This Friday marks the 25th anniversary of National Coming Out Day, where The Human Rights Campaign encourages the celebration of coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or as an ally of the LGBT community. While it has been a particularly victorious year for gay rights, between the demise of the Defense Of Marriage Act and the five new states that have enacted laws allowing same-sex marriage, the theme of this year's celebration is "Coming Out Still Matters." According to the Human Rights Campaign, "every person who speaks up changes more hearts and minds, and creates new advocates for equality."
At YourTango.com, we couldn't agree more and would like to take part in the celebration, offering some coming-out-insight from some inspiring, kick-ass people.
1. "Coming out was like relieving myself of 20+ years of mental constipation." — Chris F.
As a member of the "digital generation," Chris F. found that when he freed himself from the media's perception of the "right way to live," he was able to find true happiness. "Growing up, we are all surrounded by heterosexual couples left and right, in the media and everyday life," said Chris. While current television sitcoms and mainstream films have made some progress toward embracing LGBT culture, this was hardly the case fifteen years ago when Chris's generation began tuning in. "There is no 'right' way to live," he said, "that is just what's accepted as the majority. After forcing myself to be straight for the first 22 years of my life, I now know that I have always been this way, but was afraid to embrace it." Now that he has severed ties with the self-loathing and distraught tendencies that once overwhelmed him, Chris tries to help others accept themselves earlier than he did. "Coming out is a very enlightening process. I learned that my family and friends have and will always love me — no matter what/who I am."
2. "Taking charge of my sexuality helped me take charge of my relationship with food." — Chris G.
Once Chris G. confronted his fear of coming out to his family three years ago, he found the strength to tackle another lifelong struggle. "Coming out of the closet in November of 2010 was one of the most freeing, scary, and gratifying experiences in my life so far," he said. "Since I was young, I used food for comfort. It made me feel like I had control over my happiness in some way." Chris's weight struggles began at the age of 10, and escalated for the next 10 years. Once he had reached heaviest weight to date, 256 lbs, he found himself at a crossroads. "I was at my breaking point," said Chris. He began having regular anxiety attacks from all of the stress and pressure he was experiencing. "Once I came out, there was no longer this need to eat horrible food just to feel less guilty about hiding my 'big secret.'" With his family’s support driving him, Chris became more comfortable with his feelings regarding his sexuality, and in turn, found the power to turn his life around once more, this time concerning his physical health. "I was ready to put down all of the fast food and hit the gym," said Chris, who has since fallen in love with working out and eating clean in addition to losing 61 lbs. "The moment you choose to be honest with yourself will open the door to one of the most exciting journeys of your life."
3. "Tell the people you know will take it best first, so that you have a support team when you tell others." — Rachael
While Rachael had come out to almost everyone she knew by her sophomore year in college, there was still one person she wasn't ready to confide in. "As religious as my family is not, my father is the most traditional," she said. After years of avoiding his questions and comments regarding her sexuality, Rachael found herself in an increasingly serious relationship with a girlfriend from school, who lived hours away, and realized that she needed to sit her father down and explain why she was making so many trips out of state. "I said 'I know how different and confusing this may or may not be for you, but just try to imagine how different and confusing it is for me,'" she explained. "I told him that I had been seeing women for a while and that they were my preference at the time, but that I don't really write off men completely. I told him that I fall in love with a person, with a soul, and not solely based off of one's sex or gender." While things remained uncomfortable between the two for a while, Rachael's mother (who had known about her sexuality since she was sixteen years old) and friends reassured her that her father would come around, whether he fully understood what she told him or not. Almost a year later, they were right. Rachael got a call from her father saying that he wanted to talk to her, and waited nervously in her living room for him to get home. She found out that he had been out to eat with friends that he dines with regularly — a lesbian couple. "I guess after spending so much time with them, it finally clicked in his head," she said. "With tears in his eyes, he began to speak to me in the most sincere tone I've ever heard and said 'This is just how you're wired, Rach.'" The two spoke for hours after, and the conversation ended with the reassurance that he would still dance with her at her wedding, no matter who her partner was.
4. "Self-confidence has made everyone around me see me for who I really am — not just a gay man." — Ben
Ben came out of the closet to everyone he knew in the 8th grade. "I truly believe that my self-confidence is what saved me from being one of the people who was tortured and ridiculed throughout their school years," he said. "If you seem vulnerable, people can sense it in a heartbeat, and they will take full advantage." Even though Ben had found support from his friends and family early on, he wasn't completely free of the stigma that can be associated with the LGBT community. "I always felt that with being gay, I had to have more self-confidence than anyone else," he said. "I felt that I had to prove myself harder than the average person does." Instead of becoming frustrated, Ben rose to the challenge, and has dealt with the adversity he faces each day with positivity. "Right now, at age 24, the fact that I'm gay hardly ever crosses my mind," he said. "Bottom line is, be confident and know that you’re a f*cking fantastic person, no matter what, and no one can bring you down."
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This article originally appeared on YourTango.com: "4 Valuable Lessons We Learned From Coming Out"