LGBT or Straight – Come Out of Your Closet Today

Pride 1

I first came out of the closet in the summer of 1997. I was fresh out of high school, ready for college, and eager to let the world know the real me. The problem was I didn’t know how to come out or who to tell first.

I had met a guy during orientation at Ball State who I cliqued with, and we started sending each other letters to keep up with our happenings before we reconnected in August at college. Most of our letters were about daily activities, nothing out of the ordinary, until one day I decided I’d tell Steve I’m gay. Once I licked the stamp and dropped it in the mailbox, there was no turning back. I waited days in anticipation to get his response, nervously sweating as I tore open the letter and read nine words that made it worth the 29 cents for postage: “It’s okay. I think I might be gay, too.” Let’s just say, the content of our letters drastically changed after that day. He eventually became my first love interest and then the first guy to break my heart. Years later, we laugh about those days and call each other lifelong friends.

The second time I came out was to my friend Brooke the following fall. We sat in her car at dusk, parking lot lights illuminating portions of our face. We were deep in debate about whether the award for best lyricist should go to John Wozniak or Rob Thomas. There was an odd break in our conversation when it just bubbled up:

“Brooke,” I said, “I’m gay.”

“I know,” she giggled.

And that was that. And then there was a third time, and a fourth, and I eventually told my family. Over the years, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve come out of the closet. It never gets easier; I never know what reaction I’ll get. I’ve experienced the entire spectrum from total acceptance to completely being shunned. But I’ve been fortunate to have had my fair share of Steve and Brooke moments.

Coming out is a journey, not a destination.

The one misconception non-LGBT folks have is that coming out is a specific date or moment. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked, “When did you come out of the closet?”

I will spend the rest of my life coming out of the closet. Like all others in the LGBT community, each time we switch jobs, make new friends, or find ourselves in a place of permanence, we have to let those around us know.

And that’s not by choice.

I’d love to see the day when no one needs to come out, when being gay just is and not a big deal. But we still live in a world programmed on straight society, and that will only change the more and more we let the world know our lives and who we are. Even as we’ve gained marriage equality across most of the US and we wear our well-earned wedding bands proudly, assumptions will still exist that our rings signify we’re married to the opposite sex.

“What does your wife do?” I’ll get asked.

“My husband works in healthcare.” I answer.

And that’s okay. These questions are part of the coming out process. If assumptions weren’t made and then questions asked, how would learning and, eventually, understanding occur?

Coming out is as much of a straight thing as it is a gay thing.

Until straight allies come out themselves, LGBT people will continue to have to come out on a daily basis with the fear of the unknown. But when our straight family and friends stand up and say, “I have a gay son, a gay friend, or a gay colleague who is amazing and I love,” that sends a powerful signal and creates dialogue.

***

I have moved past my days of snail mail letter writing and listening to college radio in dimly lit parking lots to now writing, speaking, coaching, and helping communities tell their stories (and I hope changing a few lives along the way). And in case you didn’t know until you read this, I just happen to be gay and have lots of straight friends who have proudly come out with me as well.

Today is National Coming Out Day. Let the world know who you are and who you love. This world needs more dialogue and better understanding. And maybe if enough of us come out, some day we won’t need to come out at all.

 

Photo credit: BokicaK on Flickr Creative Commons

 


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© 2020 J.R. Jamison