coming out

Why Everyone Should Come Out on National Coming Out Day

  This coming Saturday, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day to celebrate LGBTQ visibility.

If you aren't a lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and/or transgender person you might think this doesn't apply to you or heck, you might even feel left out. Don't. You matter. You're included.

See, National COD celebrates people being able to live out of the closet and share their sexuality out and proudly. This includes you and the people in your life---I invite you to COME OUT about yourself and the experiences of those you love to bring more visibility to human sexuality.

Even if you don't have to think about it because you have straight and/or cisgender privilege, you have a role to play in what happens to other people in this country and in the world. You can participate in National Coming Out Day, too!

KEEP READING...

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If you're one of those folks who thinks we should all just live out and proud each and every day and perhaps a national day to celebrate this isn't necessary, you're right, I agree with you. We should be able to do that. But unfortunately, we have laws that prevent it in most states and we know individuals hurt and kill people because they don't agree with their "lifestyle" decisions. You might have heard one of the most recent stories about this coming out of Philadelphia. If you read that story, you won't just read about what happened when three young people attacked a gay couple, you will read about the lawmakers who are doing something about it.

Listen, I don't agree with my neighbor's lifestyle decisions across the street. They don't keep their yard clean, yell at each other day and night and shout the F word to their five-year-old son about ten times a day--and he shouts it back to them. But these people, and people like them in other states, get to marry and have children and make decisions about gay and lesbian people who want to marry and have children. And no one has a say about how they live their lives.

This, my friends, is where you come in.

You might have noticed this trend in America and around the world. People are starving, people are killed, people are raped and and experience other countless acts of violence and oppression and when those people speak up, their voices are discounted. Or people like to call them "inspiring" but then they leave the work to those people to do. "You make the changes, you are the ones who need the help---if you can get people to listen and believe you". We see this happening in Ferguson right now, we see it happening in the Middle East conflict, we see it in many places.

Things start to change and shift when other people speak up.

When mothers of trans kids share the impact of being a mother of a trans kid, other mothers listen and shift their thinking about trans kids.

When straight men speak up about having a gay brother, other men shift their thinking about gay men.

When friends speak up about knowing lesbians who are trying to adopt, other people listen and shift their thinking about same-sex/same-gender adoption.

When someone makes a joke about bisexual or bicurious people and someone else says, "shut the he&* up, we're all curious and experiment with people--it's called dating", people shut up and realize it's true. 

One thing I've learned as a health coach who shares my own story is that just about everyone is a little bit queer, not everyone actually has the courage to give it a try and/or talk about it.

Or, most people know at least one person who is LGBTQ.

Many people have secrets they aren't sharing--and if they did, it would really change the game for everyone.

Sexuality is stigmatized and made to be weird or wrong in a culture but it can change slowly over time as a result of the collective work of everyone. It's been a long time since I spoke up about these issues because people began framing me as doing only this kind of work---because I claim identities in the alphabet soup of sexual orientation and gender identities outside of straight and cisgender.

A friend of mine STILL asks me how to say the letters correctly. I'm not sure how to respond to her other than to ask what rock she's been living under since 1980. And I get tired of answering the questions. My work as a health coach and consultant is my passion, not continuously educating people about my sexuality. But I'm happy to talk about it now and then, and I'm doing it today.

I'm asking you, the straight, cisgender person reading this to stop calling me and other people like me "inspiring". Start being inspiring yourself and use your voice and your Facebook wall and your blog posts to be authentic about your life and your questions and your struggles. Talk about your kids and their gender expression so other parents can know their kids aren't the only ones. Talk about your siblings and aunts and uncles and mothers and fathers and cousins who are transitioning gender identities. Share your past experiences before you got married. Open up about the lovers you left because you didn't have the courage to be LGBTQ.

COME OUT about LGBTQ people in your life, in your community and in your world. COME OUT as someone who gets it or wants to know more and wants to talk to other straight, cisgender people about these issues. FLY YOUR QUEER-FRIENDLY FLAG so people know they can ask you questions or make comments and move us all one ever-loving step forward.

