"I am here today because I am gay," actress Ellen Page said at last week's Time to THRIVE conference hosted by the Human Rights Campaign. While we lesbians have always predicted this (or at least prayed for it) since we first fell in love with her as Juno, Page brought herself, and us, to tears with her unwavering honesty and undeniable bravery.
Over the past 10 years, and more so within the past five, there has been an overwhelming surge of coming-outs, from Ellen DeGeneres' big reveal on Oprah in the late '90s that nearly ruined her career, to college football star Michael Sam, who some now say doesn't belong in a professional locker room. We come out for a number of reasons: to free ourselves from our inner self-loathing, to stand in solidarity with all of our queer brothers and sisters, and to be that change we wish to see in the world. Coming out can be one of the scariest moves we ever make, but I am writing now to urge people to spread their bright and colorful rainbow wings.
One of the most poignant parts of Page's speech was when she said,"...I am tired of lying by omission," which is certainly the case among many public figures -- let us not forget that strange speech Jodi Foster gave at last year's Golden Globes. This is what makes Page's speech so notable -- she gave us no other option than to accept her sexuality. When we say, "I am gay" we no longer give anyone the option of making us feel shame because, regardless of our own nerves and self-homophobia, we become proud.
Granted, some argue, and with good reason, that there need not be a big coming out parade for every queer person out there. They take the position of "So what? You're gay. Why the big 'confession' to the world?" However, we unfortunately do not yet have the luxury of not proudly coming out to the world. There are still far too many homeless LGBT youth on the streets suffering because of their sexuality; there are still far too many hate crimes each and every day; there are still far too many fundamental rights that LGBT people don't have for us to not wave our rainbow flags high and with pride.
Page also said, "...Maybe I can make a difference to help others have an easier and more hopeful time. Regardless for me, I feel a personal obligation and a social responsibility."
I came out three years ago when I was 19. In doing so, I of course lost friends, but I found an amazingly accepting community that embraced me and my gay ways. This included a very supportive girlfriend, a best friend who called me out in eighth grade and had been anticipating my "news" ever since, an aunt who said it's weird if you're not gay in our family, and a dad who has since shamelessly rocked his favorite new tee with "LESBIAN" written in big white letters across the front. Even with that though, I was still absolutely terrified to tell them. I cried, I was super awkward, I was self-destructive; but, I told them so that I could live authentically and because I too felt that very strong social obligation that Page discussed.
It is our personal, political and social duty to come out, even though it is never easy. In fact, it totally blows because for some reason you think you have to overcompensate to make other people comfortable with your sexuality. However, at a certain point, you realize that it is not your problem to make other people okay with who you are. It is their decision whether to step up to the plate and join hands with the hundreds of millions of people rallying together. This is an international obligation that we have now -- think about those in Russia and Nigeria and so many other countries where oppression and even death are sanctioned.
That being said however, please understand that I do not think that this said responsibility applies to every LGBTQIA person -- it absolutely does not. Many of us, too many of us, are in dangerous situations that prevent us from possessing the liberty to come out. So waving my rainbow flag and staying proud is the absolute least I can do for all those whose situations don't enable them to do the same. This article is for you.
Change does not happen by staying quiet, so I'm writing now to hopefully encourage people to take that plunge of coming out, if you can. It is beyond scary, but it does get better and when you are ready, there is a big community that is waiting to hold you, hug you, help you, and tell you that everything is going to be okay.
As Page and so many others have already said, it is our responsibility to raise our voices in solidarity because there is still so much more we have to do to make this world a place where I'm free to be totally me and you're free to be totally you. I look forward to the day when the torment or suicide of the gay population is rare so we will be able to come into our sexuality like straight people do, with wonder and excitement, with the normal ambivalence and fear, but knowing that the world will not condemn us for who we are.