Friday was National Coming Out Day. It wasn’t until the evening when I even realized it–I’ve fallen behind in homework and I’m trying desperately to catch up, so of course homework is where I was at all day.
When I found out what I’d missed, I felt a sudden tinge of regret: Normally I’d post on Facebook or post here or do something relevant. But I forgot what day it was. “I’m pretty out,” I remarked, “I don’t know who I’d come out to anyways.”
How could the day challenge me? I’m already there–aren’t I?
Coming out is a continuum. It doesn’t happen only once–and it doesn’t always happen just once per person. Some people need to hear it a lot before they believe it; others will be new in your life and won’t know, even if all the rest do.
A funny story.
The other day I was in the undergrad math lounge and I overheard a few others talking about personality types. “Is that Myers-Briggs?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “What type are you?”
“INTJ,” I replied.
“Really?” she said and I could see her face lighting up (excuse the cliche–I haven’t yet found a suitable alternative for this very real phenomenon), “that’s my perfect match!”
I shrugged my shoulders, slightly skewed my head, and said, “Sorry, I’m gay.”
(The guy who was with us then nodded and exclaimed, “So that’s why you don’t find Kate Upton hot,” referring to a conversation I’d had in the lounge the week before.)
Anyways, she chuckled or something and maybe it was around this time when she introduced herself as the brother of a former classmate I’ve had somewhat of a crush on; my attraction has dwindled as the realization he probably isn’t interested settled in.
When the conversation turned directions (recall I’m still trying to study at this point, so I don’t know what words went where), I seized the opportunity to ask, “Is he gay?”
“Who? My brother?” Was it not obvious who I was talking about? I nodded.
“No, he’s not.” Right here she had that big sister scowl, head back a little, eyes pushed up into her brow, a slightly disgusted expression that at the time seemed more because of his habits with girls than my suggesting possible habits with other guys.
Very naturally, I said, “That’s okay.”
She nodded, and now her eyes were narrowed yet wide at the same time, incredulous or confused perhaps, and she said, ever so slowly, processing in her mind the implications of words I hadn’t even thought through entirely, “Yeah, of course it’s okay,” leaving implied the all-so-important modifier that he’s straight.
I recanted this story to a group of friends Thursday night, remarking how she later told us she’s quite conservative, and that made my words more poignant–
“She’s the kind of person that needs to hear it most,” I said, “that it’s okay to be straight. Sorta turns the tables, doesn’t it?”
When I started writing, when I remembered what day it was, my mind immediately tried thinking of ways to challenge myself to come out more–to come out better or stronger or more vibrantly than before. Maybe I should be the one to tell the cute new guy in our group that I’m gay, rather than letting it come up in conversation while I’m not even there (I was later told the news had surprised him), but then when I’m in the moment, meeting new people, I don’t say, “Hello, I’m gay,” I say, “Hi, I’m Darren.”
I won’t say gay is inappropriate, but it’s certainly irrelevant.
I often get a lot that people don’t think I’m gay when we first meet, so even though I’m open about my sexuality, perhaps I’m not as out as I perceive myself to be. That being said, the beautiful thing isn’t that I’m a flaming homosexual (though there’s nothing wrong with that), but that I’m confident, influential, and in spite of that power on campus–or perhaps directly because of it–I hold no shame, no nervousness being out, or coming out in clever ways, or even letting others out me anyways. Sure, that last one’s not generally in good taste, but I don’t mind–chances are I’d get ’em to figure it out anyways.
So my point is, if coming out doesn’t challenge me anymore, what can I do to make the day special, to truly celebrate National Coming Out Day–and not just once a year, but every moment of it?
As I said, I began with the notion that I had to challenge myself, but here I think I need to challenge others. I need to step up and be vocal–when people say “that’s so gay,” I need to speak up and challenge the way they think, the way they speak. When people defensively say they’re not gay, I need to say–just as I said before–that it’s okay to be straight, it really is, so for a moment they can taste the triumph and tears in needing others to vindicate your identity just to feel safe in their presence. And when I go places, perhaps I need to state my involvement with the GLBT community sooner–so even if they don’t catch that I’m gay, they at least see a model ally they can aspire to become.
Because the war won’t be won with our hands alone, but that’s a separate story.