As Coming Out Day (October 11th) approaches, I start thinking about the pressure to 'come out' thatLGBTQA individuals face and how it has affected my own life and my relationship to the community.
I've never 'come out'. Shocking, right?
I have been out lesbian since I was 19 and yet I can safely say that I have never once had a talk with someone else that began with any variation of "I'm gay." Not to my friends, not to my parents, not to anyone. It's not out of a sense of shame or a fear of rejection, no. It boils down to one very simple fact:
I am a very private person.
What do I mean by "private"?
Private about my health, private about my work, private about my relationships. Just generally private. And I like it that way and have since I was in middle school. It's why my parents don't think I've ever had a date in my life (but that's another story).
But it seemed that being gay negated all of that desire for privacy in the eyes of my LGBTQA friends.Everyone around me insisted that 'coming out' was the way to go. All I had to do was start the conversation and I'd have a much better life. My parents would know the 'real' me and my friends and I would have a stronger relationship.
In theory, this was all wonderful. But as I faced down the prospect of opening up to everyone, all I felt was dread. I really, really didn't want to do it.
And why should I? I never wanted to discuss my personal life with my parents. While I know they aren't homophobic, we weren't (and never will be) the kind of family that shares that sort of stuff. As for my friends, they were far from homophobic and I didn't talk much about my romantic life with them either.
So how was 'coming out' going to improve my relationships?
"But you have to come out," I was told. It's a matter of pride, of self acceptance. For some, I'm sure that's true; but I was (and am) comfortable with myself, comfortable with my level of openness.
Why, I would ask them, did I have to 'come out'?
Suffice to say that the term 'internalized homophobia' got tossed around a lot in these conversations. Eventually, after several anxiety-inducing attempts to 'come out' the traditional way, I gave up. Those "I'm a lesbian" conversations were never going to happen.
People I knew complained. I was told it was my job to be an example. To show people -- especially young people -- it was okay to be gay by being open about it, especially as a leader. But, I wondered, isn't it better to show people that being gay doesn't change who you are on the inside?
Being a lesbian didn't fundamentally change who I am or how I live my life. Why should it change the way I interacted with the people I cared about? As I told many people, I shouldn't have to sacrifice my privacy and comfort just because I like women.
Of course, never having had the 'coming out' talks doesn't mean I'm in the closet. People have made their assumptions and I let them. I'm not exactly secretive. I once got outed on Facebook because of a picture someone else took of me at a Pride rally. And while I will (sometimes) confirm peoples' suspicions if asked I try not to volunteer the information upfront.
This choice has led to a few funny (and awkward) conversations as well as a few break ups; but I'm glad I did it my way. Being a lesbian changed my life but, as I said before, it didn't change who I am.
A lot of times people treat coming out like a gay right of passage. Something you do to find acceptance and build close bonds. However, it seems like the pressure to do it has increased and that's not okay.
If coming out works for some people, cool. You do what you have to do to be happy. But it's not for everyone. Not everyone can or wants to come out. Some people, like me, don't need the same level of openness to be happy.
We are a diverse community. As such, it's time we stopped putting pressure on each other to do things the same way. So this Coming Out Day, remember to respect each other's decisions -- whatever they may be.