October 11th was recently observed as national coming out day, and the month of October is recognized by a couple of different organizations as LGBTQ+ History Month. Here’s my own history and journey of coming out to the people in my life. I’ve picked up some lessons and advice along the way, and I really hope that by sharing them with you, I might be able to help someone out on their own journey.
My Coming Out Story
In my head, there were probably four different stages in my coming out process. The first, and what a lot of people consider the most difficult, was the process of coming out to myself. Even after I understood the concept of queerness, I was hesitant to make the connection that I might also be queer. It was a long process realizing that I wasn’t the straight “default” that everyone had always assumed I would be. The meaning of the word “gay” was never really explained to me until I was maybe 11 or 12, but even before that, I think that I definitely might have seen myself as queer if I’d had the language or the education to.
This is really funny to me looking back, but I remember thinking to myself a couple of different times as a kid that I wished they had marriage for girls. I really wished that I could just live with a girl for the rest of my life and maybe share a house and a life together – maybe even raise kids together – and that I could just be with her forever and ever. I just didn’t have the knowledge or the vocabulary to understand what that meant.
It can be such a heartbreakingly tough world out there for queer kids today. They constantly wrangle with people who are unsupportive, the perils of trying to fit in, and the newness of community-building. At the same time, though, they often don’t even have access to queer spaces or the education or resources to understand what they’re going through. It really bothers me how queer kids are dismissed so automatically. Of course kids might change their minds about a lot of things as they get older. A kid who thought they were queer might realize later on that they’re not, and that’s completely okay. But I don’t think a kid should ever have to repress any part of their own identity or anything about what they currently feel, even if they’re young. Straight people never have to do that.
The second stage for me was coming out to one person. My best friend at the time was the one person I felt comfortable telling. My friend was so supportive and such a good listener, and I was really glad my first experience coming out to anyone was so overwhelmingly positive. She even offered to go to the GSA with me, so we would show up together every week as “allies” (hah). She came out publicly herself about two years later. We’d grown apart by then, but I will always be thankful that she made me feel so loved and understood and supported in my own journey.
My third stage of coming out was to all my close friends and to my family. People reacted in all different ways, but in general, they were so responsive and encouraging and made me feel glad that I’d worked up the courage to tell them. I felt sort of a weight lifted off of my chest that nothing catastrophic happened once I started coming out to people. I suddenly felt a lot more understood by the people I knew and a lot more free.
I’m usually pretty quiet and introverted, so I sometimes still feel like I’m in a limbo of sometimes being “out” and other times not. In general, I do my best to be open about my identity now. This stage is what I see as the end goal, and I’m happy with where I’m at. It’s also important to point out that coming out will never really be over. There’s no point indicative of when I will be out to every single person in the world because not every person on earth knows me. Especially because I like to dress feminine most of the time, I never really know how I’m going to be perceived by the people around me.
Things That I’ve Learned
I assumed a lot of people to be straight that weren’t when I was younger just because I’d never seen enough representation in media or real life to have more than one idea of what queer person was. I used to, as a kid and an early teenager for example, automatically assume that any girl who dressed feminine was straight. Looking back, I am taken aback by that, but I know that I was just young and uninformed and that it wasn’t really my fault. It was just another product of the stereotype-driven society I was raised in.
Another thing that I learned is that you should never have to tell anyone you’re queer. I am really proud of my sexuality and of my identity. If I ever feel unsafe or uncomfortable revealing that I’m queer in any situation, though, I definitely won’t. Looking back at the Kit Connor situation where the Netflix star came out among accusations of queerbaiting, safety and comfort need to be at the forefront of our minds when thinking about anyone’s personal journey. Connor said in a couple of different interviews and Tweets that he felt forced out of the closet by public pressure. We really failed him by trying to make him feel like we had the right to know something so personal to himself.
In the early stages of my journey, I also might have done a couple things differently if I could go back. I think that I came out to certain people earlier than I was comfortable with because I felt like they were “entitled” to knowing this information about me. I wish I could tell my younger self to never put herself in a bad situation out of feeling guilty for having a secret or telling a lie. I would tell her that no one deserves anything from her, and she should have every right to tell people in her own time and on her own terms.
In a perfect world, one day we’ll be able to outgrow the concept of coming out completely. No kid or adult will ever be assumed to be gay or straight in the first place. Until then, we have to do whatever we can to make sure that queer people can be as authentic as they want and, closeted or not, completely comfortable in their own skin.