I was inspired to write my first Huffington Post piece ("Addiction & Mental Illness: My Quarter-Life Crisis") by Anderson Cooper's coming out. When I read "the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible" in his letter to The Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan, I thought, "Yes, what I can do to help?" So I wrote that post, and here we are.
It makes me sad and frustrated that anyone needs to "come out" at all. I had this conversation with my sister when I came out to her, and we agreed that I shouldn't have to come out to anyone unless I want to. However, I realize now that being "out" to family, friends, colleagues, professors, the Internet, etc. helps them get to know me and helps me be more comfortable with the way I am. And being honest about my recovery from addiction and mental illness opens up a constructive dialogue, one that I don't think we have often enough. I often ask myself why we have to "come out," and I think the answer is that society needs to place labels on people. These labels, like "gay," "queer" and "fag" (I hate that last one), help people to be less uncomfortable with us; they can file us away in their "to hate on" folder and hopefully get on with their lives. Then again, I may have already answered my own question: We "come out" so that other people can know us better and so that we can better know ourselves.
After "Addiction & Mental Illness: My Quarter-Life Crisis" went up, I received comments, Tweets, and emails expressing feelings of kinship. I already knew, and this has been reaffirmed, that there are many people out there who have been through similar experiences. Although I wouldn't flatter myself so much as to say that I hope to be a voice for gay people, addicts, or the mentally ill, I will say that I hope people who share these characteristics will speak up and let others know that they are not alone, that they are not afraid, and that they are ready to let their voices be heard.
In closing, I will refer back to Anderson Cooper's coming-out letter. In it he writes:
I have always been very open and honest about this part of my life with my friends, my family, and my colleagues. In a perfect world, I don't think it's anyone else's business, but I do think there is value in standing up and being counted. I'm not an activist, but I am a human being and I don't give that up by being a journalist.
It is this value he speaks about that I would like to emphasize. Cooper reminded me that I am a human being, too, and my voice matters. If you're reading this and thinking, "I wish I felt that way, too," please know that the sooner you start talking about whatever it is that makes you feel apart from this world, the sooner you can be on a path to recovery. And as far as being a journalist speaking up for oneself, I would say, "Right on, Anderson," because we have opinions and feelings and issues, too. When someone so visible stands up and takes a position like this, not advocating for anything but just telling it like it is, the whole world benefits. In a perfect world we wouldn't have to "come out"; we would just "be."
What are your thoughts on coming out? What was your coming-out experience like? What makes you feel marginalized or shut out by society? Let's have a conversation. Please comment below or, if you don't feel comfortable airing your dirty laundry in a public forum, email me.
Follow Thomas Naples on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tomnaples