Today is National Coming Out Day. One of my favorite holidays on the Queer Calendar, although I traditionally celebrate it from the sidelines. At 40, I’ve been out of the closet for more years than I was in it, and the door on my closet hung half-open all askew on its hinges at its most secure. I was Raggedy Ann for Halloween when I was in Preschool, for heaven’s sake — I never got to surprise anybody! Starting on the literal very first day of high school, I was bullied for being a big fag — physically never, verbally every single day, and mostly by guys who grew up to be big fags — until I had the sense to transfer to a public school. I told almost no one there that I was “gay,” although I would wax like a drooling idiot with cartoon hearts for eyeballs about the boys I had crushes on to anybody who would listen (or to passersby, whether they listened or not). When I was 19, out to dinner with my parents and my sister, my mom turned to me over chips and salsa and said, “So, you’re gay, right?” I confirmed that I was. My dad asked if I was safe — this was 1991, mind you, when we still kind of thought that gay sex was a short, slippery slope from a bed to a coffin — and I confirmed that I was that, too. The food came, we ate it, and poof, I was Out.
Sometimes the writer in me especially wishes that there could have been some kind of drama around coming out, even as the sensitive gay boy that I will always be is abjectly grateful for having such an easy road to walk, with a family and a circle of friends whose understanding and love is unconditional and undisguised. (I did go to a therapist for help with my struggles around having parents who vote Republican, but that’s another story.) I spent the bulk of my young adulthood in San Francisco, and I’m a dang flight attendant — I’ve made deliberate choices around living the openest possible life, and have built for myself a world in which any problem you may have with my sexuality (or my weight or my tattoos — I’m not the one who’s on trial here!) is most definitely your problem.
Not to put too fine a point on it, as a self-loving queer — and one with an unshakeable support system, at that — I have a responsibility to be out and live openly. That’s why we’re open with my niece and nephews about the some-boys-like-boys and some-girls-like-girls nature of my relationship with their Uncle Jared, and it’s why I write from an explicitly and unapologetically queer place — hell, it’s why I write at all. Not because every little queer kid out there needs to want to grow up to be just like me, but because every little queer kid out there whose path I cross deserves every possible opportunity to see that they can get on with their lives on their terms, and that they’re OK. Queer people everywhere struggle with coming out. When we live in denial, even (read: especially) if it’s “nobody’s business,” we exude only fear, and the only possible message we can send is that something is so wrong with being gay we can’t even face ourselves. As Strictly Ballroom teaches us, a life lived in fear is a life half-lived. And a life without hope is a life too many queer kids give up on. When we live openly, we might give these kids hope, in which they’ll find courage, and as they walk away from their shame and fear — as any of the queens who were at Stonewall in June of ’69 can tell you — still others will see that it’s safe to follow.
So yeah, it’s easy for me to celebrate National Coming Out Day; I have no coming out left to do. OK, not everybody knows that I’m secretly hot for little twinks, and if you’ve never met my boyfriend or read anything I’ve written, you might not know that I’m into fat guys, but come on, you gotta maintain some mystery. I know it’s easy for me to sit in my carefully, queerly orchestrated liberal life and say, “You should totally come out.” I don’t know what it’s like to be victimized by religious indoctrination, in myself or in others; I don’t know what it’s like to fear for my physical safety; I don’t even know what it’s like to be afraid of pissing off or letting down my parents (you know, around being gay…). But I do know what it’s like on this side of the closet door. To live without fear (you know, around being gay…). To get on with my life with nothing to hide, and with absolutely no sense — thank the Universe! — that where I go, what I say, or who I kiss depends on the input or approval of a world full of people who I don’t know and who will never (even be invited to) know me. You don’t have to come out to your family yet if you’re not ready for that; you don’t have to come out at church or at school if it’s not safe for you to do that. Come out to your best friend, though — the one who you know has got your back no matter what, or maybe the one who you think might also be a little curious. Come out to someone cool that you work with. Hell, come out to a stranger on a bus just for the practice. Or maybe you need to start by coming out to yourself — by giving yourself permission to be sweet, wonderful you. Please do yourself that favor — I promise you’ll understand, and you’ll still love yourself when it’s over. I have a few regrets about opportunities I passed up when I was still in the closet — I should have fooled around with Richard, and I definitely wish I had taken a boy to prom — but around coming out? Around embracing the awesomeness of being gay? Non, je ne regrette rien.
The Trevor Project (LGBTQ Youth Suicide Prevention)