“I’ll be marching in that number”

Today is National Coming Out Day, and it will come as no surprise to learn that I love this day. I like that this day isn’t mournful (though this year it certainly has that tone) but instead celebrates the notion of coming out.

I tend to be in favor of coming out, but in the news lately, I am confronted by evidence of my naïveté. Visibility is tricky because on the one hand, the more people who come out, the easier it gets for everyone coming out, but on the other hand, coming out is sometimes hard and painful and sad. Some comers-out end up feeling just as miserable, but in new ways.

Plus, the pressure to represent an entire category of society is a lot to expect an individual to shoulder. Coming out turns the whole conversation about this person’s identity and existence into a narrative of sexuality. It (hopefully) temporarily reduces this person to his or her (or whatever pronoun fits) sexuality. Some people are willing and even enthusiastic about being poster children for LGBTQ issues, but we can’t expect that every single out queer person wants to be an activist.

This day draws attention to LGBTQ issues while framing the awareness in the context of “coming out,” because common sense suggests and academic research supports that the more openly gay people there are in the world, the less scary queer identities will seem and the less acceptable discrimination will be. It isn’t fair that the world works like this, but it’s true.

People are disenfranchised for a lot of reasons and in a lot of different ways, but in some really key areas of society, it is socially acceptable and even legal to discriminate based on sexuality. The institutionalized homophobia is rampant and disturbing. It embarrasses me that same-sex marriage isn’t recognized by the federal government. It isn’t just morally and ethically corrupt to require that gays serving in the military lie about who they are, but it’s also logically weak and counterproductive. The military is hardly in a position where it can be making it harder for current soldiers to serve effectively and less attractive to recruits.

At 5:56 this morning I received a text message from one of my favorite people—gay or otherwise—in the world, and even though I was asleep and it woke me, I wasn’t irked, not even a little bit, because it reminded me that it is National Coming Out Day. It was a mass text that read:

For National Coming Out Day I am thanking those who helped me in my process. I couldn’t think of a person that has offered more support than you. It means a lot.

The sender is very special to me for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with his sexual orientation, but it’s no secret that I am drawn to queer people. In the past few weeks, I’ve been more conscious of my responsibility as an ally than ever before. A student from my alma mater committed suicide twelve days ago. High school is no picnic for anyone but I felt safe at that high school. I felt respected there. This boy did not. I can’t help but feel somewhat complicit in his tragedy because I exist in this community that let him down.

I’m not going to give voice to haters. This day is not for them or about them, but we all know who they are and what they stand for. I know that homosexuality is not a choice because, for one thing, if it were, I damn well would have chosen it. (Am I right, ladies?) Even if it were a choice, there is nothing wrong with love among consenting participants regardless of gender. Choice enters the picture when queer people must decide whether to live their lives in shame and at the mercy of other people’s ignorant and hateful opinions or to live openly while freely and whole-heartedly claiming their happiness.

Whoa, this just took a turn toward self help. I did not see that coming. Basically, what I need to express today is that I still have an unending supply of respect and love for the LGBTQ community. It feels like it’s time for “Let It Ring,” doesn’t it?

Let It Ring

Happy Coming Out Day, y’all.