We all have secrets. We hide them in the microscopic pockets of ourselves, in places impenetrable by our friends, our families, and certainly our foes. When these thoughts make their ascent to the surface, we are quick to change the subject, make a joke, or otherwise distract ourselves from the truth. Until we simply can't take it anymore.
We search fiercely for someone safe, someone to confide in. In those panic-filled moments when we consider releasing our most confidential information, we freeze. Our hearts race, our palms sweat, and we call desperately on our courage to steady our voice. We must appear confident, certain, and ready to move forward... right?
At eighteen, I was nowhere near fearless as I confessed my queerness to my parents. It was horrendous. So bad in fact, I jumped back into the proverbial closet for the following six years. At twenty-four, when I'd woven a support network strong enough to catch my inevitable collapse, I outed myself again. Though it was just as painful, I allowed the experience to stick, to shape me. I vowed to check my judgments at the door, to encourage others to share their story, and to never, ever make them feel insignificant for doing so.
At thirty-two, my queer identity still makes me vulnerable, and it also identifies me as someone you can trust. Secrets, I've learned, are revealed more easily between those who are marginalized. They manifest in an assortment of ways:
A distant friend types a private message on Facebook: it's taken him damn near a whole bottle of vodka, but he just needs to tell someone he's gay.
A student breaks down in my office, convinced she's broken because she's attracted to both men and women.
A colleague shuts my door, lowers his voice, and asks how he can talk to his son, who he's sure is gay, but has no idea how to approach the subject.
A close friend admits she's more than just a little into women as we finish our third round of drinks at the bar.
These scenarios are unique, but the themes are not uncommon. We are terrified of real talk; scared we might trip over our words and disclose something genuine. We fear the reaction, the rejection that is sure to follow.
We disguise our identities within our hobbies because our secrets are cumbersome; our shoulders slouch from their weight. We spend hours discussing our favorite characters and travel destinations. We tweet about cats, pin new recipes, and hang on every word of celebrity gossip. We rely on the trivial to avoid the meaningful, and it's time to change that.
While it is not easy to disclose our hopes and fears, identifying confidants shouldn't require a decoder ring or secret handshake. We all need each other, so step up.
Actively create opportunities to connect authentically. Look people in the eye, queer or not, and tell them you are ready to help balance their load. Empower your friends and family to bravely share their stories, and take the challenge to do the same. Own the awkward that comes from being sincere and honest, don't run from it.
Let's stand tall together so we don't fall apart.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Take Back the Night in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about Take Back the Night and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.