I’m going to tell you something today. It’s personal and honest and something I have hinted at, but avoided writing about in concrete terms for a long time. Countless bottles of wine, blogs, and Netflix series have been consumed putting this important thing off until I was ready to write it. But I am turning 30 this year. I would like to enter this new decade in the spirit of absolute honesty- with my family, my friends, my community, and most importantly, myself. So here we go.
I am gay.
Why does it matter that I’m telling you this? Why does coming out still matter?
The general public reaction to anyone of cultural significance coming out – read, celebrities like Ellen Page or athletes like Michael Sam – has been met with an equal mix of “Good for them!” and “Who cares? It’s 2014. None of this should matter anymore.” (There are still the messages of hate, but I’m going to pull a Honey Maid here and embrace a message of optimism rather than fuel the haters).
I would like to agree with the coming-out agnostic crowd. I appreciate that evolved view of the world. And bravo to society for swiftly progressing on LGBT issues over the past decade. But I can’t help but think that this agnosticism may be fueled by a perceived over-saturation of news on gay rights over the past few years. A decade ago over 54% of Americans opposed marriage equality, with 31 states banning the idea altogether via state constitutional amendment or voter referendum lest anyone get the crazy idea in their head to get hitched. The only safe-haven was Vermont. The Defense of Marriage Act seemed impenetrable. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was a “necessary evil” for our armed forces. Transgender Americans were on the fringes of American society. And in many states you could be fired if your employer discovered whom you loved or if your gender stated on your HR paperwork didn’t match what was on your birth certificate. America was in the throes of a culture war and LGBT rights were a grenade, the weapon of choice to throw onto conservative battlefields in South Carolina and Ohio and even California.
In the middle of this dynamic socio-political landscape I was growing up in The South. I chose to ignore my identity. Being the other was not an option. I wanted to fit in, to be like everyone else. Maybe I wasn’t brave. Maybe I didn’t give folks the benefit of the doubt. But it was far easier to craft a story for myself that I sincerely believed than to be honest about who I was.
There has undoubtedly been a paradigm shift on the subject of LGBT rights in the past 8 years since I moved to Los Angeles. Over 54% of the population – including the majority of self-identified young Republicans,– support marriage equality. Last year Edith Windsor took on the United States, and the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, allowing married gay couples access to the same federal benefits that every other married couple receives. DADT was repealed. And now, in May of 2014, 18 states- and counting- recognize gay marriage, while other states are being forced to comply with the United States v. Windsor majority opinion. (We know, Vermont. You were doing it before it was cool.)
To the outside observer it may seem like coming out is a non-issue. Facebook feeds are peppered with HRC equality signs and YouTube proposals. Talking heads analyze Michael Sam celebrating a watershed moment with his partner. And many folks say,”This shouldn’t matter anymore.” And you’re right. It shouldn’t- but it still does.
It still matters because members of the LGBT community want to be seen the way everyone else is seen. We want to go to dinner, or pick up kids from school, or be able to love who we love in public just like everyone else. We don’t want to hide, or whisper “my girlfriend” at work to those in the know lest we offend someone or out ourselves. And sadly, even in this time of progressive change, there are those people who would like to refuse to acknowledge LGBT folks in their community, or worse, deny them the right to be seen and acknowledged under equal protection under the law. To those people I will touch on my Southern upbringing and only say this: Bless your hearts.
Coming out should be a celebration of owning your truth. And the more people that do celebrate their truth the more that other members of the LGBT community can be seen and – hopefully – accepted by all of you reading this. There is a reason gay teens are three times (!) more likely to kill themselves than their peers. They would rather end a promising young life than have their peers see them as the other, or their church turn their backs on them, or worse, have their parents cut them off emotionally and financially.
Coming out will continue to matter until there is no longer a fear that you can lose your job based on your sexual orientation or identity (Get on with passing the ENDA, Congress. This is embarrassing). It will continue to matter until American teens can be recognized in their yearbook as who they are, not who their school board wants them to be. It will continue to matter when violence against the LGBT community, especially its members of color, is merely a painful stain on the landscape of the American experience.
Every one of use wants to be seen and accepted, to walk in the light as your true self, even if it takes you 29 years to have the courage to announce it to the world.
In the end, all we have is love. I am forever thankful for my family, who love me no less for being true to myself and for always being my biggest fans; for friends that have fiercely supported me; and for all of you reading this.
I hope you are as full as love as I am. I hope you are seen.