It's an interesting concept for me to date an actual lesbian. I'm 24, and, looking back on my past relationships, I can count on a single hand the number of women I've dated who weren't straight at the end of the day. I'm a lesbian who's interested in "femme" women, so I'm naturally drawn to heterosexuals despite my homosexuality. No matter how great our relationships, none of these women have ever shared the grueling experience of coming out of the closet. I'm the first and last female they ever date. There's rarely a need to come out.
Today (Oct. 12) is National Coming Out Day, and it always finds a way to creep up and pummel me with a fist of emotions. This day reminds me of the journey I've been on for nearly seven years—from the torment of the closet to the proud, open person I see in the mirror now. I can still feel the anguish of claustrophobia and suicidal thoughts as I reflect on the early days of my coming-out process. See, coming out is not a one-shot deal. It begins with a finite moment, of course, but coming out is an infinite expedition in the life of a homosexual.
I'll never forget the first person I told. Every time I hear a track from Ludacris’s "Chicken-n-Beer" album, my stomach churns as I remember being an awkward, timid freshman at a new school, telling the first and only friend I had made that I thought I was bisexual. She was a year older than me and had immediately befriended me at our tiny agricultural school in southeast Michigan.
My hands shook as I gripped the phone, under the covers in my bedroom. I had imagined the scene so many times in my head but had never vocalized it or even put words to it. I opened my mouth, and the words almost came out as vomit, but the relief was instant as she consoled my fear.
"It's totally not a big deal. I've made out with girls," I can remember her saying. The color rushed back into my face, and my debilitating fear turned into the most indescribable surge of exhilaration.
Identifying as bisexual was the first step in my journey. The moment that kicks off each person's coming-out story is different. Some mark it by the first person they told. Others remember the first time they told their parents. By the time I actually told my parents, many of my friends knew. I already had a girlfriend.
My parents didn't know how to handle it, understandably. I'm the oldest of three children. I excelled without making an effort in school, and they saw the bright, secure future that lay ahead of me. I think, more than anything, they were worried that I would have to wander through life dealing with a social handicap. No parents want that for their child.
Struggling to make them understand, I felt the darkness creep over me. But I persevered, gripping tightly to my first girlfriend, who couldn't have been a better ally.
The perspective my family has on my sexual orientation has altered drastically throughout the years. While their response was initially negative and made it nearly impossible to cope, they've grown to understand. That was part of my coming out journey: teaching my family how to handle and respect me as a lesbian.
With each person I told, I became more confident not only in my sexuality but also in myself as a person. Three years ago, I mustered the courage to cut off all my hair. Now, I rarely have to come out to people. My hair is short, my pants hang low, and I'm often the target of unpleasant staring when I walk into a room in my small city in the Midwest. But I've earned those stares. They don't bother me because the tumult I've gone through has made me more comfortable with myself than most individuals I know. People assume I'm gay upon meeting me, and I hardly think twice about it anymore, even when my best friend’s four-year-old cousin asks me if I’m "a boy or a girl."
I am far along on my journey. I come out when I walk into a room of strangers by simply existing as I am. I have experienced many gay rites of passage: I frequent the gay bar, I've been to countless Prides, and my Facebook says "Interested in women."
Last week, I took my new girlfriend—we'll call her "L"—out to the local gay club, Bretz. We indulged in several cheap drinks, made conversation with random strangers on the patio, and danced until we dripped with sweat and glitter.
When I stumbled up to the bar to order round number five or six, I felt her suddenly grow quiet beside me. Looking to my right, I noticed her gawking with wide eyes, her mouth slightly open, clearly overwhelmed and in awe. Upon sensing my curious stare, she answered my unasked question.
"I've just never seen so many gays in one place."
She's 21 and has been dating women a little over a year. This particular Thursday night was so similar to nearly hundreds I had experienced in my life, but she had never been to Bretz. She's not as far along in her process.
If she follows a similar path to mine, she'll realize that coming out isn't just about telling people that you're gay. It's about each step you take toward being completely, openly gay. Of course, informing those around you is part of the process, but as I watched L's reaction to the swarm of homosexuals in a tight space that is the local gay club, I realized that I had helped her in her own coming out journey.
Being a part of the gay nightlife scene isn't exactly a necessity for being a "good" homosexual, but existing in a crowd of similarly oriented people certainly qualifies as a step. In fact, as I introduced her to this experience, I was continuing my own coming out process. I'm far enough along in mine to assist L with hers, but my journey will always continue as long as I'm alive.
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This article originally appeared on YourTango.com: "‘Coming Out' Isn't A Moment; It's Way Of Life"