Rachel

My Decision *Not* to Come Out, Or, Balancing Self-Acceptance and Privacy

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.

 

Photo courtesy of Q Thomas Bower / Flickr.

Top 10 Skills of an Effective Leader

When I first stepped into the leadership role, I was terrified. There seemed to be so much I didn't know how to do, so much to do...it was overwhelming.

Whenever I looked at my fellow leaders, it was hard not to feel inferior. They made it look so easy! But, as I came to find, the ease is something of an illusion brought on by a few skills that are essential in making anyone a good and effective leader.

1.    Patience: Few skills are quite as important as patience. This is just a general rule for life. When it comes to leadership, however, it takes on completely new roles. Leaders are often faced with ridiculous situations. I cannot tell you how hard it has been sometimes to bite my tongue and avoid a shouting match. But being patient leads to far less discord and sometimes can lead to an improved relationship or group dynamic. Being patient is possibly the most important skill from my time as a LGBTQA leader.


2.    Listening Skills: Patience is nothing without the ability to listen and listen properly. Not the glassy eyed, nodding sort of listening you might do in a boring class or during a dull family dinner. Real listening. Engaged, attentive, and responsive.  People are going to come to you with problems, ideas, and concerns. Sometimes these conversations require your input, many times they don't. People will look up to you as a leader. Listening to them, particularly when they're upset, can make all the difference to them and to your group.


3.    Understanding: Leaders come up against all sorts of unpleasant opposition. This is especially true in the LGBTQA community where we often have trouble understanding each other, let alone getting others to understand us. Sometimes people's opinions and words will hurt, even make you mad; but that's where understanding can come in.

Mind you, I'm not talking about taking abuse. You should never have to do that.

But leaders often bridge the gap between dissenting worldviews and in order to do that you have to be willing to try and understand the opposition even if you don't agree. In this way, you have a hope of possibly finding common ground that is often sorely needed.


4.    Sense of Humor: Leadership is stressful. Sometimes the only thing that saves a person from quitting outright is the ability to laugh at themselves. Cultivate this ability and you'll be better able to deal with stress and less likely to give up or blow up on your group.


5.    Adaptivity: As a leader, you'll likely be thrown into situations (and in with people) you are not familiar with. Being able to adapt is crucial. Whether it's knowing the difference between approaching a meeting with your peers or a meeting with school administrators, being able to adapt makes all the difference in executing successful ideas. It can also help in diffusing conflicts if you can adapt to the personalities and needs of those involved.


6.    Flexibility: As they say, stuff happens. The only guarantee I ever found as a student leader was that nothing ever went perfectly right. The speaker was late, the copier was broken, the fliers weren't ready on time. As a leader you are going to be the person people go to when these seemingly catastrophic events happen. If you can bend with it, go with the flow, you'll keep your group calm and better find a solution to the issue.


7.    Creativity: Creative leaders often make the best leaders. They see potential in outrageous ideas and encourage their members to think outside the box. Creativity often leads to the most beneficial changes in policy, particularly in the LGBTQA community. 


8.    Organization: Disorganization is not an option when people are counting on you. Forgetting dates or events is not an option. You need to know what's going on and when it's happening -- even if it requires a planner or help. Which brings me to number 9.


9.    Delegation: One person can't do it all. For your sanity (and the health of your group) delegation is key. Learn to shift some responsibility on to members of your group. Not only does this take stress off of you, but it helps future leaders realize their potential and develop these skills as well.


10.    Kindness: As with Patience and Understanding, kindness is key. In the LGBTQA community you may come across people who need a kind word or action. Be prepared to give it because it can mean the world to the people who need it most.

 

Photo courtesy of  Flickr.