It is October 11th, National Coming Out Day for gender and sexual preference non-conforming people. A lot of people use this day make public coming out statements or to speak to people privately about their sexual preference and/or gender identity.
My Coming Out Story (well, one of them)
I came out to my parents when I was 17 and a senior in high school. I had already been a ‘practicing’ homo for a year by that time and I hadn’t planned to come out to my parents on that spring day in 1982. I didn’t really have any plan in place for coming out to them at all.
The occasion was not happy, my girlfriend had broken up with me and I’d driven home crying my eyes out — literally losing one contact to the outpouring of tears. I was a mess when I came through the door at home and had hoped to slip into my room unnoticed. My parents, sitting in the living room, called out to me. Seeing that I was in distress, they were very kind and wanted to know what was wrong. So I told them. Blurted it right out between sobs, “My girlfriend broke up with me.”
I can only imagine the panicked looks they gave each other over my head as I accepted the hug my dad gave me. My mom walked me back to my room, arm around my shoulder, telling me about how she’d had crushes on girls when she was younger, too, but that was just a phase. She was trying to reassure me that I would get out of this phase, and everything would be better again. I’m pretty sure my mom’s crushes hadn’t included fucking them every chance she got, but I didn’t ask for a clarification. I just got mute. I didn’t argue, I didn’t have the heart for it.
She left me curled up on my bed and sent my dad in. My dad is a good man, kind and understanding, but this was out of his league. I don’t really remember what he said specifically, but I’m sure it was kind and encouraging and pretty ineffectual.
The plot thickens and then goes sour from there. Later that day, or maybe the next, they informed me that they’d found someone for me to talk to, a professional. They reassured me that they weren’t going to interfere, that they wanted me to feel free to talk to this person without fear they’d hear all about it later. I was numb and thinking that it might be nice to have someone to talk to, an adult who might have a clue how I was supposed to navigate the world with my newly broken heart. As a reminder of context, I was a senior in high school, I was heading to college (though I didn’t know which one at that point) and adulthood was feeling like less of a blessing and more of an impending doom. I was still in shock from being rejected by my girlfriend — later I would understand the full circumstances of her situation and understand better that it wasn’t a rejection, it was survival — but at the time it had me questioning my self-worth, my ability to make good decisions and my whole vision of the future.
So I went to my appointment with the shrink. That’s right, they didn’t send me to a therapist, they sent me to a psychiatrist. I sat in a chair, nervous, stomach churning, not at all sure what was going to happen. The Dr. introduced herself and told me that my parents had let her know that I was going through a “sexual identity crisis”.
*sound of needle screeching on record* Say, what?
After that, the whole thing went downhill, which is to say, the entire session. This was at least a week, or more, since the break up. I’d had time to think and process, I knew by then that there was a lot more going on with me than the break up, as traumatic as it was. I was having a complete stress meltdown about finishing high school and launching out into the world as an adult. What I was not stressing about was my ‘sexual identity’. I felt betrayed by my parents, who’d promised not to participate or interfere with my counseling, but had poisoned the well before it had even begun. The Dr. seemed very smug, and I was a typical pissed-off teenager with a chip on my shoulder about adults who thought they knew everything about me, and what I needed. I didn’t go back. I was cured. I knew for damned sure that I was a lesbian, I liked girls, I liked having sex with girls. None of that was a problem I needed to have solved and I wasn’t going to be able to convince Dr. Smug of that, so why go back?
The way my parents handled my coming out drove a wedge between us that lasted several years. I didn’t repent, I didn’t change my ways and my parents were not happy with that at all. I remember my dad very angrily telling me that it was not OK to have my girlfriends stay the night anymore. I guess they’d figured out that I was having sex in my room on ‘sleep over’ nights. Not that it mattered, I didn’t have a girlfriend anymore.
I went off to college and continued the coming out process. I met other queers of all kinds, from all over the country. I met and fell in love with another woman. I survived another break up and moved on to yet another relationship with a women. I learned about the politics of being GLBT, about organizations and movements and pride celebrations. My parents have also grown up a lot over the years. My mom is now as “PFLAG” a parent as you can be without actually being a member of PFLAG. She proudly tells me about how she reaches out to parents struggling with the queerness of their child, how she spends time with them, supporting them and telling them her story. When my parents moved across the state, they very carefully chose a church that is pro-GLBTQ and they no longer vote Republican.
My adult life felt like a long series of coming out moments until, at some point, I realized that I wasn’t so much ‘coming out’ as I was ‘living out’ all the time. There are still levels of coming out I have ahead of me: coming out as trans and genderqueer to my family, coming out as poly to my family. At least I know I won’t be sent to a shrink again, and hopefully I won’t be told it’s a phase.
Coming out means getting to a place where you can live out loud, own your reality and challenge the people who share this life with you to love you in the fullness of who you truly are. I don’t know where you are in this process so I wish you all the best in coming out, living out, being out as the amazing, beautiful human being you are. If you are so far out of the closet you can’t even remember what color the door was, maybe today is a day to reach out to others who aren’t as confident yet, to let people know you’re available for support and conversation.
Happy ‘Be Proud of Who You Are’ Day.
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