I’ve written before about my own coming out story, Gentle Reader, and I thank the stars that I was lucky enough to have such a supportive family. Coming out, though, is a never-ending process; Applying for a job? Housing? Have you recently moved? Congratulations! You get to live through an – admittedly smaller – version of the process all over again! But what of those still in the closet, at school, at home, at work? I’m here to help, Gentle Reader, with some of the drawbacks to coming out, as well as the positive aspects.
If you’re not sure whether you’re ready to come out, trust no one. As harsh as it sounds, if you’re not yet ready to be completely out, or if you’re in a position where your well-being, safety, or living situation might be compromised, you’re better off waiting. People gossip, and are fascinated by sexuality and gender; word will spread like wildfire through unsuspected channels. Is this to say that you should bottle everything up and not tell a soul about your burden? No, but be very careful about it. Once the process has begun, it can’t be stopped and is never over. The world is becoming more accepting, on the whole, but homelessness amongst LGBTQIA youth remains disproportionately high, and can be directly attributed to coming out/being outed in unsupportive homes. Further, employment discrimination protections are tacit at best, particularly for trans folk, and people are fired for who they are everyday. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t come out, darlings – just be careful about it until you’re ready and feel safe.
I should also note that it’s okay not to have your identity nailed down solidly when you come out. Gender and sexuality are both fairly fluid things, and can shift and change over time. You might come out as gay now and later discover that you’re actually pan, for example. You might not have the vocabulary yet to identify exactly who or how you are, or you might still be unsure where on the various spectra you fall. That’s okay. You can still come out, or not, as you like. It’s important that you feel safe and ready to make a declaration, and less important what you’re declaring yourself to be.
All warnings aside, living life openly as one’s true self – or exploring who that true self is – feels so much better than constantly having to police oneself. You’re going to be policed no matter what, mind you, but it’s so freeing to stop doing it to yourself. There will always be bigots and dangerous situations, but confidence and authenticity lend us strength. They aren’t super powers, mind you, and won’t protect you from slurs or violence – but there’s something about being comfortable in one’s own skin that helps. Of course, as Harvey Milk taught us, coming out isn’t just good for ourselves, it’s good for the community – being visible is still a revolutionary act. Merely by existing in the open, by transgressing artificial boundaries of gender and sexuality, we pry open the minds and eyes of Mom and Pop Middle-America bit by bit. We’re here, we’re queer, and they’re still not used to it – but as they see us more and more living our lives, buying our groceries, marrying and marching and making their sandwiches – they will.
I hope this helps, Gentle Reader. On Thursday, I’ll have a list of resources for all sorts of community-related things, including links to pages about coming out, and counselors to confide in. Happy Pride, y’all.