I almost can't believe it's been five years since my first Coming Out Day essay! (And basically 5 years since my coming out, in general). What a five years it's been...
Rereading that original essay I wrote is a really fascinating snapshot into my state of mind at the time. It's a strange feeling to think back and remember my thoughts and feelings that first semester, senior year of college. I was desperately hopeful for the future and for our society in general, and I think that perspective is palpable in the essay.
What's interesting, in hindsight, is how little grasp I had on LGBT+ history. In all fairness, I don't think much more could have been expected of someone like me at that time in my life. I grew up in small town rural Minnesota with virtually no positive exposure to non-cis and non-straight identities – if any exposure at all. So I had to discover it all on my own, and not only that, I had to discover it from within the covert ops of the proverbial Closet.
Not only that, but I was on this critical part of my journey of self-discovery during what we might as well call the "golden age of social progress." Things certainly weren't awesome, but holy crap! When you look from a historical perspective, things sure weren't bad! Thanks to a failed education system, I had no idea how many shoulders I was standing on at that time in my life; the shoulders of countless brave people who devoted their lives to allow someone like me to flaunt my privilege and proclaim that:
To put it plainly, I just don't think it should be necessary that there should be a day so publicly recognized for the declaration of someone's sexuality.1
States across the country were beginning to vote on (and pass) marriage equality – including Minnesota, who would vote down a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriages shortly after I posted my essay. One domino was quickly falling after another, and it seemed like there was no stopping the wonderful progress playing out before our eyes. And that sentiment continued to be validated in the immediate years following. Before we all knew it, marriage equality was declared law of the land for the entire nation! The age of enlightenment was upon us! Or so it seemed.
I will say that, as a general philosophical idea, I do still agree/wish that the act of making a coming out announcement was something that didn't have to exist anymore as a part of our culture. To not need to memorialize that stressful, often painful moment in so many people's lives as a "national holiday" of sorts is certainly an attractive pie in the sky. As I outlined in my essay, we are all human, after all. And labels, by nature, end up defining an "us" and "them". It's easy to get caught up in the idea that they are inherently divisive, and from my safe little bubble on campus, doing away with those labels altogether felt like the next logical step.
But with all the social progress that I thought and felt we had made, I would have never imagined the events that were to come to pass as President Obama's second term was coming to a close. I witnessed a nation of hate and anger come into clear focus. People who I thought were isolated to the remote swamps of the Deep South (and the comfy confines of the Palin residence) turned out to be prevalent across the entire nation. Types of people who I would have considered young, well-educated, and enlightened turned out to be raging homophobes, xenophobes, and theocrats – whether they consciously realized it or not. Even members of my own family showed up to proudly rant and rave about the Demonic Democrats and the Savior-Incarnate Donald Trump.
During that election, the foundation of my worldview completely crumbled beneath my feet. The desperate hope that consumed me only a couple years earlier, melted away almost entirely. It was a humbling revelation.
Above all, it forced me to realize that wishing away any idea of "labels" was basically the same as wishing for invisibility. And when you think about it from the perspective of someone only just coming out of the closet, it might actually make sense that I was still hoping for some invisibility. Looking at the talking points outlined in my essay, it was pretty clear that I wanted the whole thing to be downplayed as much as possible. It all had a very apologetic spin to it. I explicitly said that I didn't want to invoke politics or religion. I denounced the general idea of a "National Coming Out Day." I also explicitly denounced the idea of "going around wearing a giant rainbow flag and shouting through a megaphone 'I'M GAY!'" as if to imply that doing so was such an awful/shameful thing. I even stated that I would likely never again bring up the subject. Despite having finally worked up the self-confidence to publicly admit that I wasn't a straight man and despite my desperate hope in humanity, I was apparently still largely ashamed of who I was.
Admittedly, I'm still far from completely comfortable with it all. I'm not sure that I'll ever be OK with anything but the most innocent forms of PDA. I often still feel like I'm walking on eggshells at work when the conversation switches to our personal lives. As I've discussed in past blogs, the past couple of years has revealed to me that the world isn't as kind as I had once assumed. It's not that I am actively trying to hide it ... I've just become so used to hiding it that it remains a integral part of how I live my life.
But I am no longer ashamed. At least not in the same way as I was in 2012. If anything, what I am now ashamed about is how ignorant I was then. Ashamed that I took for granted all those who came before me and devoted their lives to fighting for social acceptance. Some of them gave their lives for it. Ashamed that I felt like I had to apologize for who I am. Ashamed that I felt I had to make others feel comfortable about it. Ashamed that I decided to take a politically and religiously neutral stance on the subject. Ashamed that I saw PRIDE as something unworthy of screaming at the top of my lungs.
After five years (and a presidential election that, at its heart, threatened everything that might offer us LGBT+ folks a semblance of a normal life), I now more fully appreciate the importance of National Coming Out Day. I have read about enough hate crimes and LGBT+ youth suicides to understand that invisibility is NOT an option. Everyone must continue to announce their "labels" to protect all the progress we've made, and to tell all the young folks out there that, despite what you see on TV or hear from your Alt-Right relatives, you are not alone! You are not wrong or broken or sick. Life is still better now for us than it was even a generation ago, and as they say, it continues to get better.
But I implore you: Don't take it for granted like I did; like so many of my generation did. Take time to learn about our history. Don't let yourself believe that PRIDE is unnecessary or that fading into the background noise is acceptable or desirable. We've gained so much, but the risks of losing it all are real. Don't be afraid to come out and be proud. Our future, as a LGBT+ community, depends on it!
For all who need it, and for all who deserve it: Happy National Coming Out Day.
This quote taken from the beginning of my first essay. ↩