National Coming Out Day, founded in 1988, is observed annually on Oct. 11 to celebrate coming out with regard to sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and to raise awareness of the LGBT community.
2012 has been a pivotal year, particularly the summer months, and has shown that times most definitely change, and for the better. When Ellen DeGeneres came out publicly in 1997, the news was met with shock, even outrage. She was brave. She stood her ground. She was true to herself. She has done (and continues to do) wonderful work for the LGBT community and is a most respected advocate of equality. Fifteen years later, when Anderson Cooper came out publicly, the news was far from shocking, perhaps even far from a surprise, but what is important is that his open acknowledgement was met with applause, good wishes, and congratulatory messages. The following month saw Ellen and Portia mark their fourth wedding anniversary, receiving many well wishes from all around the world -- a far cry from the daunting reception Ellen faced 15 years earlier. This is progress exemplified. Times are changing, and for the better.
In July of this year, with less than a month to the commencement of the London Olympic Games, Megan Rapinoe, now an Olympic gold medallist, said publicly for the first time that she is gay. For Rapinoe "[i]t's about standing up and being counted and saying you're proud of who you are." And referring to public reaction, she said, "It's been good. It's all been extremely positive, which makes me really happy."
It was about 10 years ago that I had my own coming-out day. It was something I simply had to do. My time had come. My time for concealing it was over. I wasn't being me. I was denying me. It felt so big. It felt life-changing. It was life-changing, and for very good reasons. My own announcement didn't come as much of a surprise to those around me. I worried very much over things that never came about. In fact, very little changed other than my feeling much more comfortable in my own skin. Prior to that, I had been standing in the way of my own happiness. From that time forward, I gained a sense of personal freedom that I could never lose. What I once perceived as a weight was lifted off me, and like a balloon, I couldn't get it back even if I wanted to. There is total freedom in authenticity -- being authentic, being you. It feels right. It felt like I had laid a solid foundation for the next chapter of my life. It was something I could then build upon and grow from. However daunting coming out may have seemed at the time, I now connect those memories with a sense of pride, authenticity, freedom, and personal happiness. Whatever bad feelings I had attached to coming out were left behind. The chains were broken. I was set free.
When Anderson Cooper came out, he wrote:
It's become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something -- something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true. I've also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible.
Coming out is important. Visibility is important. Being out and being visible represents an opportunity to educate people on the reality and normality of LGBT lives and the normality of being in a relationship with a person of the same gender. Change comes about through this education. The effect of visibility illustrates the futility of any opposition, fear, prejudice, or intolerance. Nelson Mandela said, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." And we need change. Equality is not yet a reality.
The notable achievements of people like Anderson Cooper, Megan Rapinoe, and particularly Ellen DeGeneres should dismantle any notion that being gay and being out is of any disadvantage or detriment to succeeding in any part of life, including work and love. The only "disadvantage" to being open about my sexual orientation that I've encountered is that it sometimes requires me or even compels me to assert myself more, defend myself more, and believe in myself more, possibly more than some of my peers had to. But I have to wonder: Can I call these experiences disadvantages at all? These are experiences that helped build my character. I was caused to find inner strength. These were experiences that made me stronger, not in spite of being gay but because of it. I did struggle, I did feel challenged, but who lives a life entirely free of struggle or challenge?
The singer P!nk recently made a very reasonable and optimistic statement, saying:
I think that the best day will be when we no longer talk about being gay or straight -- it's not a "gay wedding" it's just a "wedding", it's not a "gay marriage" it's just "a marriage".
It's not a "black man" or "white woman", it's just "a man" and "a woman" or "a human" and "a human". I'd just like to get to that."
Can we get to that? I believe that we can. I don't see it as a fantasy. It is a goal, an expectation. It is progress exemplified. It is progress achieved. Times are advancing. If one so wanted, one could marry his or her love today in six U.S. states and 11 countries around the world. Progress is being made in that we can now speak in terms of options and possibility. It is important that every person, LGBT or not, views his or her life in terms of choices and decisions, not limits or restrictions.
On our road to equality, perhaps we'll meet a day when "coming out" becomes a thing of the past. There will be no perception of difference, no fear, no worry, and no anxiety. No declarations, no announcements, no revelations need be made. Nothing is questioned or second-guessed. A perfect world, some might say? If we didn't believe it to be a real possibility, then we wouldn't be fighting for it.
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