I don't have all the answers. I have my own life experience. Other LGBTQ don't have the "right" answers, either. We are just people living our lives, like you, only we talk about it because we need things to change to feel like we are treated equally. We share. We make ourselves vulnerable because we choose to. Some might say we have to. The more people open up and share about their questions and experiences with sexuality in general the more we move forward as a human species grappling with making this less of an "issue" in the coming decades.

Can't wait to see what you all do with this on Saturday. :) Don't forget. Set a reminder on your calendar because this coming out thing might be a little new and scary for you and it could be tempting to avoid it and leave it for other people to do. Or not do it all.

And maybe now you get why we need a National Coming Out Day, after all.

Did you know there's a free mobile app about queer/LGBTQ history and shares a story for each day of the year?? It's called Quist and my client, Sarah Prager, created it and it is currently BLOWING UP the internets. Download it here and start getting smarter about something that is more real and more common than you might think.

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Signing up to be stigmatized: why it's so hard to come out and why we celebrate when someone does

I woke up this morning and heard the news that Ellen Page came out as gay, which was great because it left me wondering, “hmm, not a lesbian? ok. cool” and there was that question in my mind about her choice of label. Maybe it was intentional, maybe not. I also noticed the way her right hand shook and moved about, keeping time and meter with her speech, as if its motion provided her comfort that as long as it moved, she could keep talking. I’ve felt that same feeling, rather like facing a firing squad. It is exhilarating and horrible, in equal amounts.

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And then all the People of the Land rejoiced that yet another person stood up on a stage and shared something extremely intimate and personal to “help others”. All the People of the Land celebrated another person facing and overcoming the decision to face a lifetime of being stigmatized based on one identity of many that made that person a whole person. And they applauded her courage and bravery and welcomed her into The Club--the association of people who lead the pack of being open, honest and vulnerable while others live their lives off the radar of dissection, opinion and criticism.

Ellen Page came out. Michael Sam came out. We see these headlines and then we see the backlash and the flag-waving supporters and it’s a media frenzy. I sit and wonder why we are still dealing with this issue of stigma. What are we being taught? What have we not yet learned about stigma and difference?

"Overcome the notion that you must be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary."  

-Uta Hagen

Something that occurred to me while reading the post on Autostraddle about Ellen and the video of her coming out at the HRC event was the bittersweet quality of coming out. It prompted me to write this piece about what it means to sign up for a lifetime of being stigmatized, why it’s hard to take it on and why we celebrate when someone does.

First, I gotta say this. LGBTQ people aren’t the only ones living outside the lines and they aren’t the only ones being brave and outspoken. The big elephant in the room here is that there are no lines. We celebrate people coming out of the closet, specifically about sexual identity, because we think it signifies someone defying norms and not being afraid to be different. It’s a hoax, folks. There actually is no such thing as normal. There is nothing but difference all around us. We fool ourselves into thinking this isn’t the case and the truth is staring us in the face. Coming out moments are mere reminders that we aren’t honoring the reality, the pure, naked, obvious reality that this country (and world) is still a place that sees differences as differences instead of the truth about us humans. Uniqueness is the only true norm we share in common.

Coming out represents what it means to be stigmatized, to be separated from “the pack” based on something that makes you different in some way. It’s hard to do that, to expose this thing (or things) that make you different because often that becomes the only thing that people see. They miss the kaleidoscope of your complex identity because “the thing” blinds them.

It’s also hard when others get to play it safe and not be so brave because their identities make it easier to cheer from the sidelines. People, like Ellen Page who are "lying by omission", get to choose the level to which they open the closet and expose their skeletons, or whatever the heck else is hanging out in there.

It’s hard to come out when you know the things people hide, things that aren’t socially acceptable, and yet everyone does a great job of faking it. They hide it. They play the part so well that everyone else is convinced they are the broken, weird one and then no one feels comfortable to be authentic. And because no one feels comfortable, many people hurt the ones who DO step outside the lines (those lines that aren’t real, remember) to make an example out of those who dare to live out their difference. Sometimes, the brave ones get tired of being brave and take out their pain, called internalized oppression, on each other. The “community” can sometimes become anything but a safe place to be different.

