Happy National Coming Out Day! I was never entirely sure what the idea of the day was – mass comings out? Does that happen?
Not that it’s stopped me from feeling warm fuzzies about this day. Indifferent hipsters haven’t (yet) tamped it out like an American Spirit on the asphalt, and, more importantly, it’s a day to celebrate and support people in vulnerable situations. I like that.
I gave an NCOD speech on the Diag when I was attending the University of Michigan, probably in 2007. (Sorry, remembering dates hasn’t always been my strong suit.)
I don’t remember exactly the message of my speech, but I do remember the context. It was Sukkot, the Jewish festival of tabernacles, and Ann Arbor Chabad House had a sukkah set up in the center of the Diag, mostly to help Jewish students observe the custom of the lulav and esrog. I knew Chabad House was going to be there, and I briefly vacillated about even giving my speech. See, I wasn’t out to my ultra-Orthodox rabbi.
Not that I personally was ever Orthodox, but Chabad House is a sort of outreach organization for Jewish youth – they’ll teach anyone who wants to learn, and I was wont, from time to time, to pray and study with them. (If you met me after I got out of my last religious phase, or you just know me through this website, you’re probably a little confused right now. Just imagine how confused I was!)
In the end, I gave the speech, starting by wishing everyone a happy Sukkot and acknowledging the Lubavitchers in the center of the Diag. I waved, they waved, and my world didn’t implode. It was a couple of years before I went back to Chabad House – for one Rosh Hashanah service in the rain – but my world didn’t implode.
The point is, I guess, you never stop coming out. You’ll hear a lot of people say that, but this is my spin on it.
I’ve come out as things I didn’t know existed when I came out as gay: genderqueer, polyamorous… Things that aren’t in the Firefox dictionary. Things that might scare you a little, not to mention the people you’re coming out to.
I half-jokingly think that, just like people my age are far less likely to have one career than our parents, we’re also less likely to have just one gender and sexual identity throughout our lives.
Like I said, it’s only half a joke. But I don’t think it’s a sign that we’re flaky, or ‘special snowflakes’ or some mumble-grumble about the intertubes and how fast they move. I think it’s a credit to us and the people who have gone before us that coming out isn’t a destination, but a journey. (Ugh, sorry, but it’s true.)
Do we go through phases? Hell, maybe we do. Which is not to say that lots and lots of people don’t have stable, underlying sexual or gender identities – but those of us who don’t are starting to take our place, to say that phases might not be such a bad thing. Why would I want to cling to something I’m not anymore – and why should I pretend the thing or things I am now will be the thing or things I’ll be in the future?
I’m so happy to see the strides the queer zeitgeist has made just in the 15 years I’ve been a part of it. People are going to keep coming out as things we’ve never heard of, because everyone’s coming out builds on the coming out of people who came out before. Any one instance of coming out reenforces us as a queer whole, giving us new strength and vigor. And while I hope that the generations to come won’t pretend their new names don’t make ours outmoded or old-fashioned, I hope, too, that we give them the support and space they need to become authentically themselves – whatever that might be at any given moment.
I see a day coming when we introduce ourselves a lot more often – when we say things like “what are your identities and pronouns today?” When we, at least amongst ourselves, stop boxing people (including ourselves) in to whatever the first thing we came out as was. When we stop expecting others to present a recognizable, socially acceptable face to the world, even while acknowledging that what’s recognizable to society is informed both by prevailing norms and the ways we react to them. When established queers and new generation gender warriors stop staring each other down across an artificial divide and see that each once was or will be what the other was or will be – and that there will be no one aha moment, but an ongoing series of losses and gains, of sorrows and triumphs.
And did I mention coming out feels fucking great? Not for everyone, not every time – and only you know if it’s the time and place for you. And even after you do it that first time, you’re going to have to keep doing it, over and over again. But it gets easier. And you heal the world a little every time you do.
Big Mama Schlomo