I’ve been thinking about my identities a lot lately, and after participating in a few SOSAS panels this quarter already, I feel like I’ve been thinking and re-processing my “out”ness a lot more than usual. Many of us on this campus have heard, or even had to explain, on at least one occasion, that “coming out” can mean different things (e.g. it doesn’t only pertain to sexual orientation), it can be on different levels of importance to a given individual, and it is not a singular, one-time thing–people come out multiple times a day, many days a year, etc. Coming out, for me, has been quite the process. It started with the first inklings of “uhhh, I’m pretty sure none of my other female friends are looking at that girl the way I’m trying to NOT look at her…” and has progressed to where I am today: participating in dorm panels, staffing at the LGBT-CRC, and double dating with other queer female couples.
While I am pretty darn open, vocal, and dare I say, at-times flaunty of my gayness, I have a conflicted relationship with the concept of “coming out”. This week is “Coming Out Week”, with National Coming Out Day on Thursday (along with other neat events and lots of funsies!!), and I feel a bit conflicted with how much I should celebrate my own coming out. The HRC’s website states, “To this day National Coming Out Day continues to promote a safe world for LGBT individuals to live truthfully and openly” and while I truly believe the work and that goal are valuable, I have trouble with the implication that those who are not out in every facet of their lives, or at least in the “important” ones (“important” being to best friends, siblings, parents, perhaps even workplace…), are somehow less truthful, less open, and therefore less realized queer-identified folks. I get the sense, often, that being out’n’loud is an unwrittenly official “stamp of queerdom” that marks those individuals as more legitimate, or more fully realized persons. In my own, based-on-personal-experience, opinion: that’s not fair. It can be really alienating to those who choose to not be out at all or are only out in very small circles. Nowhere is it written that being Out should be the goal of all queer folks, some sort of finish line one must cross, and it shouldn’t be treated that way.
It frustrates me to hear people who are Out ask questions such as, “do your parents know?”, “have you come out to your dorm yet?”, “how come you haven’t told your roommate? At least they should know!”, etc. People need to understand that just because someone is not out, it doesn’t make them any less queer or legitimate. I personally love being out, i love being a lesbian, and I am really happy that I came out as loudly, excitedly, and as strongly, as I did; I am happy that I am out to the people in my life, including my parents, siblings, and godparents. Yet, coming out, for me, was not just a moment of liberation (from what I felt were years of frustration and destructive suppression), but also the moment when the world I’d always known, the family I’d always had, was completely ripped away from me. With my excited “mom, dad, I’m gay” moment, have come years of increasing emotional distance between my parents and me, much sadness, and a lot of “My Coming Out” episode re-runs in my head. What could I have done differently? What if I’d just waited longer? Was it selfish to come out, knowing how devout they are to The Church? I feel totally comfortable celebrating my coming out on campus and within the communities I navigate here, but I don’t feel as celebratory if I consider the situation my coming out has created within my biological family. This National Coming Out Day is a day I love, a day during which I love to celebrate all I have gained since coming out; at the same time it is a painful reminder of what has been taken away from me by my doing so.
I wish we could all come out every day, at every opportunity; I wish “coming out” was so norm and acceptable everywhere that people wouldn’t bat an eye when I mention “my girlfriend”…” Yes, my girlfriend-girlfriend, not my girl friend”; I wish we lived in a world where “being out” about sexual orientation and gender identity was as nbd as “being out” about drinking coffee. This is not meant to be a cautionary tale, but more of a “heads up, be sensitive”, I guess. Visibility, I believe, is so so important, but everyone comes to their own version and moment of visibility differently. Coming Out is not something that is necessarily accessible or safe for everyone. Being visible can be wonderful, but for others/in other contexts it can be detrimental; you should not feel as if you aren’t “gay enough” because you’re not being out’n’loud about your sexual orientation/gender identity/romantic identity. I hope this coming out day helps some people feel like they can finally be out/visible on a campus where it is generally safe to do so, and that it also reminds folks about the complexity of “coming out” in different people’s lives.
Monica Alcazar is a senior majoring in Feminist Studies, double minoring in International Relations and Education. She is a Community Academic Support and Advising (CASA) Mentor at the LGBT-CRC, and an Ethnic Theme Associate (ETA) in Casa Zapata.