Tag Archives: national coming out day

still coming out

Today is National Coming Out Day — one day a year that celebrates the endless, sometimes joyous, sometimes boring, sometimes devastating process of coming out as queer, as gay or lesbian or bisexual, as trans* or genderqueer, as someone other than the assumed and accepted straight, gender-normative persons we tell ourselves we are supposed to be.

So, happy Coming Out Day!

The idea, once upon a time, was that this would be a day when we would support one another coming out to someone new — maybe we weren’t out yet to our parents, or to our grandparents, or to others in our extended family. Maybe we hadn’t yet come out to our dearest friends from high school or college. Maybe we weren’t out yet at work. Maybe we hadn’t told housemates or classmates. Maybe we haven’t yet actually come out to ourselves.

Maybe we had very good reasons not to be out — there are always reasons we don’t tell people about our sexual orientations, and at the top of that list is usually fear of violence and fear of rejection. Those fears didn’t come from nowhere. They rise in us naturally and wisely when we hear the stories of others in our community who were put out of their homes, left to fend for themselves as young teenagers, after their parents found out they were gay. We hear the stories of friends beaten for their queerness. We understand that there is risk to this demand to be seen and understood and accepted for who we really are.

In 2013, kids are still being put out of their homes for being gay. Kids are still targeted, harassed, bullied, shamed, beaten for their queerness — whether actual or assumed. Female-bodied queerfolks are still sexually assaulted by those asserting that the rape will straighten them out. We are still being queerbashed. We queerfolks still battle the idea that we are predatory, child molesters, hypersexual, and deviant. We are asked what made us this way. We are asked to keep ourselves quiet: why do you have to be so blatant?

Still, many of us, I think, when we come out to those we love and who love us, find that we are still loved and accepted after we have said the words. Often, our families and friends tell us that they already knew or wondered if we were queer; they were just waiting for us to say it. They wanted us to feel safe enough, or trust them enough. This coming out, then, eventually deepens our relationships with them.

Some of us aren’t met kindly — which is why we need a community around us to hold us up and help us heal until we are ready to go back out into the world again.

My own coming out didn’t follow a usual trajectory, and it’s full of trauma story, and I’m not going to tell it all here. When I was in college and participating in the queer student speaker’s bureau (for which we had another, certainly more interesting name), I told the sorority sisters who brought us in to give our presentation of Real! Live! Queers! that my coming out had been easy — it had been a surprise to me when I found myself flirting with, and then kissing another woman, but it felt so natural to me that I just let myself fall into it. It was No Big Deal. What about your family, the young women asked via 3×5 cards we pulled out of a hat (so that no one had to be seen asking questions of the queers). My family is fine with it, I said — there’s so much else going on for us, it’s the least of our issues.

That was sort of true, and also not even a little bit true. There are the coming out stories we tell, and the ones we don’t tell. When I first came out as queer, I was twenty and still under my stepfather’s control. I tried to keep my queerness a secret for as long as possible — I didn’t want him to have more information about me to use against me, and I didn’t want him to have someone else to take away from me. He found out eventually, of course, and told me that I wasn’t allowed to be in contact with the woman I’d fallen in love with. He (a psychotherapist — and, let’s not forget, rapist) insisted that homosexuals were narcissists with mother- or father-issues, and said I’d better just come home and work out things with my mom. That’s not what happened, of course — I did have to go home, but he had other things in mind for me to do.

Eighteen months later, I began the process of escaping from his control, and began coming out to myself as an incest survivor. Eventually, I was an out and proud queer woman. I transitioned to butchness, as so many queer women do, at least for awhile — sometimes because it feels authentic to their gender identity and sometimes because we want to be seen and recognized as actually queer.

I didn’t feel shame around my identity until I came out to myself as femme just over a decade ago. Back in my twenties, I’d read the old stories about folks coming out to themselves as gay — the men and women who stared bleakly into the mirror, tearing at their cheeks, saying to themselves, How can I be like that? One of those? One of them?

I couldn’t understand it. I came out in 1992, and the community I found myself surrounded by was full of joy and rage and power. We battled for acceptance on campus and then danced hard into the night. Who wouldn’t want to be one of these? I was proud and felt lucky — I get to be queer.

And then, when I was in my early thirties, I came to understand that butch didn’t fit me anymore, that I really was just a regular, gender-normative girl. Then I understood shame and horror. I was not proud to be a femme, not at the beginning. I’d worked so hard to be butch, to be visible, to be a real queer — and I felt I’d failed. It took a couple of years to find my pride in my girl gayness — that’s another post, another coming out story.

