In April the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition released the first edition of Shout It Out: Coming Out Black and Brown, an anthology that places the narratives of individuals of color front and center. Trying to encapsulate experiences of "coming out" is like trying to categorize shapes of snowflakes: simply impossible. Coming-out experiences are unique and personal to each individual; nevertheless, one can see a compelling thread that unites the stories within this anthology.
To come out is to be made visible, to be made manifest to an audience not always willing to listen, to accept the vulnerability of exposing the multidimensionality of our being. But to come out, one must first come inward -- that is to say one must come to terms with a deeply personal and turbulent past that embodies hidden pains, scars, and bruises.
By narrating the stories of the bruises and scars of our internalized homophobia, we are not only demanding recognition from the "other" but demanding acceptance from ourselves. The stories contained in Shout It Out are not just stories of coming out, of asking that our entire being be cherished, respected, and loved, but stories of reconstituting our broken selves.
These stories offer an explanation of our egos, why we are who we are and why we find ourselves where we have landed. They are stories that trace "personal evolutions," or, as philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre would have it, stories of encountering oneself and surging up in the world, not to define the self but to accept it and have it be recognized. They are stories, poems, and narratives of lesbian, transgender, gay, bisexual, and queer individuals who challenge us to look inward, so that maybe we can see a bit of ourselves in the "other."
Through the narratives in Shout It Out, we are also forced to realize just how impossible it is to divorce sexual identity from context. By reading the anthology, one is drawn to the lives of people who seek recognition not only of their sexuality but of their culture, religion, race, and family. One author explains how he "turned to [his] religion in hopes of shedding [himself]." Another tells how "no other Black females had these feelings [of homosexuality]" while another narrates how her "6'1" Black mother" blames her daughter's lesbianism on "always hanging out with White people." We see parents blaming communists for their children's sexual orientation; a grandmother taking interest in learning "who is the man and who is the woman"; sisters asking, "Are you okay?"; and friends who extend compassion and grace. In this way we realize how our context can enrich, complicate, confuse, and sometimes even trump our sexuality.
Finally, the narratives in Shout It Out also serve like a spiritual exercise -- as Simone Weil would indicate -- as a way to (re)connect to the divine, to something bigger than the homo-/bi-/trans-phobia we have experienced, and to come to understand that just as religion and God can alienate, they, too, can help us integrate.
What weaves Shout It Out together are themes of self-acceptance, redress, healing, rejection and recognition, redemption and resentfulness and coping and falling apart. The narratives form part of a process that opens and exposes old wounds so that they can heal correctly -- so that they can be accepted and cherished as a unique part of who we are. By shouting our identities out, we are in a way shouting them inward, hoping that the telling and retelling of ourselves produce a loud-enough echo so that no one, not even we, will forget.
For more information on Shout It Out, visit the HBGC website.