29 years ago today, somewhere between 200,000 and half-a-million people came together for the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Every year after that, October 11th has been internationally recognized as International Coming Out Day. On this day, to both remember the ongoing fight for recognition, visibility, representation, equality, and justice and to continue to make the world a safe place for everyone to be themself, we celebrate what it means to be out.
I’m out, and proud. And today, I want to reflect on what it means to be out.
My journey out was easier than most. I faced no overt opposition to realizing my sexuality. Most of the people around me told me it was okay, even great, if I was gay long before I even really thought too deeply on my sexual identity. I found some of the people around me attractive, and those people ran the spectrum of gender. That felt normal to me. When I finally did come to identify as bi- and then pansexual, no one was surprised, everyone was supportive. I never really faced any pushback when I began to explore polyamory either. Most people just didn’t understand, but the people around me supported my search for happiness and recognized that I was seeking a way to treat people well.
Then I came out as gender-queer/non-binary/gender-nonconforming. I received no overt opposition here, either, though I could tell the support was more tentative, that it made people a little more uncomfortable. And that was hard. I’m left to only imagine having to deal with people threatening me, taking away love and support, and denying who I am. My journey out was, and continues to be, easier than most. And I’m thankful everyday that I have such loving, human people around me.
Coming out is important to me, and I think it’s important for the community. I agree with Dan Savage when he said, “You have a responsibility to be out. You have a moral responsibility to be out.” If you can come out and be out safely, then you should be. Hiding in the closet only empowers the prejudice. Elie Wiesel, in his 1986 Nobel acceptance speech, said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Coming out and being vocal about your own identity and refusing to be silenced means taking your own side and being on the side of those that identify with you.
I will never be anything other than out. Because I can be. I have certain privileges that allow me to be out. So, I will use those privileges to make space. I’m out so that there is more space for the queer teachers in my school and district. I’m out so that, no matter what they’ve heard, the students at my school can see a queer person who is happy, healthy, smart, and who has their backs. So the queer students know that queer people can be out and visible at our school.
Coming Out Day is not about shaming those that aren’t out, though. It’s about making the world a safe place for them to be out in. Yes, it is our moral responsibility to be out, or to at least to plan to come out. So, those of us that are out, we stand beside those that aren’t yet out. We’re waiting for you. While it is a hard step to take, coming out will make the world better. It will.
Coming Out is about joining the communities you identify with and strengthening those communities by openly supporting them. If you are having a hard time coming out, I urge you to talk to someone. Find an ally and come out to them. You’d be amazed how empowering it is.
Happy Coming Out Day. Welcome out.