Today is National Coming Out day. Now I am as out as they get these days and the joys of not worrying about coming out is immeasurable. I remember though when I wasn’t out. I remember when I first came to terms with the fact that I am gay and therefore had to start telling people so I could live my life. My coming out came about in phases, which I will share with you here. However, I also wanted to also make this post an “It get’s better” post because it does.
Let me start with what “Coming Out Day” is all about. In it’s simplest form it is about not being alone. Coming out is a scary and often lonely process for most people. Many are worried about their families reaction, getting fired from a job, kicked out of a home, or sometimes even getting attacked or beaten; just for saying, “I am gay.” I can’t think of three words that when said out loud can change your life so drastically. However the act of saying those words out loud is as empowering as it is scary. Then if you can say those words, with hundreds of other people saying the same thing – while the individual experiences vary widely – there is a collective relief. There is the knowledge that others are facing the same thing you are on the same exact day. It is a way to encourage gay people to come out of the shadows and let the world know that we are simply people trying to live our lives in the same way straight people do.
Every year in the Army when Oct 11th rolled around I squirmed inside. I was out to many of my close friends already and even though Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) was in full swing, I wanted to let everyone know about me. It is hard to always remember to switch pronouns when talking about your partner. I was lucky in some respects though – because I had a front. I was married to another Soldier. So even when questions about my sexuality came up – I was often defended by my straight peers. “She’s married!” Oh whew. It worked for 7 years. When my husband and I got married it was simple – we wanted to take the heat off. All the questions about our sexuality ceased once we said “I do” even though I still had a girlfriend at the time (she was our witness). Anyway – the point is that we went through a lot to hide who we were, but we went through it together. I always had him to talk to about my ‘real’ relationship, and so I was never so isolated that it became overwhelming. I always wanted to participate in Coming Out day though because I felt like I was cheating. I had insulated my experience and even though I was out to many, and comfortable with my sexuality, I often felt like I was still living this huge lie. Coming Out day seemed like the perfect opportunity to just let go of the fears and just say it – of course I never did. I didn’t want to get my husband in trouble, and I also wasn’t ready to give up my military career.
To go back even further – well before Coming Out day was even a ‘thing’, I was in high school. I was actively involved in my church and at the same time I was actively involved with people who thought church was lame. I had two sets of friends, two sets of activities, two lives being lived simultaneously. The Baptist me, and the hoodlum me. Then there was the gay me in between. Talk about pure and utter confusion! I came out to my non-church friends first and that went well. The reactions varied from, “Well duh” to “Whatever we love you!” Basically – I was lucky. Those people are all still in my life 25 years later. My church on the other hand didn’t take the news as well as my friends did.
Now I am not going to say a bunch of bad things about the church’s reaction, because in all honesty it wasn’t that bad. I mean, they wanted for me to renounce being gay, and they wanted me to ask God to change my heart and mind (blah blah hate the sin not the sinner). At first I came out to the people in the church that I was closest to. A few hand selected friends who I thought could handle the truth. They did well, but again, they felt sorry for me. They wanted me to be happy, and the only way they knew for that to happen was for me to be straight; the way God intended. Their intentions were good – though their message was flawed. Then of course I went through the doubting phase. Maybe I’m not really gay. Maybe it is because I was sexually abused as a child. Maybe it was because I never knew my father. Maybe it was an unconscious act of rebellion that I could choose to change. Maybe I was just doing this for attention (I did a lot of things just for attention). The doubt was so strong I begged God to take it away. I did everything my (first) youth pastor asked me to do. I prayed. I begged God. I went out and got myself a boyfriend even. I read the Bible over and over again, reading those verses used so often to condemn gay people. They convinced me that I was broken. They convinced me that God could not bless my life if I lived this way. Crushing really. The only person who ever really loved me unconditionally (God) didn’t even like me because of something I had no control over. He created me didn’t He? He promised to love me unconditionally right? I have since learned and accepted that it wasn’t God that had the problem – it was His people. Then we got a new youth pastor, and I didn’t waste much time. I came out to him and his wife as soon as I started developing a relationship with them. Their reaction was much better – but of course they still counseled me within the rules of our faith. However – they never once made me question God’s love for me; and that made all the difference in the world.
I eventually left the church for a myriad of reasons, but the biggest reason of all was that I understood that God did in fact love me. That He created me just the way I am – good and bad. I left the church so I could have that relationship with God; without His people getting in the way. That was the very best thing I ever did. God is bigger than the small minded views and flawed interpretations of the Bible. Now that I have let God out of the box the church put Him in, I was truly free and unlike what I was told,my life was in fact; blessed.
I never had to come out to my Mom. Obviously, she had her ideas about me probably well before I even knew what was going on. I was just out of HS and my girlfriend at the time practically lived with us. My Mom just sat me down one night and flat out asked me if this girl was more than a friend. I said “Yes” and that was pretty much the end of it. My Mom wasn’t happy, but she wasn’t mad either. I think she had accepted it well before she ever voiced the question out loud. All she asked was that I not tell my grandmother. Okay. I won’t. Turns out I didn’t need to with her either. We all lived together at the time (My mom, grandmother, and I) and one day I was making out with a girl I was seeing when my grandma walked in on us. I jumped up and stammered, “uh, we were…. uh, just….” she cut me off and said, “Oh stop it, I watch Oprah you know!” She was in her mid-eighties. LOL So that’s how I came out to Grandma.
All in all, my coming out day spanned over 15 years. Now you can just post a status update on Facebook and the world knows. So much easier now! The world is also a much more tolerant place when it comes to homosexuals than it was. Obviously, we still have a long long way to go for equality and overall acceptance – but that road seems shorter now, and our allies are many. Those who support us, do so now publicly. It is no longer such a shameful thing to have a gay kid, or to have gay friends. In that way, coming out day is just as important for our straight friends. Even straight people have to come out in some ways because those who support us are often demonized as much as we are (sometimes more because they really do have a choice). So for all of my straight friends who have stood by me over all these years fearlessly – Thank you! I may have never found my joy without your love and support!!
Through all my struggles, I was actually quite lucky. I wasn’t disowned from my family. I wasn’t beaten or ostracized. Even the people who wanted me to change – still loved me. I had it quite easy compared to what many gay people face (especially gay men). The part where it gets better? It comes from you.
It gets better when you learn to love yourself despite the people around you. It gets better when you no longer live a lie. It gets better when you realize that you are who you are and that is a beautiful thing. It gets better when you understand that God does not in fact hate you. It gets better when you come out – even if it is a hurtful experience because you know now who is by your side and who isn’t. It gets better because our society is changing and at least on this subject; it is a positive change. It gets better because gay people all over the world and our allies are letting everyone know that we are just like everyone else, and the people we love are no different than anyone else. The message is out there, and so are we. The more we come out – the better it gets.
So don’t give up. Come out when you are ready. Know that accepting yourself is the first step toward inner peace. Ignore the haters, and surround yourself with allies. Exude love, kindness and compassion because that message is greater than your sexuality. One day I hope that we will no longer need a coming out day – and that day is coming. One day soon, we won’t have to answer the awkward questions. We won’t have to stress over coming out to friends and family. Until that day comes though – it is up to us to live our lives. To allow ourselves to be happy regardless of those who would deny us that. Living our lives to the fullest is the way we will change the message – and once the message changes, the reactions will follow. It gets better. It is getting better. It will be better.
What is your story? As an ally or a gay person – have you come out yet? If you are struggling and need help, please get some. Feel free to email me and I will help you find support in your area. Suicide is never the answer as there are millions of people all over the world who do support and love you for who you are. Find those people and let them love and support you. It gets better. It really does.