National Coming Out Day—The 10 Things You Must Know

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

Today is National Coming Out Day, a day of joy, terror, acceptance, and bravery. Here are 10 things you must know about today.

1: Coming out is scary!
Coming out was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. I had nightmares for weeks, before I finally did it. I found the courage I needed because I had a day. National Coming Out Day 2005 was the last leg of support I needed. You can do it!

2: It’s for allies, too!
This day is not just for telling people you are LGBTQ yourself. It’s also an opportunity for allies to come out, too. Taking advantage of this is your chance to make sure your friends know that you’re here for them. Knowing you’re not alone is sometimes the only thing you still need to move forward, and our allies can give us that.

3: You’re not alone!
Every year on October 11, thousands of people afford their friends and family the chance to know them better. You don’t have to come out alone, either. If you have a friend who probably already knows, or would be easy to come out to, ask them to help you. When I came out, I was so scared to tell my best friend that I asked his girlfriend to be there. I told her first, because I knew she’d be there. She held my hand as I told him, and it was magical.

4: The strangest people will (and won’t) already know.
You might find that your mom already knows, or that your best friend is shocked as heck. That’s normal, and many people experience the surreal disorientation that comes with these revelations. I was very quiet and reserved about such matters, so my closest friends were blown away. My minister, my boss, and my grandmother were all just happy I’d finally said it. They had known for years, which shocked me more than I thought I’d find. Every person is unique, so be prepared for everyone to have their own idea of who you are.

5: The gay community can have the harshest critics, and the most loving companions.
For some people, myself included, the gay community has a mixed reaction to your coming out. For some of my LGBTQ friends, it was a foregone conclusion. For some, they were offended I didn’t tell them first, or sooner. I’ve found that the latter type of people just aren’t my kind of people in the end. For others, it was hugs, high-fives, happy hour invitations, and cupcakes. Seriously, the cupcakes were delicious. Again, everyone is unique. If one person doesn’t react well, that’s okay. Someone else will share the love and compassion you need.

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

6: Bi and trans people will face the harshest criticisms in the gay community.
When I came out, I admitted to most people I was bi right away. A disturbing trend emerged, which nearly drove me back into the closet. Gay people accused me of being in “denial” of my gayness, despite my openness and honesty. Straight people accused me of being “loose” and “sex obsessed.” The truth is that some people just don’t get it. People like neat boxes, even if they come from the same place you’re in. Remember that this can be revealing, and tell you who to invest your future love, trust, and energy in.

7: You’re going to get reactions you never expected.
My grandmother was oddly dismissive. She was more bothered by my fear of telling her. She’d always told me she’d love me no matter what, but I was still afraid of rejection. She spent the rest of our encounter reassuring me that I was her beloved grandchild, no matter who I grew up to be. My mother, on the other hand, looked desperately for someone or something to blame. She blamed my art teachers, my grandmother, and my minister. Each of these people had helped me learn to be independent, confident, and honest. She equated this to corruption, somehow. She later turned to blaming my trading card hobby for exposing me to “unsavory” people, some of the best friends I’ve ever had. I eye-rolled on that one, too, of course. A neighbor cried because I didn’t tell her first. I never even thought she cared. She certainly never made me feel like she would be accepting in the way she thought she had. It was bewildering and discontinuous with our relationship.

8: Sometimes, people will abruptly come out in return.
While working in a very conservative office a number of years ago, I confided in a co-worker that I was bisexual. She blurted out, “Me too!” and promptly turned crimson, covered her mouth, and ran to hide in the bathroom. Later, she regained her composure enough to apologize and share that she’d never told anyone before. It surprised her, but it was one of the best bonding experiences. I kept her confidence for years before she came out. It was a frustrating honor, but I was so glad I could be there for her.

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

9: You don’t have to tell everyone at once.
As a matter of fact, it can be too much for you and other people. I had a co-worker accuse me of not being “really queer” because I talked about it too much. Later, I found the words to explain that I’d been hiding part of myself for nearly 20 years, and it was liberating to finally be able to talk about it. Until I did, though, I realized that I wished I had just told a couple of people to start. Tom Daley shared his own sentiments on the matter. Telling just one person made his life better.

10: It can change your life in ways you never imagined.
When you’re not hiding who you are, everything is different and the same all at once. I still had my job, and my friends. I had a strained relationship with my mother, but my dad and I were closer than I thought we’d ever be. I found myself being happier for no reason. I didn’t blurt out “I’m gay,” in every conversation, but I no longer felt like I couldn’t talk about it. It was so liberating that I was able to be honest in other ways. I felt empowered and capable in new ways. I changed majors, I tried new hobbies, and I lived life to its fullest for the first time. The last 11 years have been a non-stop ride of self-discovery, love, and passion. If I’d never come out, I’d probably be a butcher, instead of a writer. I’d probably live in the same small farm town, married, but wondering what life might have been. I’d have never found my wife, my career, my friends, or most of my geeky passions.

Bonus: People will show their support in weird ways.
My father, in particular, tried to be supportive in odd ways. He would randomly buy me rainbow buttons, and occasionally point out “attractive” guys for me to check out, which was always hilarious. His idea of “attractive” guys were older guys, who invariably looked like people he’d have a beer with. But, hey, he was trying. It meant the world to me, even if he was way off the mark.

Today, I’d like to encourage you. Come out. Be there for someone else. Show your support. Be honest about yourself. Be open, be courageous, be yourself. You will thank yourself, and so will the world.

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