Hiho, Gentle Readers. When this article appears on GDG, National Coming Out Day (NCOD) will be right around the corner on October 11. This may mean absolutely nothing to you, but it means a lot to me. The fact that it exists makes me both smile and frown…I’m glad it exists and sad that it has to.
For reasons that I’ll explain next week, the subject of coming out has been much on my mind of late. I’m been as out as it gets for years, so NCOD tends to sneak up on me these days. When I realized it was right around the corner, I knew I had to talk about it.
A Little Background
Well, as I’m sure you know, “Coming Out” is a phrase that’s shorted from “Coming Out of the Closet”, something I referenced waaaaay back in my very first article for the site, Nothin’ in My Closet But My Cloak. Although I’ve been aware of NCOD for years, I didn’t know much about its background, so I did a little digging for you all.
The observance was first celebrated on October 11, 1988. The date was chosen to commemorate the Great March (aka the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights from 1987.) I can only imagine what Washington thought when half-a-million LGBTQ folks showed up and demanded rights for our crowd. The first year of NCOD only 18 states participated, then 21 the next year, then all 50 states and 7 other countries in 1990! Now, it’s celebrated in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdoms, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Croatia, Australia, and New Zealand. And who knows how it’ll continue to grow.
I appreciate the idea of setting a day aside for LGBTQ people to come out. One piece of advice I’ve always treasured is “Never come out on a family holiday. You don’t want your coming out to be remembered as ‘You ruined Thanksgiving.’ Or ‘You ruined Christmas.’” I don’t think anyone will claim you ruined National Coming Out Day by coming out. It even makes a good conversation starter. “Hey, Mom. You know how it’s National Coming Out Day? Well, I have something to tell you…”
Why Does It Matter?
When I came out, my Mom asked me why I thought it was important for gay people to come out? At the time, I believe I said something like, “I just want you to know this about me. I want to be honest with you about who I am.” While I still think this is important, with over 20 years of being out under my belt, I think there are even more reasons these days.
I am constantly stunned by how far gay rights have come in my lifetime. The fact that I am legally married to Steve still rocks my world and gets me giddy when I think about it. The fact that gay people are still not allowed to legally marry in the vast majority of U.S. states tells me that we still have a long way to go.
While I know that some people cling to fundamentalist religious views and truly believe them, I think a lot of people are just scared. I’ve talked about homophobia before, and I truly do believe it stems from a revulsion born of ignorance. The wonderful Mr. Lovecraft, in the opening to his seminal essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature” tells us that “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” I will build on Mr. Lovecraft’s words and say that I believe people fear most what they don’t understand.
I have a fundamental understanding of heterosexual romance. Growing up, it was all I ever saw on TV, in the movies, in books. If there were a gay character, they were presented for comedy purposes, or reviled. It changed slowly over time…I will never forget George A. Romero’s Knightriders…not just because I have an affection for people jousting on motorcycles, but because one of the main characters, Pip, was presented as a gay man and shown in an almost entirely positive light. I’m pretty sure that was the first movie I ever saw that was so candid and, while it was a minor plot point, it was also basically accepted and not a big deal.
Anyway, sorry…I was saying that it’s easy for me to understand het romance, because I’ve seen plenty of it. I may not have any sexual feelings for women, but I get trembly and melty when I see a beautiful romantic scene in a movie. I cry, at the drop of a hat, and I cheer for true love every time. But I can understand why straight men may have a little more difficulty accepted gay romance, or gay sexuality. It’s different, it’s not commonly depicted in media, and it’s not what they feel. I get it, I do, and I try to be cool about it.
So how does this relate to coming out? Well, here goes. I had a friend I came out to early on who said, “You? No…really? But…you don’t seem gay to me.”
And there it is. If people keep having these ridiculous leftover stereotypes that gay means swishy, or crossdresser, or whatever, then gay will always mean “different” to them, something to be feared, or at least ignored. When they suddenly realize that someone they like or even admire is gay, then it blows those stereotypes out of the water. Don’t get me wrong…I’ve met those stereotypes…but they’re not all that there is to being gay. I’ve met gay men so swishy that they couldn’t even walk straight. And I’ve met gay men so manly that they make the Marlboro Man look like a mincing queen. The point is, gay is a spectrum, and understanding that brings everyone one step closer to saying, “Oh, that’s gay? Oh, I don’t care about that.”
Is It Just for Gays?
No chance. If you know someone is gay, but they aren’t out to most people, you could give them some encouragement. Or you can just be there for them to be supportive. Let them know they mean something to you. Heck, hum them “If You Were Gay” from Avenue Q. I don’t care what you do. Just be cool for them.
And you could celebrate by outing something about yourself to other people. If you’re already gay and out, tell people you’re a Gamer, or a LARPer, or a Furry. We closet parts of ourselves and keep our lives so compartmentalized. I think being open is a healthy thing, and I always will.
So…Got Any Advice If I Want to Come Out?
Oh, yes. Yes, I do.
If you don’t come out on NCOD, as I said above, don’t come out on a big holiday. There are two strong reasons for this…one, yes, if someone you come out to has negative reactions, you don’t want to be ‘the one who ruined Arbor Day’ or whatever. Two, it can be best to do it in small chunks, rather than hitting everyone at once.
I came out first to my Mom, and then, working with some of her advice, to other members of my family. At her request, I never told one of my grandmothers. Not because we thought she’d be upset…we knew she had plenty of gay friends. It was mostly because none of us wanted to hear about it for the next twenty years…this is the woman who, after my sister got divorced, spent years talking about it. Finally my mother said to her, “Mom…Janet’s over it! Why aren’t you?!”
Having an initial confidant can be very helpful, but don’t let it limit who you tell. This is about you, and no one else. It’s worth listening to their advice, however. I almost didn’t come out to my stepdad, because he’s a pretty conservative guy. But my Mom told me it would be fine, and, when I did, he said, “Why were you nervous? Did you think I would love you any less?”
It’s good to be prepared for some negative reactions. I’m happy to say that none of my recently outed friends have told me that their parents disowned them, or kicked them out of the house. But I have heard those stories from my generation, and I’ve heard some parents who’re upset, felt they’d been lied to, wished they could still have grandkids, etc. The sad truth is that, while the world marches forward, not everyone is marching at the same pace. Being out is fantastic…when I did it, I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. Now I think nothing of casually mentioning my husband to co-workers, people I’m gaming with at conventions, and so on. If that leads to an incident like the one I wrote about a few months back where some people left the LARP I was at because they weren’t comfortable with so many gay people around, then so be it. I’d rather some honest dislike than a dishonest silence.
Thank goodness for you, I’m not your only resource for advice on this subject. Check out the Human Rights Campaign’s advice on coming out on their website.
I saw a quote a while ago that said that “Straight men are homophobic because they’re afraid gay men will treat them the way they have treated women.” I don’t know if that’s true, and I hope not. I also would like to think that we’re better than that…but, again, gay is a spectrum. I’ve known some rude, ridiculous men who think they can “convert the straights” or who want to “freak the straights” or whatever. That makes me as annoyed as gamers who gloat at “squicking the mundanes”. I want acceptance and equality in all things. I want to be accepted as a person, whether it’s because I’m gay, or overweight, or a geek, or whatever…I just want acceptance. And yes, I’m out about being all those things. If someone can’t accept that, then I don’t need that negativity in my life.
Want to out yourself here? Go for it! I’ll be unwavering in my support. Have a coming out story to share? Planning on coming out on NCOD? Let us all know.