On Sunday, October 11th, we celebrate the 27th annual National Coming Out Day.
The characters in my books don't often grapple with their sexuality--it's other facts that plague them: age difference, (dis)ability, mental illness, long distance, already having a significant other, or an apocalypse that keeps getting in the way. Allison in Second Chances is probably the closet I've gotten to this subject.
But the struggle to Come Out to oneself and then to the people in your life is only the first battle. The truth, for better or for worse, is that even as an adult, I have to Come Out nearly every day. It happens casually--meeting a new person and making the decision if I need to reveal myself as having a girlfriend. I consider myself lucky that I do have a partner (for infinite reasons), not the least of which is having an easy way to announce my sexuality to the new people in my life.
I Came Out to my mom nearly in the same breath as I Came Out to myself. I was on summer break from college and we were on a walk. The conversation had turned pretty serious and we had begun sharing a lot of things about ourselves. It felt like the perfect moment. It had to be that moment. I told her in one breathless rush, "Mom, I'm a lesbian." She didn't blink. Her stride didn't falter. All she said was, "I know."
It took me a little longer to talk to my dad about it. Eventually, I didn't have to say anything at all. My girlfriend at the time sent me a care package in the mail with hearts all over it, and my dad, being a smart guy, put two and two together.
I used to think observances like National Coming Out Day or National Day of Silence were ridiculous and yet another example of my Otherness. "Why do I have to Come Out?" I would lament. "Why do I have to tell people I'm gay?" No one ever sits down with their parents, knots in their stomach, to reveal themselves as straight, I reasoned. (Unless you're Karma on MTV's Faking It, that is). Even knowing the long history of the struggle for gay rights, it still felt unfair to me.
Why do we need to Come Out? Why is it so important for people in the spotlight--actors, musicians, athletes, and others--to label their sexuality? For me, it's all about visibility. I don't throw a party when another celebrity announces their queerness because I'm delusional and think I'm going to get to date that person (okay, maybe a tiny little bit), but when people know someone who is GLBTQ, they're more likely to support equality under the law. In other words, you can't hate the thing you love.
We've come a long way since Stonewall in 1969, but we've still got a long way to go before we've reached a moment in which labels of identity are no longer necessary. And until that day, I'll continue to observe National Coming Out Day in my small, modest way.
p.s. Feel free to leave your own Coming Out Story in the Comments