Coming out today, any day, makes a difference

Since the launch of Desert Outlook magazine in April, I’ve interviewed and met a lot of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Often when the discussion turns to advancing civil rights, whoever I’m speaking with stresses how important “coming out” is to the movement.

The argument is made that the more society sees that LGBTs are its co-workers, teachers, doctors, police officers – a part of everyday life – the easier it becomes for the intolerant and prejudiced to identify with and have compassion for those of us working for marriage equality and other civil rights many Americans already have.

Another benefit of coming out is that it sends the very same message to LGBTQ youth (the Q identifies those questioning their sexual identity). These youth frequently hear the opposite – that somehow who they are and who they love devalues them – and the result of turning that external hate inward can be tragic.

So today, which is National Coming Out Day, take a moment to appreciate the courage it took for LGBT friends and family members to come out and live their truth. If you’re an LGBT adult who’s out, share your story with someone who doesn’t know it. And if you’re in the closet (I wouldn’t presume to tell anyone to come out as it’s such a personal decision), just know that others have done it and are enjoying the lives they were meant to live.

Here’s my story:

I was 27 when I came out to my family – a late bloomer by some standards. I was having a conversation with my mother who had met her doctor’s son. He was gay. I could tell by the way she spoke about him that she didn’t approve of this fact. Yes, I knew it all along, which is one of the reasons I hadn’t come out until then.

But that day, compelled by I-don’t-know-what, I had to tell her that the references she was making about her doctor’s son were the same things people had said about me most of my life. That opened the flood gates. I told everyone in my immediate and some extended family that day.

The reactions were mixed. My dad – such a cool, easygoing guy with a beautiful spirit – said it didn’t matter and he loved me. A couple of my aunts said they always knew and were waiting for me to “come out.”

But my mother, whom I still and will always adore, said she didn’t know. I thought mothers always knew. She cried for two days, grieving for the life she imagined I would have and uncertain what my life would actually be like. I wasn’t angry with my mother. In fact, I expected her to be angry with me instead of so sad. This is the funniest person I know, one of a few people who can make me ROFL, and she felt such deep loss.

But I didn’t feel any guilt or sadness. I was so unburdened by what I had revealed that I could deal with anything and I just wanted her to stop crying. She did, of course, and has come to accept and love me for who I am. It took a long time. I actually had to come out to her and my brother a second time – I’ll tell you that story another time – but we’re more of a family now.

I still occasionally have the challenges and frustrations of life, but nothing seems as insurmountable as it did when I was denying who I am and the skills and strength I have to deal with them.

That’s the abbreviated version of my coming out story. What’s yours?