Tomorrow, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day. This day is near and dear to much of the LGBTQIA+ community, because it marks so many of our own anniversaries for revealing our true selves. Please enjoy these 10 things to know about this holiday.
1: October 11th is National Coming Out Day.
This is a day where we, as a country, open our hearts (and ears) to hear the truth of who our friends and family may be. Whether someone is gay/lesbian/bisexual/asexual/etc. or trans/nonbinary/etc., this is a day to celebrate and include that person.
I came out on National Coming Out Day 2005. It was one of the hardest days in my life, but also one of the most joyous. This day is an anniversary for me, and it’s one I celebrate each year by inviting my friends and family to be exactly who they are, rather than what they think they should be.
2: You don’t have to come out!
This one is pretty self-explanatory. If the world isn’t ready for the full you, or you’re not sure you’re ready to share your whole self, wait until another time. If National Coming Out Day is too much pressure, just wait until the time feels right. I only came out on this day because I felt empowered to. That’s the whole idea – empowerment. It’s a day for liberation from silent oppression.
3: Coming out is both difficult and (usually) rewarding.
It’s never easy to learn someone isn’t who you thought they were. We have to adjust our perception, our assumptions, and (for good or ill) our relationships. Friendships can flourish or shatter when you come out. It’s the good times that we hope for. When they happen, it makes everything worthwhile.
When I came out, my social circle fractured. I lost “friends” I’d known since junior high. My work relationships became strained and awkward after news reached my job. On the other hand, my remaining friendships became stronger. I forged bonds that remain to this day because I trusted my friends with who I am, and they trusted me in return. I no longer miss the friends I lost. I just revel in the relationships which became stronger.
4: You aren’t alone.
Having a secret is hard, especially a big secret. It can make you feel like you’re alone and that nobody understands. We do understand. The LGBTQIA+ community is enormous. We’ve all been through the coming out experience one way or another. We’re here for you when you need an ear. There are hotlines and support groups and every other kind of resource you might need. While we don’t agree on everything, and there are jerks in every group of people, the LGBTQIA+ community has friends for everyone, especially our own.
- GLAAD has a great resource list to get you started.
- The CDC has a collection of resources for LGBT youth, since LGBTQIA+ youth have different risk factors and health concerns.
- The National LGBT Health Education Center focuses on education, but they have a great list of resources.
- The GLBT National Youth Talkline (for folks under 25) is 1-800-246-PRIDE.
- The GLBT National Hotline (for adults) is 1-888-843-4564 (or email: help@GLBThotline.org).
5: Allies don’t come out.
This is not a day for allies to shout “I accept gay people, look at meeeee!” Don’t do it. Your voice as an ally isn’t what is needed. Allies should celebrate this day by listening to their friend(s) if and when they choose to come out. When someone “comes out” as an ally, they are demonstrating that acceptance isn’t universal. If you suspect someone in your social and familial circle(s) is LGBTQIA+, make yourself available and assure them that you’ll love them no matter what. That is the most powerful thing an ally can do.
6: Nobody “owes you” a coming-out moment.
I had a friend who was insulted that I didn’t come out to her first, and that coming out to her felt anti-climactic. No. Just – no. If someone comes out, it’s not an easy thing, or a thing they take lightly. If they come out to you casually, it means they trust you to not judge them. If there’s a “big moment” then they are probably afraid of what your reaction will be.
7: You should never “out” someone, without explicit permission.
Not on this day or any other. An example: Your friend Bob says to you, “Karen, you can tell your husband that I’m gay.” You are now empowered, as an ally and loved one, to tell your husband that Bob is gay. This doesn’t empower you to tell your children, your sister, your parents, and it certainly doesn’t empower you to tell your social circle.
I live very openly. I am genderqueer and bisexual. I talk about this early on in friendships so that there’s no awkward coming out later. It has the added benefit of weeding out any bigots before I invest too much energy in them. My family and friends all have permission to talk about me with whomever they like, and that’s fine. But if a reader of this post were to go find me on Twitter and shout from the rooftops that I’m gay, that would be inappropriate, because I haven’t given you, the reader, explicit permission to out me.
8: Coming out isn’t the same experience for everyone.
Your coming out might look like bringing your boyfriend over for dinner. It might be a more drama-laden occasion. My mother drove off the side of the road, she was so discombobulated. I never came out to my father. I just let the news reach him through family, because I didn’t want the confrontation. I came out to each of my friends and family in a unique way, because I had a unique relationship with each of them.
9: Coming out can still be dangerous.
Consider carefully whether it is safe for you to come out. There are places around the world, in every country, where it is still a risk to come out. You can risk social status, relationships, even your physical and mental health. Some people lose vital supports, such as being kicked out of their home when they come out to their parents, or their landlord finding out and kicking them out. Others lose their lives in more violent discrimination.
The painful truth is that you never know how someone will react when you come out. Always have a plan for how to react if things go south. I’m saddened that I have to give this advice, but these things still happen, despite the progress we’ve made over the last few decades.
10: Coming out can be an ongoing process.
I come out again regularly. Whether this is new friends, a new job, or something else, I have to come out to people all the time. The method evolves, too. I used to fearfully reveal my secret, hoping to not be judged. These days, I simply talk openly about my relationships, particularly my ex-boyfriends, and let the conversation move on. This doesn’t make it easier for me. I still struggle with the fear of rejection and persecution. It does help the social aspect of it, though. Instead of investing a lot of social and emotional energy into someone only to learn that they’re a bigot, I get it out of the way in advance.
I wish there were no more bigots, and that I could be close friends with all of the interesting people I meet. Unfortunately, my fear of rejection and persecution is well founded and still a very real consideration. It’s no longer a consideration as to whether I should come out, though. I just do it, and move on.
11: People of color are at an increased risk of backlash and violence.
I want to give a special shout-out to the members of our community who are people of color. The LGBTQIA+ community loves you and recognizes that you are our most vulnerable members. Being LGBTQIA+ and a person of color significantly increases the danger of being persecuted and losing your community. We are here for you. That’s why the Pride Flag has the new bands of black and brown. We want you to know that we recognize you and want you to be your true self with us.
12: We still need awareness and acceptance from the outside world.
Having a holiday, the right to marry, and some social acceptance of our identities aren’t enough. We still need better education, both within the community and the outside world. There are many questions that need answers, and no single member of our community can answer every question. Google is your friend, as are Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms that allow you to connect to feeds and groups that foster community among allies and LGBTQIA+ people. They can be massively educational, even if you don’t know what to say, or what questions to ask at first.
We need education in schools. We still have children who kill themselves over their gender or sexual identity, and I firmly believe that better education of LGBTQIA+ issues in schools will dramatically decrease these devastating and unnecessary deaths.