[Updated to reflect changes in my life since this was first published.]
Today is Coming Out Day, which is short for Coming Out of the Closet day. I have quite mixed feelings and thoughts about it as a day. As someone who tends not to see things in black and white, or even shades of grey, but in the full spectrum of the rainbow, my mind considers many factors. This post reflects my own thoughts and musings regarding the day. You will find that each person who identifies as LGBTQ* has their own feelings and opinions on it. I do not speak for them, even if we share some of the same opinions.
On its most basic level I see Coming Out Day as having some really positive impacts. It encourages those who are almost out, but not quite, or hesitant about coming out to take that last, and often most difficult step. Ideally there should be support from those who have already come out and support from the persons friends to whom they are already out. These can be very good things.
On another level, what about those who are not even ready to be ‘out’ to themselves? I was in the closet to myself for a long time about my need to transition. To use a joke about being deep in the closet, I could see the lamp shade and the bench. If I had known about Coming Out Day at the time would it have helped me? I don’t know. I can, however see how it may be what some people need to take that first step of accepting in themselves who they are.
For those for who are not Out Coming Out Day may be more of a stress than a help. It is possible that they may feel like they are being pressured to come out. There are a multitude of reasons why someone may not be Out. It may not be safe for them to come out. They may not be ready to come out to themselves, let alone others. They may have reasons we know nothing about for still being in the closet. By definition we usually don’t know who these people are. They may be our friends, family or neighbours. If someone does come out to you but are still in the closet to everyone else they need your support! They are trusting you with something intensely personal. Do not betray their trust by telling anyone else without their express permission. Do not judge them for their choice to remain in the closet. It is their decision and is based on factors that you may or may not know about.
For some of us who are Out we end up coming out again, and again. As Rick Mercer said on The Current in 2012, “I don’t know how many times a guy can come out of the closet in this country.” (see: http://www.cbc.ca/live/rick-mercer-comes-out-again-to-help-makeitbetternow.html) As a trans person who passes as cis reasonably well I’m in a position where I have the option to be out or not, a privilege that many of my trans siblings do not have. It also means that there are situations where I must come out again. So, here it is, my coming out for Coming Out Day:
I am a woman who is trans, has transitioned and identifies as queer and lesbian. Oh, I also come out as a person who has studied Christian theology, moved to Judaism, and bridges faith and LGBTQ* communities…
There are also times where my being trans is not relevant to the situation or context. There are times I just want to quietly be the woman I am and not have to be Out, yet others out me. I’m still working out the guidelines on this one as I see it important to be Out and visible in many of the circles in which I travel. This is an ongoing tension and I don’t have a definitive solution for it at this point, and may never have one.
I’ve also seen a number of posts of or about “allies” coming out as such. I have some significant issues with this and the whole concept of “allies” which I will elaborate on in another post. In a nutshell there are many people who call themselves allies and pound their chest and say, “look how great I am, I’m a decent person towards LGBTQ people! I want a cookie and a pat on the head!” This isn’t a day to be shouting your allyship from the rooftops and “coming out” as an ally. If you’re a decent person your actions will show it. The people in my life who have been supportive and what many would call allies, I have a different term for them. They are my friends and even part of my chosen family, not “allies”, and I am fortunate to have them in my life.
So when I think about Coming Out [of the Closet] Day I don’t have a single viewpoint. I see the multiple facets of it and the challenges it presents to those who are trans, cis, straight, gay, lesbian, queer, genderqueer, and anyone who thinks about these things.
We each need to find what works for ourselves with regards to coming out. We all have different life stories and situations. We need to respect these differences in our LGBTQ* siblings and support them in the decisions that they make.