“Yep, I’m Gay” landed Ellen DeGeneres on the cover of Time Magazine because it was that big a shocker back on April 14, 1997. In the years since, celebrated persons from every walk of life of have followed in her footsteps to steadily less and less fanfare to the point Anderson Cooper was able to do it in an email. Even the revelation by Michael Sam & the now infamous kiss that launched a thousand ‘icks’ has given way to the announcements of marriage equality reaching a majority of states. So why does it matter that today is National Coming Out Day (NCOD), what does that mean anyway, and why is still relevant?
Coming out is a process and each in their own time, remembering we have to come out to ourselves first before we can begin to contemplate how to navigate this with our families and friends. We reach that point when the burden placed on our souls by being disingenuous about something so important to those so important to us eclipses the fear we have of being rejected for our own truth.
While NCOD can be a specific date for someone currently wrestling how or when to come out, it is not a force the closet open Sadie-Sadie Hawkins-Hawkins new recruit dance either. Like the Great American Smoke Out (GASO) is not just a date for action, NCOD is also to bring awareness of how important a thing it is do to the forefront for one day, along with the help for doing it sooner rather than later.
The other similarity between NCOD and the GASO is neither getting cancer or being gay is a choice. It is a reality that when avoided, has catastrophic consequences. The similarities stop there for lung cancer is a disease that needs to be treated while being LGBT is the way some of us are born. We are afraid you will shun us when you find that out.
We grew up in your homes, we know how you feel, we heard the harmlessly meant jokes and sometimes not so harmlessly meant cracks. Then we realize one day that we are, in fact, one of ‘those people’ you were disparaging and have to wonder if that will change how you feel about them, or as we now know it to be, how you feel about us. If you thought bringing home a bad grade was difficult, imagine preparing to deliver the news no parent wants to hear while letting them know it was nothing they did, nothing you chose, and nothing else changes about the person you are, except whom you will love.
Actually, that has never changed. It is a new revelation. What follows is often a difficult period when parents need time to mourn for that aspect of their child’s identity as they had always imagined it would be before it is possible to make the room for a life that will play out differently, but just as completely.
Every time someone comes out, someone new learns we are, and have always been; your children, siblings, parents, relatives, teachers, neighbors, defenders, co-workers and your friends. The more people that know that, the less scary it will be for the poor kid who now would rather be bullied every day than risk being turned away from those they love most.
Every person that comes out sends a pivotal message to everyone still in the closet that they will not receive anywhere else: that you will get through this and can go onto live a happy, authentic life with infinite possibilities. Period. Even play in the NFL. Even get elected to Congress. And currently in 30 states and counting, even get legally married.
National Coming Out Day will no longer be relevant when people no longer feel the need to stay in the closet in the first place. We are not there yet. But I have hope.
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