain times, heavy and constricting but
also providing protection. The armor will not stop the pain of impact, but it
may curtail severe damage. And it can be exhausting to have to carry it with
you, heartbreaking and restricting to have to fit yourself into it yet again.
So in honor of National Coming Out Day this year, let’s
acknowledge the ongoing nature of the risk taking that coming out involves
and the subtleties of sharing who we are
and the relationships that are important to us. Let’s come together to send
energy to our friends and neighbors or ourselves for staying strong while
having to continually assess if it is safe to be open. Let’s do our part by not
assuming heterosexuality and thereby quietly crowding out other relationships
and perspectives. Let’s be sure to honor that coming out is a part of a life,
not an event that can be encompassed in a day. And let’s hope that by National
Coming Out Day next year, things are even better and there are less and less
days when the armor is needed.