According to my Facebook memories I’ve never made a National Coming Out day post. Which surprises me.
I came out to my friends in 1992, and to my family in 1998. I’m queer.
It’s something I rarely have to think about anymore, and something I no longer really think about disclosing to people. Because I’m fortunate enough to live in a bubble in the world where no one assumes anything anymore. Being queer or gender non-conforming or having a non-traditional relationship style is pretty common in my friend circles, and something I often just don’t think to mention.
This is because of National Coming Out Day. The premise was right: That it’s important for folks to know the names and faces of those around them because it’s harder to hate and discriminate when you realize it’s someone you love. And for those of us for whom it has been safe enough to do so, I think it has changed hearts and minds. And I think it has created the world I live in today.
Having been part of that history, and knowing some of those who courageously went before me, and the ways the world has unfolded since, it has been full of change I couldn’t imagine. I like to ask friends questions like, “What’s the first big newsworthy event that you remember?” I like understanding their context in the world. And it’s made me think more about events that shape the world and our personal lens.
- I came out twenty four years after Troy Perry founded the Metropolitan Community Churches in 1968. (I later worked for them)
- Twenty three years after the Stonewall Riots in 1969. (I later lived in NYC and made my pilgrimage)
- Four years after the first National Coming Out Day in 1988.
- Before Ellen DeGeneres came out on TV and practically broke the broadcast world in 1997. (advertisers went berserk and there were boycotts)
- Before Matthew Shephard was murdered in 1998. (I sobbed)
- Before the Maryland sodomy law was voided in 1999. (I worked for the ACLU of Maryland at this time and they made it happen)
- Before Massachusetts legalized same sex marriage in 2004. (I had hope)
- Before the Supreme Court changed the law of the land in 2015. (I sobbed)
And of course there are so many, many more dates and names and courageous people. Those are just some that are touchstones for me.
I have friends here who came out long before me.
And perhaps someone reading this who has yet to come out, or may never choose to do so to others.
The identities you each carry matter to me, because it matters to me to know my friends and their hearts and what makes them joyful and connected. Because I want to know your pronouns so that I can know you and honor how you want to be known. So I can reflect you back to you. So that I can address your holiday cards to the right family. I’m glad when you tell me. But you never owe me, or anyone else.
I’ve reflected a lot over the last few years on how the coming out philosophy impacted me personally. And I’ve realized that it’s why I talk about disability. Because I think that knowing someone changes hearts and minds. And that knowledge is power. And I believe that every one of you who chooses to listen to the stories of people like me learns something, or relates to something, or learns a bit of compassion for someone else you know.
Because I think when you know that it affects someone you care about, you know that voting in favor of funding for home and community based services matters. That a living wage for home care workers matters. That increasing SSI to a living wage matters. That marriage shouldn’t put someone’s benefits at risk. That healthcare shouldn’t bankrupt anyone. That accessibility should be non-negotiable. That community care is essential. And this is how change comes about.
I don’t tell you every story of my illness or my struggles being a disabled human in this world. But the stories I tell you are true and representative. And I’ve heard from so many of you over the years that you hear me and that it matters.
We can build coalitions for justice and freedom and care. We can honor the bodies and hearts we each have. We can keep making the world safer for all of us. And it helps when we get to see who each other are.