Out of the Closet Into ALL Our Communities: Revisiting National Coming Out Day

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This post is the latest in the series “Connecting All the Dots” an ongoing discussion about and across movements. While connecting two dots only makes a simple line, connecting ALL the dots can create a completely different picture that can help provide new insight on the issues of the day.

Growing up, I was always told by my mother that I should never lie. In the more cynical moments of my teenage years, the “you’ll always get caught” part of her argument struck me as being more pragmatic than high minded, but looking back, I know that my parents and the extended village of family that raised me gave me the moral compass that knew honesty was its own reward. If fear of reprisal for getting caught was the stick, doing the right thing and telling the truth was the carrot that was worth striving for.

National Coming Out Day is celebrated today as an opportunity to celebrate coming out of the closet and to live in one’s truth. What began to mark the anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Lives has become a venue to support people’s journey to self-acceptance. October 11 as National Coming Out Day takes place during a month that we not only celebrate as LGBT History Month, but that is also recognized nationally as Filipino American History Month. As someone who is both, I take today as an opportunity to connect all these dots between identity, truth, and community.

I often joke that I had to come out as Filipino American before I came out as gay. For me, this process happened in college, at a time when many of us are primed to intellectually, socially, and culturally explore our identity in all its complexity. My reticence to more directly embrace my Filipino American identity when I first got to college was defined at the time by saying, “I don’t need to join a club to prove I’m Filipino.” Where a unique mix of fear and shame during the depths of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the early 90s kept me in the closet as gay, “coming out” as Filipino American was defined by the choice to assert oneself in an setting that was critiqued at the time as a “balkanized campus environment” at UC Berkeley and insert oneself in a set bickering ethnic enclaves of self-interest.

I’ve written elsewhere about how the tragic murder of Grace Asuncion (whose birthday would have been last week) was a turning point in my identity formation. Her legacy helped set me on a path to become more involved in my community, which enabled me to come out of the closet and save my own life. Reflecting on National Coming Out Day today, I’m more fully realizing that identity politics is not a question of choosing a narrow set of priorities over all others, but rather choosing to more fully open myself up to a community of commonality. To “come out” then is also to “come into” a mutual web of interdependence we build for ourselves as support and at times, survival.

The need to live in one’s truth is evergreen and National Coming Out Day will remain an important opportunity to help more people do so. As the LGBT community opens itself up to more people today to live in their truth, I’m particularly cognizant of the heightened climate of fear that many of us are experiencing. At a time when violence against the LGBT community is at record highs, I’m all too aware that today’s bigotry has many targets. A recent vandalism attack at the Little Manila Center in Stockton, CA, a longtime focal point for Filipino American history, is a bitter reminder that the need to build community runs the risk of making that community vulnerable. For the young people who tried to attend a cultural dance practice only to find their cultural home threatened ostensibly by someone in their own neighborhood, the need for community is all the more real. Today then, for National Coming Out Day, my wish is that we think about protecting the safety of ALL the communities we come into as we come out of our closets and choose to live the lives we were meant to.

Ben de Guzman is on the Executive Committee of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project. He dedicates National Coming Out Day and this blog post to the bravery of those who came before to make his path possible, especially those who are getting ready to come together to recognize our common history as alums at the University of California, Berkeley- Go Bears!