* Disclaimer: The term “coming out” is extremely problematic, but for this post, it is used for clarity. *
There seems to be this misconception that “coming out” is this grand finale of self-evaluation that involves a proclamation of identity. However, that idea could not be farther from the truth.
In recent years, I have realized that it is not this one miraculous moment in time and, contrary to popular belief, is 100% about the individual and NOT about notifying the public. Of course, you remember the first time you feel something different or the first time you admit to yourself that you might not be exactly what society demands you to be, but this epiphany is almost never peaceful and only shows how “closets” feel more like prisons if you let them. So, you can’t let them.
I know that living your truth is far easier said than done, but it is SO necessary. I was a lost, scared 14-year-old when I realized what I was attracted to women. I was lost because I wasn’t sure what to do with the feelings and I was scared because I didn’t know how anyone would react once I expressed them. Honestly, it was a constant battle between what I valued most. Did I want to commit to making everyone else comfortable at the expense of my own sanity or was the risk of being happy worth losing people I loved if it came down to it? And, in less than a year, I came to the conclusion that the risk is 100% worth it. Every single time.
Despite this realization, my life did not make a complete 180 in approach. I recognized that sometimes I still found myself choosing to hide my truth in efforts to eliminate the possibility of controversy and discomfort. I never wanted my love life to be the elephant in the room. It was in the midst of this confusion that I realized, as long as I had “come out” to myself, no one else mattered. And why? Because it wasn’t, isn’t, and will never be their business.
Anderson Cooper once said, “I have always been very open and honest about this part of my life with my friends, my family, and my colleagues. In a perfect world, I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business, but I do think there is value in standing up and being counted.”
This quote has fueled my attitude with my family, friends, coworkers, and superiors throughout my collegiate years. I will never walk around with a rainbow painted on my forehead, but I will never intentionally hide from the truth either. For me, coming out happens every day and I am completely at peace with that fact. Whether it be holding hands with my partner in the store, a waiter or waitress awkwardly asking if our checks are together or separate, or saying, “My girlfriend…” when telling a story, I “come out” to strangers at least five times a day.
It’s interesting, though, because as a cis-gendered woman, the reactions I receive for identifying as a lesbian tend to be, “Wow, really? Why? When did you realize? I would have never known.” Answering these questions and ‘meeting people where they are’ on the competency spectrum is exhausting, but I always respond is the most basic ways.
“Yes, I am attracted to women. Why? Because I am attracted to women and I realized this about the same time you realized you were straight. The reason you didn’t know, though, is because my love life does not affect you. Any more questions?”
Sexual orientations do not have a “look”. Gender fluidity is okay. Everyone preaches about the lack of control in emotions until it’s love. Everyone praises the unconditionality of love until it’s for the same sex.
Another issue I have faced is that people confuse the choice to be “out” and live one’s truth with the ridiculous idea of choosing to identify a particular way and, believe me when I say, they are not synonymous. So, anytime someone tells you that your identity was a choice, ask them when they decided to be straight. (This video will give you good and humorous insight to the answers you will receive: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJtjqLUHYoY)
For anyone struggling with owning their identity, stuck between choosing yourself and others, or in the midst of dealing with the repercussions of being “you”, remember that owning your truth takes more courage than many people have. Society is flawed and your sexual orientation or gender expression is valid regardless of who says otherwise. And, as Rachel Maddow said, “The single best thing about coming out of the closet is that nobody can insult you by telling you what you’ve just told them.”
Image: hearts via flickr.com @ brillianthues
2 thoughts on “The Process of Coming Out to Yourself and Others”
DANG. Your perspective is so important in this. In the words of Brene Brown, “You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” Thank you for this.
I like that you talked about the problematic nature of having to “come out” as someone in the LGBTQIQAP+ community. Society considers coming out to be this ~defining moment~ of someone’s LGBTQ+ experience, but frankly, your sexual identity is a personal part of your life that you shouldn’t have to share with others. The process of “coming out” to friends/family/acquaintances also reinforces the heteronormative idea that being straight is normal, and you have a responsibility to “come out” as something other than that when the time is right. I’m so glad you shared your experience with disclosing your love life to others, and I liked your take on the process of “coming out”!