Today is National Coming Out Day and I’m celebrating 16 years of gayness.
I came out of the closet in 2001 at the age of 22 after being mired in self-loathing for years due to my fundamentalist religious upbringing. When I came out I was very fortunate to be living in a progressive city (keep Austin weird, y’all), have a solid job with an LGBT-friendly company (thank you IBM!), not be financially dependent upon my parents in any way, and have friends who accepted me with love1.
Coming out of the closet and admitting to myself, and my friends, that I am gay was a turning point in my life. It’s not been perfect, but I’ve never been happier to be able to live my authentic life at home and at work.
There those among us who think we don’t need National Coming Out Day, that by intentionally coming out and celebrating it we are preventing gayness from being fully normalized and accepted in society. To that I reply: check your privilege.2
Coming out risks rejection from loved ones and peers. Many LGBTQ-folks are financially dependent upon their parents and risk being kicked out of their homes; a disproportionate number of homeless youth are LGBTQ. In numerous states, if you come out to your employer they can fire you. For many people there are real, tangible risks to living an authentic life.
For those of us who have a preponderance of privilege, I believe we have a moral responsibility to come out. Coming out establishes an expectation of acceptance, similar to our expectations of justice and liberty. Coming out, and being out, help creates that normalcy of gayness that will ultimately reduce National Coming Out Day to a mere Hallmark Holiday, with as much emotional and life-changing consequences as getting a greeting card.
Until then, if you can, I encourage you to be very visibly out. Let’s help create those places for fellow LGBTQ-folks to be safe and help blaze the trail of acceptance that those before us started.
Thanks to my friend Jason Lucas for helping me coalesce my thoughts on this.
1 The second person I came out to was a woman I had worked with for just a few short months: Jonobie Ford. Seventeen years later she remains my best friend.
2 Alternatively: “you try growing up in a small town in the south in a state where it’s legal to be fired for being gay in a fundamentalist conservative Republican family knowing you are going to hell and then tell me we don’t need this”, but “check your privilege” is more succinct.