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Coming Out as Radical Action

There is something ironic about the very notion of National Coming Out Day, October 11th. On the one hand, it makes sense. The day becomes a platform for action. If everyone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender came out, the rest of the world would see and understand that being gay isn’t a threat or a problem. For the activist, it makes perfect sense- when you have a known time or day upon which to organize an event, and give people something positive to do, that event or action can be successful, right?
National Coming Out Day marks the anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights, which was my first really big gay rights event. It impacted me and molded my thinking in very big ways about what it means for people to give voice to their desire for Equality. Over the course of that weekend event, no aspect of “Gay Rights” was ignored. There was a “wedding”, and the AIDS Quilt, and a protest before the IRS. For many, the March itself and rally was the main event, but for me, it was the little things surrounding the whole weekend that made it special. I spent most of Friday that weekend as a volunteer in the Press Center, handing out Press Credentials, and helping to coordinate volunteers who were picking up folks at the airports. I never realized how many gay and lesbian papers, newsletters and other media existed, and I’d say part of why I blog today, is connected to that very experience. But the single most formative experience for me was riding the subway after the rally, on subway cars so full of women sand men of every description. Being there, in the midst of this one enormous community was electrifying.
On the other hand, National Coming Out Day, makes no sense at all. Coming Out, isn’t a single event that happens with light-switch timing. You don’t do it by appointment, like getting your hair cut, or a manicure. Coming Out is this ongoing process about becoming comfortable within your own skin. It is on some level about telling others that you are gay, but far before that can happen, as well as long after, coming out is a process of telling yourself this fundamental fact about yourself. Why would you limit this journey or process to one arbitrary day. Simply to do it with others?
That coming out is an ongoing process is something that confronted me in a huge way this past Summer. I was at a community meeting and wanted to speak up about a recent gay bashing in my neighborhood. There was only one person there I knew, and while I would have described myself as completely out, I found myself questioning if I felt safe enough to out myself to this group. I was startled at myself actually, and I had a whole new appreciation for this notion of coming out as a process. Each and everyday, we all make choices about how and where, and to what extent will we self-disclose. Most of these decision moments probably pass without notice. We might not even recognize that we are making a choice in those split seconds, but we are nonetheless. For many of these moments, we can justify our choices as being about protecting our safety. Like my moment in the community meeting. To claim that one is protecting oneself makes it seem like there is no decision at all, because of course, there is only one appropriate option- personal safety. But part of coming out is recognizing even those moments as real choices we make about self-disclosure.
I work out with a female personal trainer whose father is a gay man. I came out to her by talking about my partner and the house we had recently bought together, and she came out to me about her father immediately afterwards. Of all the people at the gym, she is one of the safest to be out to (although, in my experience, our gym is an extremely safe place to be out), but she has gay clients who are not out to her, like one of my friends. He and his partner both work out there, but to her, the one simply refers to the other as “his friend.” Self-disclosure, or coming out isn’t simply a meter for how safe it is. If that were the case, two similar people could not have such different experiences of safety. It isn’t always measure of the current situation’s safety level, but rather it is a picture of the degree to which we each are willing to go to be authentic, or conversely, willing to go to protect our closet. In this way, coming out is radical action or activism. It is a willingness to make our whole selves present and visible to others at every choice we make. No one gets to decide for us what level of self-disclosure is right for us. It is a personal decision; a personal choice; a radical act on the personal level.
I had a friend once quip that National Coming Out Day could be ignored because she had come out everyone important to her, but this macro view of coming out misses all of the small and constant interactions we have with other people. So, when I meet my partner in the  grocery store, and I say hello and kiss him on the lips, that is an act of coming out. When someone visits my office at work and notices the picture of me and my partner on my desk- that is an act of coming out. Coming out is a matter of being my full and authentic self at all times in all places.
On this National Coming Out Day, I challenge you to consider your own coming out process. Where are the places and the people in your life where you are less out? Where are the moments you choose not to self-disclose, especially the little moments?