National Coming Out Day is a great time to come out, whether for the first or umpteenth time. It’s a day to remember the importance of being open about your true lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, polyamorous, pansexual, asexual, two-spirit, nonbinary, genderfluid, agender or otherwise beyond-the-old-norm self.
It’s also a good time to come out as an ally to those of us who are LGBTQ+. Oct. 11 is set aside as a day to make, or renew, our commitment to come out of the closet and be open about who we are, to let people know that we adore our queer friends and relatives, and to expose and confront homophobia, biphobia and transphobia wherever they lurk. Like in, say, the Republican Party platform. Ahem.
As someone who has been way out for evah, you’d think I would have no more coming out to do. Since the 1970s I’ve made sort of a career of being here, queer and helping folks get used to it. As an activist, writer, college instructor and general dyke-about-town, I’ve dedicated myself to promoting LGBTQ+ visibility and our movement for freedom, justice and fabulousness. So, it’s humbling to confess that, even for me, the closet door sometimes slams shut. Yes, though hard to admit, sometimes even I don’t let my rainbow freak-flag fly.
Take yesterday, for example. I had taken my car in for a recalled air bag replacement and was shuttled home in a dealership van to wait out the four-hour repair. The driver was super friendly, obviously well-trained in customer service and easy to talk to as he drove me home. We chatted about the changing weather, which led to gardening and whether the tomatoes would ripen, and what to do with a bumper crop of zucchini. Tame, neutral stuff. I shared my recipe for zucchini pancakes, which he said sounded delicious and he’d have to make some for his wife. It was a perfect opening for me to mention my wife. He’d mentioned his, right?
But I made the snap judgment that so many queer people have learned to make in every interaction where it’s suddenly up to us to come out or not. In an instant, we have to gauge the safety of the situation, assess our support or escape options if the response isn’t good and decide whether we are prepared to defend ourselves.
I think a lot of us who’ve survived years of various anti-gay onslaughts experience this kind of residual homophobia-phobia. It’s like a long-lingering PTSD that creeps up on us even when we think we’re “over it.”
I had to quickly determine if I’d be more uncomfortable being out or remaining in, or whether the driver could or couldn’t already tell that I’m not straight. Would I have what it takes in that moment to be nonchalant, to set the tone that would make him able to at least act like he was taking my revelation in stride? Was I ready to go there? All this was computing in that split second when I opted to hold back, to keep my usually very public life private, and not say “my wife.”
Frankly, I surprised myself. What was I afraid of? There was little risk of anything bad happening in that Toyota courtesy shuttle van. I was the always-right customer, after all. And I know that making queerness normal takes going through these awkward moments again and again until they’re not awkward any more. Those of us privileged to not be risking our lives or homes or jobs have a responsibility to stick our necks out when we can. I know that. And yet this time I chickened out. My reaction definitely gave me something to think about.
Luckily we have this annual day to reflect upon what kind of people we want to be, to rededicate ourselves to staying out of the closet, to be open about what we know is true and right and good. Next time — you heard it here — I’ll definitely speak up. Shuttle drivers of the world, brace yourselves.