Coming out never stops, not if we’re lucky. We are always discovering new layers and possibility in ourselves — identity is always a story in flux. What coming out has presented itself for you this year? What’s your coming out story? Are there folks with whom you’re not out? Why? What part of your coming out story haven’t you told yet? Write into the idea of “coming out” this morning — give yourself twenty minutes, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for coming out — to yourself, first and foremost. Thank you for your generous presence when others come out to you. Thank you for your stories today; thank you for your words.

Read more posts about Coming Out:

coming out and out

magic marker graffiti: Be Gay -- I <3 U(some explicit language about sexual trauma in this post; just be easy with you today.)

Good morning! Here’s the candle and this new light and a slow waking. Here’s a day of new beginnings — here’s a day of breathing in with fear and exhaling with fear and watching how even this is a place I want to be able to unfurl into.

What’s got a strong heartbeat in you this morning?

Today is National Coming Out Day, intended to be a day when LGBTQ folks can stand in solidarity in their openness about their lives: Yes, we’re here, we’re queer, and you already love us. It’s a day to honor those in our lives who don’t already know that they love (or know, or care about, or work with, or are friends with) someone lesbian or bisexual or trans or gay or queer by offering them that information.

Last night, just before bed, while working on a grant proposal, I spent about an hour with the self I was back in 1993 and 1994, transcribing that young person’s words from our old journals. She had plenty of coming out to do. Continue reading

let it into the light

National Coming Out Day logo: Keith Haring image of a figure emerging, jubilant, from a closet doorGood morning good morning — is it Tuesday where you are? Here, it’s a Tuesday, quiet so far, dark. I’m having green tea with tulsi and mint, and there’s a candle lit in a tall jar — the flame is popping in the wax as air bubbles emerge, I think, and it feels like the flame is talking to me.

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Sent out the writing ourselves whole October newsletter yesterday — there are a whole lot of new writing opportunities coming up in the new year! We’re launching Bayview Writers, a general-topic writing workshop for Marin — women’s group on Tuesday mornings in Tiburon, and an open group on Wednesday evenings in San Rafael. Also coming in January: Dive Deep, an advanced workshop for folks who are ready to dive deep into a writing project. Please let me know if you’d like to learn more about any of the writing opportunities coming up!

Plus, don’t forget that October’s Writing the Flood meets this coming Saturday! We’ll be in Berkeley this time around — I’d love to write with you there.

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Yes, it’s National Coming Out Day in the US (linking to the wikipedia site rather than the official HRC page — when did this get to be an HRC-sponsored event?)– how are you marking this day? Is it a matter of coming out as gay/queer/SGL, or allowing some other part of yourself to emerge into the light?

The quote that I am the most fond of is this one, attributed to Albert Camus: Liberty is the right not to lie. We are most free, I believe, when we are free to tell our truths — our full truths, our complicated truths.

Coming out, as many of us know, is a never-ending process. Because we live in a hetero-centrist culture, those of us who are queer or otherwise non-heterosexual will be constantly provided opportunities to correct assumptions made about us by straight friends and family. However, we will also consistently run into folks in our own community who make assumptions about us based on their own understandings or experience of our identity labels: this presents us with further coming-out opportunities. We get to practice, endlessly, telling the truths about our lives, if we wish to. It’s kind of a gift.

(Of course, it can get kind of annoying, too. Just once, I’d like for someone I meet (in a non-gay context) to assume that I’m queer: even when I was a butch/boy, folks tended to assume that I had a husband attached to that wedding ring or reference to ‘partner.’ Really? I’d ask myself, looking in the mirror. Really? Not that boyfriend was outside the realm of my affectional possibility — but I just wanted folks to make a different assumption about me sometimes.)

Maybe you feel like you’re done already, if you’ve come out. You live your life as an out gay person, everyone in your family knows, everyone at work knows, everyone at the bocce court and at the softball field knows. Right on. Now, what’s the next layer of truth-telling that you can do? Do folks make assumptions about you based on your gender presentation, based on the short-hand label you offer to them as a representation of yourself: do they think they know you because they hold lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, trans, same-gender loving in their hands and in front of their eyes when they look at you? How can you be more honest with them? What do those words mean for you, really? Are there folks in your own community who continue to assume that because you’re a butch lesbian, you’re only into femmes, or folks who think that because you’re a gay man, you must not care about intimacy? Do you let yourself be led in any way by the bullshit stereotypes that have attached themselves to our labels (by necessity, I know, but still, they tether us in and away from one another)?

Here’s my own (ongoing) coming out: I’m a queer cisgendered woman who used to identify as butch and bisexual, who surfs around the Kinsey scale over the course of any given month from about a 3 to a 5.5; I’m theoretically poly but have always been monogamous in practice (if you don’t include my primary relationship with the written word); I’m an incest survivor, a tomboy (definitely) femme (maybe) switch, an erotica writer. There are some truths I’m not sharing here, because I’m ashamed to (but that’s a truth, too, isn’t it?).

