Contrary to what it sounds like, coming out is not a one-time event. No one wakes up, realizes they’ve been living in a closet that is far too dark, lonely, and small, and then just pops open the door and sashays out, once and for all.
Oh, that it were as simple as setting up your phone camera on a shelf for your video of the moment you tell your mother that you’ve always known you were a lesbian.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good coming-out video as much as the next person. I’ve cried through dozens of them through the years. And my hunch is that the reasons we make these videos are similar to the reasons we watch them. For folks who have lived much of our lives in closets constructed of fear and shame, there is hope in seeing the faces of people with the courage and vulnerability to declare that they are human beings worthy of love and acceptance.
The closet constructed by persistent heteronormativity and homophobia in society works to erase LGBTIQ faces from history, family, schools, workplaces, leadership, faith communities, and public life. Coming out disrupts these norms, making our faces visible. And the courage to be seen, by ourselves and those around us, is fundamentally about reclaiming our right to have faces.
If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about the non-conforming gender performance, hairstyle, body language, makeup, or clothing of someone who identifies in some way as LGBTIQ, you should know this: It’s not about you!
As people, our bodies and lives do not exist to make other people comfortable. The closet metaphor works for me, because closets are places where people keep sweaters–objects that can be wrapped around one’s own body to insulate from what feels uncomfortable in the world. But LGBTIQ folks are not sweaters.
So, coming out is, at it’s core, a way of claiming proof of our existence in the world.
This is why we march in parades, phone-bank for civil rights, volunteer for HIV-AIDS relief organizations, fight racism, misogyny and other kinds of oppression, dress in drag, perform burlesque, make youtube videos, lead in religious communities, join GSAs, and build robust and welcoming families of choice. We live full, complex lives that celebrate our gender and sexual orientation as a wonderful part of who we are, and namely, we get to be seen for who we are in community.
The most important step in this coming out process is always the same. I know that’s a big claim, but hear me out.
It’s the same step that you will have to take to come out to yourself, to your friends and family, at your workplace, on the bus, at school, in your church, mosque, temple, or synagogue. In fact, you’ll have to take this step inside of yourself every single step along your journey of coming out of the closet and living courageously in the world.
The most important step is having the courage to believe that you deserve to be seen and loved.
If you’ve lived in the closet this long, you know something about fear and the courage it takes to survive. You’re already a hero in my book, for finding the resources within yourself to seek some measure of safety in order to make it in a world that says you do not exist.
Coming out is difficult, and you should do it in your own time, when you are ready for it. But know this: you are worthy of being seen and loved and you already have the immense courage it takes to take this step, and the one after that, and the one after that.
Right now, you may not feel like you have that courage. And that’s okay. I know that you exist in the world. I am proud of you for even thinking about this step of coming out.
Sometimes, when we’ve lived our lives behind the door that society holds shut to conceal our existence, we begin to believe the lie that we don’t deserve to live and be seen–to be loved for who we are. And it’s nearly impossible to start loving ourselves in this situation.
To get there, I want you to stand in front of a mirror and look at your face. Say, “You are beautiful. You are loved. I love you. You are welcome in this world.” I know, it’s going to seem hokey the first 300 times that you do this, but you need to hear this–from yourself.
But really, we don’t start loving ourselves out of nowhere. We are social creatures and our personhood is developed in relationship. This is why, to keep growing, you’re going to need to come out at some point. If there’s one person that you are out to who is supportive, talk to them. Let that relationship remind you that you have a face; that you are worthy of love and respect as a person in this world.
And if you don’t have anyone that you are out to, know this: I love you. You are beautiful. And you are welcome in this world. I will hold onto those words for you until you are able to look at yourself and say them with confidence and sincerity. If you’re in (or near) Seattle, get in touch–we’ll get coffee. If you’re farther away, same thing (we’ll just need to Skype).
Just know that you are not alone. You are no one’s sweater. You exist; you have a face; you are loved and deserve to be loved for who you are.
Happy Coming-Out Day. Today, and every day that you decide you are worth living for.
You are worth living for.