And the young gay people … The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope … the us'es [sic] will give up.
VOICES FROM THE OUT & PROUD: COMING OUT
| Bowan Marshall
Each of the writers who contributed to this piece share their different thoughts and perspectives on what coming out means, how you navigate your journey, and what it means to step through the closet door. We share their words or caring with minimal editing as we want their messages and stories to honor their voices and their messages.
“I first came out to a good friend in high school, then my mother shortly after.
Coming out reiterates a certain comfort level with your sexual identity. It helps you realize your value amongst all other orientations. Once you have this self-realization, it makes it easier to responsibly include it into your daily life. Coming out also shows you whom your real friends are. There’s nothing better than surrounding yourself with those who appreciate you for YOU.
Always be conscious of your approach. It may take time for some to adjust and accept. If it’s not the right time for you to come out, question why. You may find the answer is within you and not dictated by outside forces. It may help you to remember these two points (as it did me): You choose your course in life and who stands in your way, and although courage is not always easy, it can result in amazing accomplishments.
And, YOU are worthy of many amazing accomplishments!”
For me, there was no official coming out party. Everyone just kinda figured it out over time and exposure to my obvious fabulousness. See, I’m just a boy from the country who had no idea there were so many people out there like me. I didn't know until I started coming out to the bars in Columbus when I was in high school. I went dancing and clubbing at bars like the Garage, the Eagle and Wall Street, and this is where I discovered a diversity of likes and interests all banded together under the gay umbrella. I met people from the leather community, drag queens, and strippers. I started to find a support system. I felt like I fit, like I belonged.
As a young man in the community, I was fortunate to have a partner, Steven, who opened me up to the concept of paying it back to those who blazed the trails for us, and paying it forward to those who would follow in our footsteps. Adventures like traveling to Washington, DC and attending the HRC Gala at the Rainbow Room in NYC instilled in me the importance of being involved, the responsibility of being a member of this community. Now don't get me wrong, I still partied my butt off, but I realized we are all part of something larger. I started to see the bigger picture.
As my exposure has grown within the community, I think back to that time of uncertainty peppered with thrilling discoveries, when I meet people who are new to our community or who are just starting to embark on their personal journey. No two journeys are exactly the same; however, the first step always seems to be accepting yourself for who you are. If coming out and embracing the gay community helps in that endeavor, we as members of the community should be there to welcome you.
Everyone who comes out helps our fight for equality. It's more difficult to hate someone who is LGBT if they know, love and respect someone who is LGBT. Coming out also makes it easier for the next person to come out and be proud of who he or she is. We are fighting hard for our rights and it's easier to work together.
Coming out is a very personal decision. To begin the process, you must first come out to yourself. Everyone is different. You may come out to yourself when you are 15, 25, 35, 45 years old or later. You decide and you control your destiny.
After coming out to yourself, you can begin the process to come out to others...your family, your friends, your classmates, your co-workers, your community. Hopefully, it will feel like a burden has been lifted off you. It leads to dignity and freedom. Freedom from the stress of hiding a part of you from others.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the growing number of straight allies who are coming out for equality. They also play a huge role in our fight for freedom. We cannot do it ourselves.
The first page of HRC's "A Resource Guide to Coming Out" says it all: "Being brave doesn’t mean that you’re not scared. It means that if you are scared, you do the thing you’re afraid of anyway. Coming out and living openly as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or supportive straight person is an act of bravery and authenticity. Whether it’s for the first time ever, or for the first time today, coming out may be the most important thing you will do all day. Talk about it."
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I’ve always believed that LGBTQ individuals living their lives openly and honestly as productive members of society is the best way to advance the Gay Rights Movement. Until we are seen simply as teachers, doctors, parents, sons, daughters, etc., as a “normal” everyday part of the human experience, that is when the stigma and hatred against of our community will become the anomaly.
And this goes for allies too. No civil rights battle has ever been won without allies. Openly coming out as an LGBT ally to your loved ones and the communities in which you inhabit can in many cases be just as impactful.
But I also acknowledge that “coming out” still isn't easy, especially for our transgender, gender-queer and gender non-conforming brothers and sisters. Everyone must be allowed to fully realize their own coming out journey in their own time.
That being said, coming out definitely changed my life for the better. I would be void of so many amazing experiences if I had stayed in the closet. It was difficult coming out to my very religious Pentecostal family, but I blossomed through the hardships and it made me the person I am today. It opened up my personality and finally gave me license to be exactly who and what I wanted to be. I came out nearly a decade ago and I count it among one of the best decisions I ever made.