I believe in coming out (I came out in the 90s, after all), and then I believe in telling the truth about what the words we use to come out really mean — how they unfurl into our real, lived lives. If everyone already knows you’re a big old homosexual or queer, why not take some time today to write about or talk about some aspect of your life that most folks don’t know, or to challenge assumptions that folks make about you because they know that you’re a big ol’ homo?

This is the prompt for today, then: Write the next layer of your *or your character’s) coming out: ok, so you’re gay. What does that mean? How does it feel in your body, on your skin, in community, in the world? What does queer, bi, SGL look like in your life? How are you different from the mainstream assumptions that get made about your identity? What are the complications, the contradictions?

If you identify as straight, tell us about that, too: how are you different from the mainstream assumptions that get made about straight folks? Where are your complications and contradictions? Let’s get messy with these identities, with these coming out stories.

What else might you (or your character) be wanting to come out about? Maybe there’s a part of yourself that has nothing to do with your sexuality at all, but that wants, finally, to be shared. Write about that part, if you want — the parts that cut or that survive, the parts that have to do with an eating disorder, with multiple small ones inside, with a secret love of flame. Maybe there are other parts — you’ve started going to church, you’ve taken up knitting, you’re exploring the family tree you thought you’d written off forever. Whatever part of yourself that’s been kept secret, kept in a closet, kept in the dark, whatever part that’s ready for some light, let it down on the page today. Let some of the light, stuff, into the dark, too. Give yourself 10 minutes — and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for your generosity, the brave and complicated truths that you hold in your skin and tendon and bones. Thank you for the places you’ve protected by keeping them secret as long as needed; and thank you for the ways you let them into the sun and rich loam at the right time. Thank you for your words.

open more space for them to live and breathe into

National coming out day logo, a Keith Haring image of a person dancing out of a dark room

Thanks to Keith Haring for so so much, including this logo...

Happy National Coming Out Day!

(Let me say that I’m sad that this now appears to be an HRC-sponsored production across the country — this post is not sponsored by the HRC.)

I want to tell you about how, in the early 90s, national coming out day felt like something very queer. Coming out, then, felt like a threat: like our families’ and home communities’ complacency were threatened  by our outness, and, like we ourselves were threatened by being out.

Nowadays, living here in ostensible-queer-mecca, it’s easy to sink into a sense that things are settled and we are all safe: we’re here, queer, and they’re used to us.

But, yeah: being out is still a threat. They’re not used to us. They still don’t like us. They still would rather we’re dead.

And yes, much has changed — but not so much that it still doesn’t matter that we are honest about who we are, about who we have been and can be. Coming out still matters, for all of us. Our silence — how many times will she have to remind us — will not save us. It will not save our friends or families or our kids.

So, in case you didn’t know, I’m a queer person, a Kinsey 4.5-5 (on the sliding scale) (Also: would that this page could have used the word bisexual, say, once, given that he designed a scale which shows that most of the world *is* not exclusively homo-or heterosexual-forever-and-ever-amen (i.e.,there are very few “gold star” gays or straights), but that’s a different post). I have had and will forevermore have a sexual, sensual and erotic life that twists and turns and swirls and dances around and with folks of all genders and sexualities. I am married to my gay trans-butch beloved. I am not boxable into either HRC’s or Focus on the Family’s sex or gender categories.

It matters that we share this information with each other. If you have ever been attracted to or imagined you could be attracted to someone of the same sex or gender, it matters that you pass this information on to the people around you, and yes, to the young folks around you. They need to know that they’re not evil because of the sex or gender of the person they desire, and because they look up to you, because they see you as a role model, your coming out will make their world (and thus our world) a better place.

And I’m going to call on the allies: Are you a straight-identified person who has loved someone of the same sex, or has imagined loving someone of the same sex? So, maybe you won’t come out today: but maybe, when a young person (or an older person!) trusts you enough to worry to you about being shunned or hated because they are sexually attracted to folks of the same sex or gender, maybe you won’t be so quick to categorize them. You’ll maybe open a little more space in your heart, and thus, in your conversation with them — you’ll open more space for them to live and breathe into. You’ll explain/remind that the vast majority of people have had some attraction or curiosity about people of all sexes or genders, and that if this means hell, then you’ll be with them there in that hell: along with most of the rest of humanity.

Please choose today (and then tomorrow, to) to stand up to and call out anti-queer or anti-gender-nonconforming bullshit (whether from your straight or gay friends).

