I remember when I came out of the closet. It was actually quite an uneventful profession that, in hindsight, left a lot to be desired.
You usually hear the story of how the closeted person toils over the decision to announce that they are a part of the rainbow nation. Tales of how they are filled with angst leading up to the big moment, trying and failing multiple times, rehearsing in their heads over and over what they will say and counter arguments to objections. None of this fit the description of my coming out story or my feelings about coming out.
Before I came out, I didn’t even know that I was supposed to be filled with anxiety, trepidation, and fear. I grew up in a very small town and as far as I knew at the time, the only other gay people there were my band teacher, my girlfriend, my aunt, and her girlfriend and none of them made it seem like a big deal. Still, for a lot of people these feelings are locked inside of them from the time they recognize they are different, and stay locked away.
The day I came out for the first time, I had just gotten home from school with my girlfriend in tow. It had been a regular day. Nothing amazing had happened, there were no ultimatums or circumstances that forced me to come out. In fact, if I had to attribute my decision to anything, it would probably be that it was my attempt to finally silence the constant questioning about whether or not I was having sex with boys yet.
That day, I walked right up to my mom’s room and knocked on her door. My mom worked nights back then and I knew that she was sleeping but I’d gotten the hair up my ass on that day to finally tell her and I needed her up to do that. Besides, she’s the one that said if we ever had anything important to tell her whether she was asleep or not to wake her and tell her. So, my girlfriend and I walked hand in hand into her bedroom once she had, had a moment to wake up. I looked her square in the eye and said, “Mom, I’m gay and this is my girlfriend.”, to which she replied, “I already knew that. Is that what you woke me up for?”. That totally wasn’t the reaction I was looking for from my mother with her traditionally Southern Baptist views on life. I took that mild reaction and ran with it because it was a hell of a lot better than the fire and brimstone sermon I had steeled myself for.
The sermon came at a much later date and praise God for that because by then I wasn’t as fragile as you would imagine a 15 year old girl would be to that kind of response. By the time I had to sit through all the theatrics and promises of an afterlife of eternal damnation, I had already had my reckoning with God and I knew for a fact that things between her and myself were all good. Lucky me, right?
While I am grateful that my first coming out experience was mild and met with a sort of indifference I recognize that not everyone has had that opportunity. As long as it is safe to do so, coming out doesn’t have to be scary or a hard thing at all to do. Everyone has their own reason for choosing to come out or not and every one of them are valid however, if you have been in that closet so long that it’s starting to feel suffocating and you want to finally free yourself to live and be exactly as you want, out loud, in bold letters, italicized, and underscored, here’s a few helpful things I’ve learned along the way and wish I had known sooner.
Find your narrative and stick to your script:
Once you have made the decision to come out lots of people are going to have lots of questions about your lifestyle. What you decide to tell them is completely up to you. Knowing how, or if you want to answer questions like, are you seeing anybody, how long have you felt this way, what are your pronouns, are you a top or a bottom, what do your parents think, and how do you know, will help you have more confidence in your approach. Know that it is always acceptable to tell someone you are not comfortable with sharing certain information with them.
You don’t have to or need to come out if you don’t want to.
I have never met a heterosexual person that has gone up to their loved ones and announced that they are heterosexual. Not one. So you definitely don’t have to do it as homosexual or transgender person. Don’t allow anyone to bully you into coming out before you are ready. Even if that person is a romantic love interest, family member, or close friend. No one is entitled to your sexual identity.
You are never done coming out.
Once you come out of the closet once, you’re probably going to keep doing it and every situation is not the same. Some situations that may call for coming out again include, making new friends, going to the doctor, starting a new job, and networking. Of course you probably won’t just be wandering up to total strangers telling them about your sexual preferences but the conversation does come up a lot more than you would think. It will come up in ways that you don’t even see coming like sharing with a new friend what you and your wife did over the weekend conversationally when your new friend had no idea you were a lesbian. In doing so, you will learn how and when to tell people or if you want to share that information at all.
You can’t predict other people’s reaction to the news.
I had no idea my mom would react the way she did initially. I just assumed she was going to fly from her bed, grab her bible, and start a full on church session right there on the spot. She didn’t do that, but that doesn’t mean other people won’t. I have received a range of reactions from a simple “Oh.” to “But you don’t look gay.”, “You’re going to hell.”, “How does lesbian sex work?” (Yes, I’ve been asked that question as an immediate response to me telling someone that I am married to a woman.), “What man hurt you?” and my personal favorite “You just ain’t had no good dick.” Some people will be supportive, some will become self-righteous and indignant. and some people will straight up not care at all. You don’t know how people will react and you can’t control what they do when they react, all you can do is prepare how you will respond as best you can to their response.
So you’re transgender, bi-sexual, lesbian, gay, poly, asexual, genderqueer, or whatever you identify as. Be unapologetic in being yourself. Live your life with intention, passion, and purpose. You are given one life to live and it is literally your job to do just that. Letting other people dictate how you operate is a recipe for depression, anxiety, loneliness, sorrow and despair, and boo, we ain’t got no time for that!
Things eventually getting better are equal parts learning to love yourself and caring less about other people’s opinion
Every one tells you when you first come out that everything will get better over time and they are telling you the truth. Few people will actually take the time to tell you how things will get better. I will. Things will get better over time because you will get better over time. You won’t always be a nervous ball of energy, unsure of yourself, and seeking constant validation from everyone you have shared the knowledge of your sexual preference with. You will come into your own confidence, fearlessness, and determination to live exactly as you are without the burden of trying to narrate the way other people perceive you. You will love and be happy with you and as a consequence the negative opinions, responses, and energy will not affect you in the same ways.
What I can say with certainty is that through the process of coming out, you can and will probably lose some people you consider to be close to you but, you will also gain people in your life who love and support you unconditionally. So take that step out of the closet or burrow yourself into it it. The choice is yours to make but if you are ready to take a step out and breathe the fresh air of freedom, I welcome you with open arms. And I promise you, in most cases, it is never as bad as you think it will be.