Every story helps chip away at the fear of being a closeted member of the LGBT community. For National Coming Out Day (this Saturday), I decided to share my story. It’s not an exciting one; there’s no yelling, violence, or homelessness — as is often the tragic result of many coming outs. In fact, while my family and friends are as varied as they come, they have in common complete open-mindedness and acceptance. The world needs to hear the terrible reactions many people have to a coming out, but I cannot provide such a story. My story is only worth telling for its seemingly contradictory nature.
A recent Human Rights Campaign survey of 10,000 LGBT youth age 13-17 reveals that just over half of LGBT youth have come out to their immediate family. A quarter of them list non-acceptance of family as the most pressing problem in their life. Luckily, this was not a problem for me. In the significantly less accepting atmosphere of the previous decade, my situation was the most ideal any southern lesbian youth could ask for. I was grateful, yet still profoundly averse, to my being gay. If there was an encyclopedia of gay stereotypes, there would be a picture of me in boy’s clothes hanging from a tree under the title “Lesbian Childhood.” Even so, the blatantly obvious was still too terrifying to face until college.
When my childhood swim team, the University of Tennessee Faculty Club, dissolved into civil war over a new team member’s lesbian moms, my parents were one of the couple’s biggest advocates. Like all the other kids though, I quietly absorbed the adults’ words.
Us kids on the swim team could hear our parents arguing over the fate of these two androgynous newcomers as if they were not able to hear what was being said. I don’t remember the outcome of the arguing. All I remember is learning it must be terrible to be gay. Years later, when I finally admitted I was gay myself, this experience, and others like it, led me to come out in the least eventful manner I could. I eased my family and friends into the knowledge via email.
I said my story wasn’t exciting, and it isn’t. But I think the more subtle stories, of people who would seem to have nothing to fear in coming out, may have something to offer as well. Even if a person never directly interacts with or even knows an LGBT person, his or her actions still have a significant impact on LGBT people. Both small cruelties and small kindnesses have a broader reach than many people realize. My hope is that one day the prevailing attitude will be one of kindness and National Coming Out Day will be obsolete. There will be no assumptions of heterosexuality. Being LGBT will be no more controversial than being tall or being short. We might instead have a day where we remember our history and celebrate love, acceptance, and how far we’ve come.
Here are some ways to make Lena’s vision of an equal and accepting world into a reality:
- Talk honestly and openly to your LGBT friends and relatives about their lives.
- Encourage straight and LGBT friends and relatives to join together in social settings.
- Include partners and spouses of your LGBT friends and relatives at social events.
- Explain to people why anti-LGBT jokes and statements are unacceptable.
- Be proactive and supportive of LGBT issues on social media.