In honor of National Coming Out Day being celebrated across college campuses all day today, I think it's time that everyone spend even a quick moment conceptualizing the idea of "coming out."
What is the one thing that you're hiding from your friends, your family members, your co-workers or your significant other? Perhaps today's the day to throw open the closet doors on those deep-rooted secrets (as long as it's legal and safe) and air 'em out in the open.
If you haven't figured it out yet from the amount of RuPaul's Drag Race posts I do for CultureMap, I'm gay.
For me, the whole point of National Coming Out Day is making sure that gay people are seen and truly recognized as a (diverse and fabulous) presence in the world.
Years ago, I would have been terrified of saying that on such a public forum because of what my family or my employers might think. But I'm lucky enough to have a family and a workplace that are more than happy with me being honest about my sexuality. It's just part of who I am, like the fact that I'm tall and really, really, really ridiculously good-looking. (Deal with it.)
I've been thinking a lot recently about how fortunate I am to live in Austin — the only city in Texas to officially support marriage equality — and in the United States especially, where I can be open about my identity without fear of legal or physical retribution.
This new awareness that I typically take for granted came after watching two eye-opening documentaries at Polari (formerly the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival), Call Me Kuchu and The Invisible Men. Capturing the terrifying realities for gays and lesbians in Uganda and Palestine respectively, these films highlight just how far we've come in the U.S., and how much further we need to come worldwide.
For me, the whole point of National Coming Out Day is making sure that gay people are seen and truly recognized as a (diverse and fabulous) presence in the world. Unlike race or gender, sexuality is an "unseen" minority status that can be denied or hidden if required. Coming out then makes this status visible and undeniable to the public, affirming that gay people in fact exist everywhere.
As long as bodies and attraction have existed, a portion of the human population has been gay. But we're only now getting to a place in the United States where being out offers as many lifestyle opportunities as staying in the closet does. Getting married and raising kids and having partner benefits? Why, you're too generous, Only a Few States So Far!
Since most of us can admit that it's not a choice as to whether or not you have same-sex attraction, we can say that it's now a matter of whether or not you can accept all the cultural and emotional baggage that comes along with saying it out loud. Depending on your support network and your exposure to popular culture, coming out might be as easy for some as it is impossible for others.
Our progressive society is realizing at a quickly escalating rate that everyday traditions and life cycle rituals and even guiding doctrines may require some updating to fit our changing times. We have a President who recognizes this, legal systems that recognize this and — most amazingly — religious leaders that recognize this.
Thankfully, it's far safer and saner to come out in the U.S. these days for everyone involved. But it's still a terribly difficult thing to do for most people, often involving a great deal of public ugly crying and snot after days and months of solitary ugly crying and snot.
As long as everything goes well, coming out can feel like the most freeing emotional enema imaginable. Furthermore, it will open your eyes to just how accepting the world around you really is/n't, and it will make you aware of just how brave and powerful and special you really are.
That's why I agree with Harvey Milk, who used to say that "everyone should have to come out" at least once in their lives so they can know how it feels and have compassion for the queer members of our population. If that happened, he argued, discrimination would have ended a long time ago.
So if you've never done it before, how about trying it today?
Even if you're on the fully heterosexual end of the Kinsey Scale, what's something you've never had the courage to tell anyone else about that is secretly a significant part of your identity? Are you a closet diehard Taylor Swift fan? A hoarder? A lady on the street but a freak in the bed?
I don't mean to make light of any of these conditions, and I don't equate them with being gay. But what they do all have in common is that none of these "unseen" identity markers are visible until they are confessed out loud. And when they are spoken in to existence, it changes something about the person saying it.
Whatever your identity, take today to think about what you've always been afraid to admit. Think about the courage it takes to do so. And then give it up for the millions of individuals across the globe that are doing it — sometimes by choice, sometimes by force — every day of their lives.