Please keep writing about this, please keep talking about this, please keep loving with your heart wide open to all the enormous possibilities. Thank you.

we’re here, we’re queer, we’re surviving

graffiti of a female face, frowning, serious, strong, with the caption 'recuerda! hoy es el dia!'

"Remember! Today is the day" (click on the image to see more of LD-'s flickr set)

It’s October — LGBT Awareness month (which includes National Coming Out Day on 10/11) and Domestic Violence Awareness Month. How do these national-anything months affect our lives once we’re out of school, away from the programming groups that have a captive audience? It’s the month for NCOD, Take Back the Night marches, times when we announce who we are, what we’ve experienced, what we want to see change.

National Coming Out Month and Domestic Violence Awareness Month go together, of course, when it comes to queer kids getting beaten, getting harassed, getting assaulted, getting kicked out — We’re here, we’re queer, and we deserve bodily integrity, we deserve health and safe homes, we deserve not to be bullied, not to be harassed, not to bully or harass others.

There’s a campaign that I found to get queer folks to re-associate with their high schools, to be a visible and out alumnus. I wasn’t out, even to myself, in high school.  Instead, I was being regularly sexually assaulted by my mother’s husband, and the only friends I was allowed were the boys who I might date, the boys who my stepfather thought would eventually have sex with me — my entire life revolved around my sexuality, in this hideous and adult-driven way. I had no idea that anything other than heterosexuality and sexual violence could be in store for me. There was no place to explore my own desires or fantasies, to think about how my body worked or why, to consider what brought me joy. Sex wasn’t about joy — it was about endurance and escape. Sometimes there was a moment of connection, and I’m grateful for those — moments that were outside my stepfather’s control, that were about just me and his other person, or even about a momentary wholeness in my body. These were fleeting and sometimes even more painful for my remembering them later, knowing I could never count on them, never get them back.

The It Gets Better campaign wouldn’t have worked for me; that’s not to shut it down or say that it isn’t useful (and click on that link above to see what might have gotten through, though, that message from Aunt Kate) — most of the public awareness campaigns didn’t work for me. We might have a lecture at school about tell someone if someone’s touching you wrong and all of us in the audience would be squirming and embarrassed and cutting our eyes at the kids (the girls) who it was rumored were having to have sex with someone in their family. My stepfather might have given that lecture to our school — he didn’t, but he could have, because that’s the work he did: and he always wanted to be of service. So no one would be cutting their eyes at me, though I’d be looking for it and I was terrified of someone finding out — not because of the shame or embarrassment, but because of his punishment, the way I’d have to repudiate anyone else’s knowledge, the way I’d have to learn how to hide better, more transparently, more in clean sight.

I had no possible sense of a future that didn’t include my stepfather’s control, so there was no place in my life where “it gets better” would have fit. I don’t know what would have worked (except, maybe, for one of his colleagues to have stepped forward, to have paid attention to what they were seeing (my stepfather’s extreme control of his family) and taken action).

Would it have helped if there’d been a campaign specifically aimed at those experiencing sexual violence — for a grown woman to say to a camera somewhere in the world, seeming like she’s looking right at me, somehow more safe for that intimacy of one person speaking to one other person: I never thought I could get away. But I did — finally, I was able to get away from the man/person who was hurting me, and this is how I did it and this is where I got help… Would that have helped me consider my own possible escape? Maybe I would have tucked it away somewhere inside future reference.

I want a hopeful end here, a clear sense of what could work, now, for someone else in my situation. I guess, though, that that’s why I write at all, and why I write under my own name. My survival, my rescue, came incrementally, and it mostly came through reading other people’s stories — it came through a slow awareness that I was not alone, that I wasn’t the only one who’d experienced this kind of isolation and control, that other people went through this and then, later, had a life that they were happy with, that they found pleasure and joy in. It was through reading the coming out stories, the survivor stories, through Dorothy Allison and Maya Angelou, the collections of Take Back the Night readings. Over and over, those voices reached out and caught me, and so I keep on trying to reach out and catch someone else. I needed to know that, yes, something as plain as ‘incest’ and ‘domestic violence’ could be applied to my stepfather’s behavior, that I could find myself and my experiences in that language.

My queerness is entirely interwoven with my incest survivor-ness, and my National Coming Out Day is always inflected with DV Awareness month, so my slogans look like this: We’re here, we’re queer, we’re surviving and We’re loud and raunchy and messy, because finally we can be and Big joyful incest survivor queergrrl.

What does National Coming Out Day look like for you? Do you still have coming out moments? Want to write about one of those as a prompt for today? (Write about whichever one just came to mind when you read that question — share it here if you want)

Or just think about it, and know that I’m grateful for that work you did, are doing, will continue to be a part of today…