During the final hours of Coming Out Day 2016, I overheard someone say “I don’t need to come out as a straight person, so I don’t see the need for National Coming Out Day.”
Being unable to be oneself is torturous, and being closeted is dreadful. When I was in the closet, I felt excluded from my community, or at best only partially included and not fully accepted by those I love the most. This feeling of isolation was largely self-imposed as I concealed the most important parts of myself from my family, friends, and neighbors.
Living that lie was terrible, but for many, coming out can be far worse. Sadly, even in 2016, remaining closeted is necessary for many across America. Fear of rejection, lack of acceptance of oneself, bigotry, hate, and even violence form barriers to our ability to share our identity, accept who we are, and share our relationships publicly.
What most straight (and even many LGBTQ) people don’t realize is that coming out is actually the beginning of our journey, not the end of some process. Coming out to a loved one says “I trust you enough to continue to love me for who I truly am.” Coming out publicly or privately to a close circle is our way of saying “I am comfortable with who I am, and I love myself,” and is done with full knowledge and understanding of some ugly consequences: Losing relationships. Workplace discrimination. Restrictions on fundamental human rights such as marriage and parenting. And unfortunately, even violence and death.
Coming out is scary, and it’s also the biggest gift we can give ourselves.
We celebrate that gift on National Coming Out Day. It is a day for the LGBTQ folks, both “in” and “out” to acknowledge our personal growth, show gratitude to our allies, and encourage those who have not yet been able to make this important but difficult acknowledgment, regardless of the audience.
Like so many others, my journey has been complicated, to say the least. I could not have come out without the support of my family, friends, and community, both LGBTQ and straight. What about you? What do you think about the importance of National Coming Out Day? Who would you like to thank? Let us know in the comments below!