Saturday, October 11, 2008

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

Today (October 11) is the annual observance of National Coming Out Day. It commemorates the date of the second march on Washington for lesbian and gay rights in 1987. (The first such march was held on October 14, 1979. Is there some kind of connection between gay rights and Columbus Day weekend?)

The larger purpose of National Coming Out Day is to encourage gay men and lesbians, as well as bisexuals and others of the LGBTQ alphabet-soup spectrum, to be honest with themselves and others about their sexual orientation. The holiday (such as it is) has spread to other countries, such as the Netherlands, where it gets two days (October 10 and 11!) and Britain, where it is celebrated on October 12. (This will be a busy weekend for jet-setters.) The Human Rights Campaign has a page on its web site with information about NCOD events around the United States, along with some videos of personal testimonials about the importance of coming out.

My friend, Paul Varnell, who writes for the Chicago Free Press and whose articles also appear on the Independent Gay Forum, usually devotes one of his columns each year to the subject of coming out, in general, and National Coming Out Day, in particular. (I pointed readers toward one of Paul's articles on this subject three years ago.)

This year, in a Chicago Free Press column headlined "Coming out more," Paul writes about the way National Coming Out Day is commemorated:

Some major urban gay community centers and gay groups on college campuses organize an event where lots of people announce that they are gay or lesbian. There seems to be something empowering (or protective) about coming out in the midst of a group or at a formal event.

Actually, I suspect that many of the people participating in those events are to some extent “out of the closet” already, but perhaps NCOD events encourage people to be a little more open in their lives as well as publicize the existence of a considerable number of gays—a fact of which most people remain oblivious. It probably has a similar educative effect on the closeted gays and lesbians who might be standing around on the periphery watching what is going on. Reaching our closeted fellow gays is as important as reaching heterosexuals.

If we are to make substantial political progress, we need to make ourselves ever more visible. People have to get to know us to find out that we don’t fit whatever stereotypes they hold about gays and that in many cases we are people they already know. And they need to be alerted to a greater awareness that in many cases we have partners we cannot legally marry, that the hard-pressed U.S. military rejects our skills and that AIDS research at the National Institutes of Health seems to have stalled.
Not every justification for coming out is political, however. Varnell continues:
And coming out is an act of community benevolence. Each person who comes out makes it slightly easier for the next man or woman by acquainting more people with gays. Remember that we all found it easier to come out because people had come out before us and made the path that much smoother....

Most people picking up a gay newspaper and reading this are probably already out to some people. The goal is to come out to more people—in your family, among your co-workers, your friends and your fellow church members.
He adds a few words of advice for those who choose to come out, on October 11 or any other day:
Avoid a big announcement. Treat any disclosure as casually as possible, as if the other person already knew you were gay and you are just mentioning it explicitly in some context or other. People will take a cue for their own attitude from your attitude.

Try to come out in connection with something positive about yourself, some accomplishment in connection with being gay, so you are inviting the other person to share your happiness.

Immunize yourself against moralistic disapproval. Fight back against it or laugh at it. If someone says they disapprove of homosexuality, simply tell them not to engage in it.
I would add that those of us who came out a long time ago should be more compassionate and understanding of those who have not yet made that step forward in their lives. We should remember what a difficult decision it was to be honest and to shed the shells in which we lived. Opening the closet door is even harder in real life than it is in a South Park episode. Just ask Larry Craig and Mark Foley.


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Angela Keaton said...

Sorry Rick. I have no compassion for moderate Libertarian Party members who stay in the closet. Particularly when homophobes in the party forced the author of DOMA upon us.

Funny how paleos even are more comfortable about being queer than some of the biggest moderate LP who pride themselves on being sophisticated.

Angela Keaton
Libertarian National Committee
Out and Proud Bisexual for 15 years