October 11th is National Coming Out Day. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), this date was chosen to commemorate the second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights on 10/11/1987. That was 26 years ago. Since then, there has been remarkable progress on LGBTQ* issues such as same-sex marriage, being openly gay in the military, and federal recognition of LGBTQ* rights. But why does coming out need a “day”? Coming out, to yourself, to family, to friends, at work, at church, anywhere, is a profound experience for LGBTQ* people and their allies. Prejudices and discrimination can come from family, friends, even strangers. Teens who come out risk losing their homes and families. Before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, military service members risked losing their jobs. The act of coming out can pose a significant threat to LGBTQ* lives and livelihoods. Just because the internationally recognized sign of the LGBTQ* movement is a rainbow, does not mean that everything is sunshine and roses. But still, why a “day” to celebrate something that could turn out negatively? Because not to come out is to deny oneself the freedom and joy that comes with living a wholly authentic life. Yes, it’s hard. There will be downs and ups and mountains and valleys, but all life is this way. If we stopped leaving the house for fear that bad things would happen, the human race would die out. We can’t have that.
My own experiences with Coming Out Day have all been wickedly positive. I had the great fortune of supporting a good friend when she came out publicly. It was sort of a round table discussion of identity, intersectionality, self-love, and confidence. It truly was a profound experience for me, and I am blessed to know her and to have been able to support her that day. In the same way, I would like to use this day to come out as well. It took many years, a lot of writing and conversations with my friends, my mom and sister, probably a river of tears, but I’m good now. I feel good about myself and where I am in life.
Let me tell you the story of me. When I was a little girl, my first crush on a TV character was Sailor Jupiter, from the anime Sailor Moon. (I should have known then, but I didn’t think anything of it.) Sailor Jupiter was cool. She had awesome thunder and lightning powers. She could fight. Sure every guy looked like the guy who broke her heart, but otherwise, she had a lot of confidence in herself and her abilities. I loved her. Everything in the way she carried herself spoke to me. Then, as I got older, I would gravitate toward females as friends. Not an early indicator of lesbianism necessarily, but still noteworthy for me. In middle and high school, I had crushes on girls. I paid absolutely no attention to those crushes, but I knew, then, that this was a thing for me. I didn’t have a name for it, and I didn’t act on those crushes in any conscious way. But I’m sure I was a bit obvious and just as obviously oblivious. I even went so far as to tell my future college roommate, “Don’t worry, I like guys.” It was true at the time. My feelings were “Everybody has girl crushes. They don’t mean anything.” Then, I went to college.
I have the great pleasure of being a Fearless Notre Dame Woman. I went to and graduate from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, now called Notre Dame of Maryland University. I need to point out that I went to the women’s college. The Women’s College at NDM is one of the last single-sex institutions of higher education in the country. For four years I was surrounded by beautiful, smart young women coming into their own. Just like I was. It was a time of great personal emotional and mental upheaval that settled down in my senior year. I partied too hard. I drank too much. I gained and lost weight. I traveled. I had a nervous breakdown. I spent two weeks in a mental health institution. I fell in love. I got my heartbroken. And those are just the major happenings. I had quite a few crushes on classmates and professors. All female, all so relaxed in who they were. Not necessarily sure of themselves, because really, who is all the time? But subconsciously, I was and am attracted to ladies that exhibit the same characteristics and traits of Sailor Jupiter. It wasn’t until writing this that I’ve arrived at the conclusion. But it isn’t really surprising. I have observed and listed traits of my “type” before, as I became aware of them.
They say college is a time of self discovery. They are right. I discovered what I will and will not tolerate from friends and lovers. I discovered how far I could push myself, mentally and emotionally, before I snapped. I developed coping mechanisms for stress, change, heartbreak. Not all of them were good. I discovered what I thought was my final destination re:sexual orientation. I thought I was bisexual. At the time, I was, or I thought I was, attracted to guys and girls. It didn’t mean I was confused. It didn’t mean I was greedy. It didn’t mean anything, except what it meant, attracted to both sexes. But, there was this guy, a few guys actually that I talked to or slept with, but this last one is important. He, unwittingly, helped me solidify…myself. I know it’s bad to use people, but it was a necessary evil. Since the time I first slept or fooled around with a guy, nothing ever felt right. I always felt slightly uncomfortable, like I was doing it more for his benefit that my own, even though I was totally and knowingly in it with him. I absolutely understood that the guy, except one who was an ass but that’s beside the point, actually liked me and thought I was cool. Anyway, when I made the choice to sleep with the last guy, I decided that if this feeling persisted, always uncomfortable, then I would have to call it. It did. I did. I haven’t slept with a guy since. I do appreciate a well crafted, taken care of male physique, but it just doesn’t do it for me.
The first girl I slept with, on the other hand…that is a whole other story. I will say, that uncomfortable feeling was nonexistent.
There are a lot of other things I could add in here, like what it’s like being a black lesbian, but that’s for another time. I use the acronym LGBTQ*, because it is as inclusive as I can get it. I use the librarian loved wildcard asterisk to include Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual, and any other orientations or gender identities that people feel resonate with them.
Here are some resources for coming out or anything else rainbow related.
The Human Rights Campaign (www.hrc.org), PFLAG (www.pflag.org), Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (www.colage.org), Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (www.glsen.org).