National Coming Out Day takes place on October 11, 2021 and is observed in the United States, Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. I was shocked to learn that it’s been recognized since 1988, as I remember first hearing about it just two years ago. Perhaps it’s only because that was the year that Facebook and Google confirmed I was queer based on my browsing history and started showing me ads for rainbow-colored kitchen mixers because they know I’ll buy anything with a rainbow on it.
Anyhoo, when I first heard of National Coming Out Day I had very mixed feelings about it. You may have those feelings too. So, let’s talk about it.
Realizing that Coming Out Day is a Day About You
It’s one thing to come to the realization that you’re “not straight” or as my girlfriend and I now like to say “heterodivergent.” It took me a solid 8 years or so before I could admit with honesty and not only accept but love the fact that I was a lesbian. Even then, I still couldn’t say the word lesbian. It took quite a bit of time to be able to attach a positive feeling towards the word, as opposed to the negativity or shame that I had heard attached to it in my younger years.
Coming out is a different ball of rainbow wax. It’s no longer just how you feel about yourself; you suddenly get to see how everyone else feels about you too. There are not many opportunities in one’s life that I can adequately equate to coming out as queer or trans or non-binary or asexual. (If you can think of one, please share it in the comments.) In my own coming out experience, it felt like an overwhelming majority of people approached me with love and support. People I hadn’t talked to in decades came out of the digital woodwork to express caring, supportive sentiments. I felt more love from people than I can remember ever feeling before in my adult life. And it was pretty darn awesome that I could have a coming out experience that was met with such positivity, since that most likely wouldn’t have been the case even 10 years prior.
But, aside from the supportive crowd, there was the other crowd too. The ones who were closer and knew me on a personal level, in real life but stayed silent or intentionally avoided the discussion. Two family members unfriended me on social media without saying anything to me in person. In fact, approximately zero of my family members (with the exception of two distant aunts whom I have never had the pleasure of meeting in real life) have ever shown any sort of support. Not when I have posted anything related to pride, or when I shared that my memoir Chronic Case of Hetero won a Hay House contest and was going to be published by them, or when I launched this blog to reach out to my community, my allies, and my future allies. Nothing but silence.
Zero family members. I would like to pretend that as a 40-year-old, that didn’t sting. It still does.
The Historic Importance of Coming Out
Which brings me back to National Coming Out Day. A day for celebration and visibility. Coming Out Day was originally started to encourage the queer community to identify themselves and help further the belief that if more people realized they already knew, were friends with, or loved a queer person in their life, they would be more understanding. Robert Eichberg said in 1993, “Most people think they don’t know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact, everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.” Even if you don’t realize it, someone you know in your life is not straight. According to a 2021 global survey from Ipsos, nearly 1 in 5 young adults does not identify as straight.
Queer visibility is what Harvey Milk campaigned for back in the 1970’s and the need for it has not decreased. Community visibility is also why I’ve found it so important to be vocal about my own coming out experience. I recognized that as a grown adult, I was in a privileged position to be able to come out and say to people “remember when you loved me because you thought I was straight?”
Visibility is hugely important in achieving equality and normalizing same-sex relationships, gender identities that are outside of the binary or different from what we were assigned at birth. Our phobias most often stem from fear of the unknown. Know me. Let’s listen to each other and prove that this boogieman of fear is not real.
Harry Potter Wore an Invisibility Cloak & You Can Too
With that being said, visibility is not for everyone. And maybe visibility is for you… but perhaps just not right now. Although Coming Out Day is observed on October 11th, you do not need to come out on October 11th. Not this year, not next year, not any year for that matter. Due to the delicate nature of coming out, it’s important that you take your time and come out on your own schedule, in your own way. (Anyone who has been “outed” prematurely, myself included, knows how incredibly vulnerable it feels and how damaging it can be.)
You do not need to come out if it’s not safe to do so.
You do not need to come out if you don’t feel as though you are in the proper mental state to do so.
You do not need to come out if you feel no desire to do so.
You do not need to come out to everyone.
You do not need to come out just because there’s a holiday on the calendar encouraging you to do so and as a result you feel compelled to share the Facebook memes.
There are plenty of people within the queer community who don’t believe in or are frustrated by having to come out at all. Heterosexuals do not ever need to announce their sexuality, why should I? I feel this too. Constantly, coming out is exhausting and I cannot wait until it’s a thing that no longer needs to be addressed. However, as long as compulsory heterosexuality is present and people continue to default to assuming everyone is straight, I will need to continue to correct them.
When the construction contract asks if my husband will be present so that we can both make the decision about the remodel together, I come out to him to let him know that my partner will be there. When people make casual conversation and ask, “What does your husband do?” I come out to them and let them know my partner is an incredibly talented chiropractor. When people ask why my ex-husband and I divorced because we seemed like we got along so well, I assure them that we did get along so well… and then I come out to them. It doesn’t matter if I think “coming out” is a silly thing that I don’t want to be a thing; as long as people keep assuming straight, then I keep coming out.
You Don’t Need a Pinterest Board to Celebrate
Whether this year marks your first time celebrating Coming Out Day or your 33rd celebration, there is no RIGHT way to spend the day. Do you want to dress in all rainbows and glitter and make a TikTok of you bursting out of a Funfetti cake with a corgi? Perfect! Do you want to dazzle others with your ax-throwing skills as you take a hatchet to symbolic closet doors? Okey dokey! Do you want to sit home with a soothing cup of chamomile tea and a weighted blanket while you congratulate yourself quietly on acknowledging your true being and taking whatever small steps you need to align with that truth? Sounds excellent!
Make this year’s Coming Out Day your own, or celebrate those around you who had the immense courage to come out. Do what feels right within your own heart, and not what feels right because it’s trending online that day. However you choose to celebrate Coming Out Day 2021, know that you are seen, you are valid, and that I am proud of you for acknowledging your own needs today. Happy Coming Out Day, love!