That’s why we celebrate so much when someone does come out--about something, anything that is stigmatized. Divorce, abortion, rape, religion, weight, height, adoption, stay-at-home dads, mompreneurs, learning disabilities, to name just a few. When someone speaks up or comes forward we celebrate, individually and collectively, because it shifts the culture one notch closer to the reality we all seek and crave: a culture that accepts human uniqueness and complexity as a given and the only true norm. It reminds us of something we understand but is deeply nestled in our brains: stigma only exists because we’ve failed to make it obselete.

I look forward to the day that coming out becomes boring and commonplace and people don’t feel like they are facing a firing squad of their peers, who, ironically, would probably be facing a squad of a different sort.

But for now, every time someone comes out, we will celebrate. We will celebrate the surmounting of silence over the persistence of stigma. We will celebrate the liberation of a hidden truth and we will feel inspired to be a bit more authentic, ourselves.

In other news, how did I NOT KNOW about this HRC "Time to Thrive" conference? #signmeupfornextyear

Just Fill In the Blanks

Recently, one of my old friends from high school adopted a beautiful new son. I am so, so happy for her and her husband.

As soon as I saw the pictures appear on facebook I thought, "wow! I really have been busy. I never noticed she was pregnant!" And then I scrolled down the list of comments under one of the pictures. Here and there, sprinkled amongst the jubilant expressions of joy and well-wishing was this comment:

"what?! did I miss something?!"

and below that, my friend's reply:

"nope. We adopted him. You didn't miss anything."

And my heart sank to my feet. Like way past my joyful heart, past my knees and into the floor. And I related. I got it. I remembered how it felt when I first changed my name. Lots of supportive comments and messages and a whole lot of people who never needed to say anything to me other than my new name. They just said, "Dillan", like it was the way I'd been known forever.

But there were messages in my inbox like, "Wait, what?! What's this new name about? Tell me more!!!" (3 exclamation points) or, "I see the new change. Do we start using male pronouns now?"

And while I knew this was meant to be incredibly supportive, I just wasn't ready to answer those questions. I just wasn't. It was an incredibly painful and at times downright depressingly agonizing process to come out as transgender to myself--and then to others. It was slow, and long and really fucking hard.

I wrestled with the feeling of entitlement that people seemed to have, especially when I was in what I consider my incubation phase. It's ok to be curious, it really is. But sometimes, I thought, you can just fill in the blanks. You can do this because you can remember that everything you do isn't visible to people. And you might cringe to think about things that have been hard for you, and what it would have been like to have to do that publicly. Especially if it breaks some sort of societal norm or "rule".

I think about things I've experienced that were never visible. That I was able to do or say or think that never got put up on display. And I think about being out as transgender and how I have to decide how "out" I'm going to be. I don't feel pressured, guilted or shamed into being out. I get to make that choice. But it is a choice. A choice others don't have to make.

So when my friend made the choice to adopt, a choice others don't have to make, I felt only compassion for her. I feel deep compassion for the choice she made to fulfill what is probably a lifelong dream of hers to be a loving, supportive, gentle, INCREDIBLE mother. She was all those things as my friend in high school when I was moody and depressed from struggling with an eating disorder. So I can bet she's going to be that as a mom. Guess what she does as a profession? She's a nurse. ;)

So, I send her love now--only love, no questions. Because this choice she made is different. It's not what people expect of heterosexual women. It moves her closer to the experience of some gay and lesbian and transgender and bisexual parents. It brings me closer to seeing that showing one's life to people is scary and beautiful---and important.

Maybe it's because I just had to do this in my own life and so I know what it feels like. Maybe it's because I love her to death and want her to feel nothing but joy in this moment. Maybe I don't need to ask any details other than what she wants to share. Because I can fill in the blanks.