When you come out as LGBTQ, you risk everything. You risk losing your friends, your family, your job, and life as you know it. No matter how ready you think you are, there is always that thought of, Is it even worth it?
First, I came out to my family.
I vividly remember coming out at age 27. My parents stopped by to help me pack because I was moving, which, unbeknownst to them, was influenced by the announcement I was about to make. We were standing in my kitchen, and I planned on ordering dinner. For dessert, I was going to break the news. Little did I know coming out was something I would have to do for the rest of my life.
An hour into our visit, my dad received a call from a client and had to leave, throwing a wrench in my plan. “Before you go, I need to tell you something,” I said in a panic, my body temperature spiking. “I’m gay,” I blurted. “Or maybe bisexual. I don’t know, but I’m definitely not straight.”
The silence that followed was brief, but it certainly didn’t feel that way. Despite an earlier obsession with the Spice Girls and an enthusiastic preference for the Pink Power Ranger, my parents were shocked.
In a world that views you as straight until you prove otherwise, coming out is like saying, “I’m not like you and here’s why.” Why the hell would I do that over and over again?
My dad wore a strange smirk as if to communicate that he was accepting of this news while masking the devastation from the bomb I just dropped. “I love you no matter what,” he said. After some chatter that I can’t remember due to the shock, he gave me a big hug and left for work.
As soon as the door closed behind him, my mom burst into tears. She felt bad for my dad, a brawny hockey coach who she worried would feel his masculinity was challenged by having a sexually fluid son. Still, she immediately expressed that I was loved. All in all, my coming-out experience was objectively wonderful, and I’m incredibly lucky and grateful. Yet when they left, I burst into tears and continued to weep for days.
Then I came out to the whole world. Repeatedly.
Roughly one month later, I came out to extended family and friends, all of whom were supportive. Admittedly, it gradually becomes easier to come out as more people know, especially when the news is received as warmly as mine was. But once these people were clued in, I didn’t know the proper etiquette for officially revealing my sexuality. I considered posting on social media, but that felt too disconnected or like I was seeking attention.
What I did instead was arguably worse. Within a minute of conversation with someone — anyone — I’d say something like, “You’ve probably heard the news,” or I’d just blurt out, “I’M QUEER!” I wanted to put everything on the table to spare anyone from having to address the big gay elephant in the room. At this point, I was doing it for them, not me.
After nearly three years, I can report that coming out is still…exhausting. Sometimes I’m not even sure the person I’m telling wants to know about my sexuality, but it almost feels dishonest not to fill them in. I suspect this is because, before I came out, I was always worried somebody would question if I was gay. Now, although I’m out and proud, I perhaps overshare to avoid that lingering concern.
Unless someone shares with me that they’re straight, I won’t tell them that I’m not, just as I wouldn’t inexplicably say that I’m having a nice day if somebody didn’t ask.
Of course, every LGBTQ individual is free to choose how and to whom they come out. But, speaking for myself, I don’t want to do it anymore. My reluctance to announce my sexuality to each and every person I come in contact with doesn’t stem from shame. Rather, it’s a matter of acknowledging my right to privacy. Everybody I care about knows, and that’s everybody who needs to know. Revealing my sexuality to chatty Uber drivers, friends of friends, and flirtatious bar patrons is way more exhausting than rewarding, so I don’t say anything. After all, in a world that views you as straight until you prove otherwise, coming out is like saying, “I’m not like you and here’s why.” Why the hell would I do that over and over again?
These days, I’m a bit choosier about who I tell.
Still, I struggle with whether I know certain people well enough to owe them my personal information. For example, I recently got a haircut and my barber, a straight man who regularly talks to me about women to make conversation, asked what I was going to do on an upcoming trip. I wasn’t sure how he was going to feel about me telling him I was going to New York to visit my boyfriend — I didn’t know what to do.
Obviously, I get that I didn’t have to tell him, but since he’s been my barber for over a year, I felt like not saying anything would be misleading. So I casually tossed out that I’d be visiting my boyfriend and gauged his reaction. He didn’t flinch — good thing, because I might have lost an ear. Living in a heteronormative world, there’s no rulebook, so we have to figure these things out on our own.
These days, after coming out hundreds of times, I’m trying to keep it simple. Unless someone shares with me that they’re straight, I won’t tell them that I’m not, just as I wouldn’t inexplicably say that I’m having a nice day if somebody didn’t ask.
When you come out, you learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible, and one of those lessons is that coming out is a never-ending process. Whether you’re at a new job or are being introduced to a new circle of friends, you open the closet door only to find another closet door behind it. While I understand that coming out means being visible, and visibility contributes to equality, I’m out to everyone who matters to me. For anybody else, who I lay with at night is nobody’s business but my own.