Lie. It’s not lying if they make you lie, if the only truth they can accept is their own.Brian (to Michael), “Queer as Folk”
I’ve heard this quote and versions of it over the past few years, even more so recently with the large amount of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation coming down from the Kentucky state government.
Coming out is very personal and never obligatory. In order to understand this struggle, it’s important to take a look back at how that person made it to the point that they needed to hide in the first place.
Some of us grew up in an environment that at the very least put cisgender heterosexual individuals as the norm, and at the most made cisgender heteronormativity compulsory. Cisgender behavior and presentation was required with very little to no budging and with severe consequences for deviation. In this rigid environment, those who aren’t cisgender or heterosexual spend extra time and energy to fit into this uncomfortable mold simply to survive. And, surviving is all they do, nothing more. Living this way can be exhausting and debilitating, to the point of giving up.
Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation
While gender identity and sexual orientation should be simple and personal, they aren’t, especially in an environment like this. Living as yourself seems to be reserved for those who identify as cisgender and heterosexual. What should be normal is living one’s life authentically, genuinely, and without fear, and it should be up to the individual what that means. Depending on the state and even the city in which one lives, this is not possible.
Jesus Made Me Do It
Gender and sexual orientation have not only become warped and regulated by society and politics, it’s called a sin by those who consider themselves religious. Some Christians are using the Bible to justify their bigotry and hatred in the name of someone who never said they should do that. These Christians refuse to take responsibility for their own thoughts and instead point fingers back at Jesus, expressing a version of “he made me do it” so that they can say it’s their superior religion that made these choices, not them. In truth, it was never their religious leader that hated those who are different, it’s the individuals who refuse to accept that different is ok. (This may be a conversation for another time).
The Requirement to be “Normal”
There’s this compulsory heterosexuality that seems to have permeated all aspects of our lives. Anyone not living this made up level of normalcy is seen as abnormal or wrong. It’s growing up in this environment where one learns how to hide in order to maintain self preservation. It’s not just from hearing the news and experiencing it in our society at large; they hear the small comments and jokes that are made at their expense by friends and family who consider themselves the status quo or ‘normal’. They don’t come out, not because they don’t love them, but because they don’t trust that they’ll be accepted as they are, because they are scared and they value their lives more than living their truths. They don’t share who they really are for fear of exclusion, fear of judgment, fear of ridicule, fear of physical harm.
What society thinks is normal is completely made up. At some point in history, someone decided what was normal, and then more people agreed with them. Think back to what the history books tell us about what was normal for the Colonies before women could vote, the South in the 1860s, Germany in the 1900s, America in the 1960s, etc….
I had a conversation a long while ago with a former student’s parent. They were upset that their child hadn’t come out to them and they’d found out some other way. It was as if this parent felt they had a right to know before anyone else. I believe that speaks much more to the parent’s character than it does about the child’s. It made me wonder what conversations that child may have overheard, what environment they had growing up, what religion they’d been exposed to, and what judgment and preconceived notions they formed about their parent based on those experiences.
A harsh truth that one must learn to accept: If you’re going to spout hatred at LGBTQIA+ communities, you can’t suddenly be upset that a family member (i.e. child or grandchild) didn’t come out to you directly and you found out some other way.
As a parent, it’s easy to think “not my child,” especially when one has all these expectations they’ve put on them since they were born. This can be as simple as sexual orientation, or as complicated (not really) as pronouns and birth names. This child in particular had a parent who assumed they were straight, when that was actually an expectation put on that child by the parent and not that child’s truth. The parent then had a hard time accepting this adjustment, and instead of seeing it as a part of that child’s growth, saw it as a hindrance, as something abnormal, as something wrong. When this child graduated high school, they went off to college and had very little communication with that parent. I do not know what became of that relationship, but I do know that child was much happier in the environment they chose, in the environment in which they were able to be themselves.
Should Always Be Your Choice
The choice to step out of the closet is never made lightly and doesn’t have to be done all at once. Some poke a toe out, test the light, and from there may decide to step out a little bit more or creep back into the safety of that small familiar space. Coming out is done in one’s own way, in one’s own time, and with those whom one chooses. Every aspect of it should always be 100% that person’s choice.
- If you do not feel comfortable coming out to family, it’s ok not to.
- If you do not feel comfortable coming out to coworkers, it’s ok not to.
- If you do not feel comfortable coming out to friends, it’s ok not to.
Most come out bit by bit. They’ll talk to very close friends at first, who may already know this about them without them having to use the words. Then, select family members, who may have already known as well. When these steps go positively, it’s easy to feel that things could continue on this upwards trajectory. It’s ok to stop at any time, it’s ok to keep going at any time, and it’s ok to question and change your mind at any time.
Here is the only conclusion that has ever made sense to me:
Those who think anyone not cisgender and heterosexual is wrong only have experience with those who are cisgender and heterosexual, or they have little to no education about the subject, or both. Regardless, this thought of what’s right is based out of fear of the unknown (then learn), fear of what’s unfamiliar (then get to know others not like you), and fear of what that may do to them (nothing). These people need to realize that a person’s gender has no effect on their lives whatsoever. Gender and sexual orientation are details about ourselves with which we are born, and a person’s gender or orientation affects another about as much as someone with blue eyes affects someone with brown eyes (or that’s about as mundane as it should be, anyway).
Back to that quote I mentioned at the top, remember that your safety and comfort need to come first. There is no requirement to come out, and there nothing anywhere that says you have to share any part of yourself that you aren’t comfortable sharing. Whether it’s family, friends, coworkers, etc., your identity and sexual orientation have nothing to do with anyone else.
Having said that, if you do decide to come out, I wish you all the joy and happiness that living your authentic self can bring you, because you deserve it and so much more. I hope you have supportive people around you, and if you don’t, find someone you can talk to. There are people in real life available either through support groups or counselors and therapists, there’s safe spaces online, or you can even reach out to me and I’ll gladly be someone you can talk to.