My motto for several years has been “always live courageously.” Because it is very courageous to be openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer wherever you are in this world. And we are forced to come out every day to new acquaintances, at new jobs, to our doctors, and each time you do come out, you’re not creating a better more dignified world for yourself but also for the next LGBTQ person who comes out after you.
A few weeks ago, my brother was in town, visiting from Georgia. I had the opportunity to have lunch with him and his wife. Referring to the Miss America controversy, he said, "That's so gay." Like most people who say it, he didn't mean it in the literal sense of "same gender loving." He didn't mean it as a slur on people with a non-heterosexual orientation. He meant it as stupid or dumb, or frustrating. Reading the look on my face, his wife commented, "Maybe it's not so okay to say that, huh?" There was uncomfortable silence, an apology, and we moved on.
October 11 is National Coming Out Day, and people sometimes ask me why there needs to be such a day. There are gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters in books movies and on TV. A transgender person was on Dancing with the Stars. Everybody seems to have gay friends. Being "out,," it seems, has never been easier.
Having conversations with real people, I find that coming to a place of positive self-regard for many LGBTQ people is still a very difficult journey. I don't care how many episodes of "Glee" your family has seen, choosing to share this part of yourself with them is still very intimidating. The pressure to conform to gender norms is still immense. It's still very hard to worry about friends rejecting you - even the ones who say "gay" all the time and mean no harm.
Not long ago, I met a student who struggles to deal with her sexual orientation because she worries about being rejected by her fundamentalist family and home community. She has spent inordinate amounts of time on the internet, reading and searching for something that will give her hope that she won't be rejected by everyone she knows. Being a part of an LGBTQ group in the Multicultural Center was the first time she has been in a room with others like her. National Coming Out Day matters to her, because she'll probably still be deeply closeted when it's over.
And, National Coming Out Day matters to me. I don't expect everyone who has yet to publicly self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender to visit Kroger waving a rainbow flag. (Though, it could be fun!) For me, it's not about making a show and daring people to accept you. For me, National Coming Out Day is about our community sending a message of acceptance and support. If you hear someone say the word "gay" as a synonym for "stupid," challenge it. Every time we use our words carelessly, we send a message that there is reason to fear, to hide, to be ashamed. National Coming Out Day matters, but what matters more is the daily individual commitment each of us makes to promote human dignity and respect, regardless of your personal sexual orientation or gender identity.
It’s been quite a long time ago since my coming out day in November of 1996. It’s crazy to me how long ago it was because it seriously feels just like yesterday. I grew up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh where everybody knew everybody. Gay people were very few and far between. A rundown steel mill town tends to keep things like that on the down low. I grew up in a large and loud Italian/Polish family that was extremely close and loving. I was always a good kid in school, except for the occasional party I would throw when the parents were out of town. I ran with many different crowds: jocks, cheerleaders, theatre kids, burn-outs, brain-iacs, and band kids. It was very different back then. You didn’t come out in high school, at least not where I grew up.
Most of my friends had no clue I was gay. When I came out, some of them were completely shocked. Those who knew said they always knew. The most surprising part to me was none of them seemed to care. This made my coming out process much easier. The jocks who I thought would tease me or beat me up never did. In fact, some of them went to my first gay bar with me and to this day still stay in touch with me. To them, I was never defined by my sexuality. I was just me.
My family took some time. I did not come out to them; it was more like they found out. I was visiting my brother in Columbus when a call came from Pittsburgh. My parents had found a card from my then boyfriend under my bed. I always say don’t go looking for something ya ain’t ready to find! Well they did. Now, I forgot to mention… my brother is also gay. My parents not only found out about me, but my brother as well. Not one gay son, but two. Let’s just say that didn’t go so well. I drove back to Pittsburgh to face my parents the next morning. I walked in to find them both waiting for me. After a few hours of talking and crying, and the occasional “go see a priest," I decided it was best I moved out. I packed my car and headed back to Columbus to move in with my brother.
That was 17 years ago, and I have called Columbus home since. My parents came around very quickly. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to hear at the same time that two of your three children are gay. I am lucky and blessed to have two amazing parents, an amazing sister, a fabulous gay brother, an incredibly supportive family, and wonderful friends. I feel I am actually closer to my family because I am gay. I know not everyone has a great coming out process, and my advice to those that don’t is this: Stay positive and true to yourself. It DOES get better. Family is what YOU create. Surround yourself with people who love you and bring out the best in you.