“Close your eyes, I’m turning on the light.”
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The transition from complete darkness to artificial light is jarring. Our pupils aren’t ready for the leap and, when unprompted, the change is painful. Imagine, then, coming out of the closet with this same unease. You know things will be different because both yourself and others can see you clearly now. Now imagine doing it every day.
The “coming out story” is a misrepresentation of what it’s like to identify yourself. If coming out is a story then it extends through many complex chapters and intertwining pages of happiness and sadness, fear and bravery. There is no single story, as the community well knows, but it could more accurately be painted as a book.
Here are the chapters of the coming out novel:
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Holding Hands in Public
Even if you never officially meet any of these strangers on the street, your hand holding is symbolic. The first time I came out to the world actually preceded my coming out to my parents. I was visiting New York City with my secret girlfriend and even holding hands in public felt like an adventure. I had mixed feelings of fear and excitement as I squeezed her hand yet averted every passerby’s gaze. Sometimes people approach you because of it, and other times people steer clear.
My girlfriend and I recently got a puppy. While walking her through a nice LA neighborhood two young girls came running at us from their front yard to pet her. They asked the typical questions, What’s her name? How old is she? What kind is she? Our responses joined us as a we. “We don’t actually know what breed she is because she’s a rescue.” One of the two little girls asked, “Are you roommates or housemates or something?” We just smiled and after a pause said, “Yeah.” Picking the moments where you feel comfortable enough coming out can be tricky. You want to be brave but you also want to feel at ease.
Getting Hit On
Ugh. As if getting unwanted attention wasn’t enough, throw your closeted secret into the mix and you get a complicated explanation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten the question, Do you have a boyfriend? What I would love to say is “No, I have a girlfriend.” But in the moment it never seems that simple. It’s not completely necessary to tell this new suitor that you don’t swing that way, but for some reason you feel the need to be upfront. In a ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ sort of way. But even that can come with backlash. Once when I was at a pool party in Vegas a certain guy seemed particularly into me. We chatted for a while until someone else I was with told him I had a girlfriend. He asked me why I was even there.
Making new friends means coming out to them eventually…but making that leap can feel inorganic at times. You might find yourself bringing up forced topics just so that you can blurt an oddly placed, “My girlfriend loves that movie.” On the flip side, you may feel hesitant to ruin a friendship that you’re really beginning to enjoy. Even though you shouldn’t want to be friends with someone who doesn’t accept you does not mean that it’s easy to leave that friendship. In each case it’ll probably be fine, but you still have that moment of suspense. That deliberate decision to confide and hope with crossed fingers that they accept you.
The coming out story is a book for many reasons, but one major factor is that it contains a variety of characters. The story isn’t just between you and your parents or your friends. It includes strangers you’ll never see again and interactions you wish you hadn’t had. The plot points can both warm your heart and leave you in tears whether you’re the narrator or the audience.
Check out THIS piece on the ambiguous label of the “girlfriend” and why it’s still better than all the other labels.
Featured Image by J. Longo