Today is National Coming Out Day, but I came out for the first time in mid-January ten years ago, long before I knew this holiday even existed. It was terrifying, exhilarating, grueling, freeing, and changed the scope and shape of my life as I have traveled through the last decade.
But what they don’t tell you is that coming out is not a one time thing, and though there is now a day to honor this deeply transformational experience, it does not stay in the past as a singular event. For many of us who don’t fit the visual “gay stereotype” (I certainly hop – and have seen – that this is changing), and in a world where heterosexuality is still the default assumption, we have to come out over and over and over – each new job, each new stranger met at a bar or party or class, each time traveling with a significant other and having to explain to hotel front desks, Airbnb hosts, and tour guides that, “No, we are not just friends.”
I come out almost every day. Each time I meet a new person becomes a delicate dance between neutrality and living and speaking my truth; I am careful not to seem like I am over-sharing too soon or declaring something unnecessary, but at the same time I strategize when to casually mention a girlfriend as easily as men do. And each time I tell a new boss or friend, there’s a rush of nerves and a loaded pause while I wait, breathlessly, and gauge the reaction. It has become much easier over the years, and the responses have become increasingly that of acceptance, if not outright nonchalance (which is even better in some ways). Each time I breathe a sigh of relief. And in the moments where I am met with hostility or disbelief or defensiveness, I do my best to educate and engage, be patient and willing to answer even the most secret questions, and see to it that least one mind has been opened or altered.
And look how the world has changed. We don’t often see our particular thread in the fabric of history as it unfolds, but I would be willing to bet that each one of my countless, nervous-yet-brave, coming-out moments over the last ten years has made a small but significant dent in the enormous shift in legal and social acceptance in this country, this world. Because I’m not alone. There are thousands, millions, of others like me. When combined together, our moments have become movements, our voices have become visions, and being heard has made history.
We talk a lot about pride. People ask us now why pride is still needed in a world that has come around so much, in a nation where marriage equality is now the law of the land. Aside from the fact that there are still so many of us living in fear, inequality, and environments of hate and judgement, we need pride because it is what gives us the bravery to come out in the first place. To have those scary, awkward conversations with strangers. To turn the current of history one pebble at a time. I know how frightening it is; I know how badly it can go. I have seen firsthand how someone’s bravery has made him or her an outcast having to fight every day for acceptance (and winning it back). I have seen how familial ties are tested and strained, how hard it is to undo the Gordian knot of beliefs and assumptions that make up the mindset of the most unmovable among us, and how each time we come out we unravel a piece of that tangled, complicated attitude and push towards understanding and acceptance. We need pride because it is where we draw our strength, our courage, and our resolve.
So I’m proud of myself for coming out all of those times. And I’m proud of everyone in my community who have done the same, who have persevered and cried and prayed and struggled through so much. Today we celebrate national coming out day, but every gay, bi, and trans person will tell you that it’s not just one day – it is every day for the rest of our lives. And it is worth it.