I never really understood National Coming Out Day.
I first heard about it my freshman year of college, when a small gathering drew purple closet doors and pink triangles in chalk on the library plaza, then told their coming out experiences through bullhorns. I understood their sharing their stories to be encouragement that I, too, could have my own, but I still felt like something wasn't working.
Weren't they expecting someone in the crowd to come up and come out? Wasn't that the big finale? Think about the sun, Pippin?
But Pippin never got into that fire box at the end of the show. And no one new got up on that stage.
So I guessed it didn't work.
A few weeks ago, many miles and years away from that plaza and my own coming out sophomore year, I guessed again. In another plaza of sorts, this one a few blocks from the West Village home I share with my boyfriend and our son, I ran into a friend from graduate school. We hadn't talked in a while, and it felt great to reconnect.
After a few minutes of catching up, he said, "I have some news!" It couldn't be a new job; we'd already talked about work. Engaged, maybe?
"You're the first person from business school I've told," he said. "I came out."
Wow! Didn't see that coming.
I felt so much joy and pride and excitement for him, for all he was feeling and finding and knowing now, for all that was ahead for him. It had been a long time since I knew someone newly out. I forgot how good it felt to share that.
But then, how had I missed this? How could I not have had a sense? I could have been helpful. I could have talked him through.
As soon as I thought that, I knew it was true. I had missed it. A few months before, he had emailed about getting together. I never got back to him to make a plan. It was a busy time, or things were going on, or blah, blah, blah. It doesn't matter now. I so wish I had jumped up and said, "Yes! Now! I'll meet you wherever you want! I'm here for you!"
He was reaching out to me back then. I knew it right there on the street. And I could have talked him through.
In the days that followed, we talked through his experiences, his family, his old friends and, of course, boys. And I told him how I sorry I was that I didn't hear his call. He shouldn't have needed a bullhorn.
Coming Out Day is not so much about the people yet to come out. It's about the rest of us, gay or straight. It's about being the people they know they can come out to. It's about being the people they know will stand with them on their plaza, wherever and whenever they may build it. And it's about being there when they do.
Today, on this National Coming Out Day, that's whom we're reminded to be, whom I will strive to be. May we all.
And may my fix-up for my brave friend be a match!