Some people talk about ending Coming Out Day, about how things have improved so much for the queer community that it’s not needed anymore. I agree that things have improved in some ways over the years. I agree that I want to live in a world where nobody’s sexual orientation and gender identity are assumed. I disagree that we should stop coming out. We do live in a world where people’s sexual orientation and gender identity are assumed. We live in a world where people discriminate based upon those, including bullies, rapists, murderers, faith leaders, business owners, and policymakers.
More than that, coming out is about so much more than being “abnormal.” It’s about saying this is who I am. I am here. For me, it was surrender; I decided to stop fighting who I was and begin exploring who I am, and I refused to be ashamed of it. It was saying this is what it is, and I can’t change it. I came out to friends by 17, my immediate family by 19, and have continued to be more and more out ever since. I’m in my mid-thirties now, so I’ve been out for almost half my life. That’s such a long time, it’s almost hard to remember not being out. I do remember the anxiety, dread, and fear I felt every time I came out in high school and college. When I explain to my Lyft driver that, in fact, I don’t have a Mrs., it can be a little nerve-racking.
There’s this big narrative out there that being different is bad. Some people counter this by saying things like “just because we’re different in some ways doesn’t mean we aren’t the same.” Except that people are obviously different. And that’s beautiful. Yes, in a society that worships averages & standardization (or takes an ideal and calls it normal, regardless of what data says is normal), variation seems scary. But … variability IS what’s normal. My first encounter with the field of sexology was sneakily reading a book written before the APA declared that homosexuality wasn’t a mental illness. What it had to say was not accurate or positive, and yes, reading that when I was young took some work to undo. When I think of the impact that science can have, both positive and negative, I remember this as an example.
So now, as much as ever, visibility is essential. Coming Out Day is one of the most critical ways we maintain visibility among the LGBTQ community. I’m lucky to have spent time in my career doing research specifically on sexual health among the LGBTQ community. Though my career has shifted, I remain open and transparent about who I am. When I think about the people who’ve stuck their necks out so I can have rights, I feel motivated to do the same. And especially for those whose situations prevent them from being as openly and vocally queer as they might want to be, I want the status to change.