October 11 is National Coming Out Day. For millions of LGBTQ people in our country, this means a celebration of their freedom to be in the world without hiding what and who they really are. For millions of others, this may mean a challenge to be courageous and reveal themselves fully to their families, friends, &/or colleagues; or it may be a source of pain as they experience the loss of relationship with loved ones who just can’t accept them as they are. And there are the still closeted, for whom their LGBTQ-ness is something to despise about themselves.
I’m not LGBT or Q; I’m just a pretty ordinary straight woman, so I celebrate these people and celebrate with them, and I pray for those for whom queerness is a burden, or worse, a source of danger. I don’t presume to identify with them, but I’m going to risk sounding like I’m trying to co-opt the occasion by sharing with you a metaphorical understanding.
On this National Coming Out Day, 2016, I’d like to suggest that everyone has a metaphorical closet, maybe several, and that we are all in various stages of either staying boxed in and safe, or inching ever closer toward the door. I think our mental and emotional health depends a great deal on how successful we are at coming out and staying out from behind those doors. For me the operative word is TRANSPARENCY. My personal closet has to do with hiding from myself and others, and failing to identify, fully experience, and express my ideas, my emotional content, and what I am, in appropriate ways. In other words, I have to work a little bit at keeping my freak flag hoisted up the pole and flying, cause, as I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, in many ways, it’d be easier to hide.
I’d therefore like to give the following advice to anyone who cares to take it.
In the words of Hippocrates, first, do no harm. To the best of your ability, inform every decision you make with those four words in mind. Once you’ve got that ethos firmly in place, pretty much everything you do will be OK.
Look the way you want to look. Wear a haircut you like. Color your hair in whatever way you think looks nice. Change it every week if you think that’s fun. Wear the clothes that please you; or, if there’s someone in your life that you’d like to be attractive to, wear something that pleases him/her occasionally. Within the bounds of your work culture, wear as much or as little makeup as you prefer. Guys, that goes for you too. Wear comfortable shoes, or not, depending on what you like. Stop giving a shit about looking like you fit in, and start becoming interested in looking like you.
Get as many tattoos as you want, as long as you can 1) cover them when you need to, and 2) be fairly certain that you’ll still be glad you’ve got them when you’re 80.
While we’re on the subject of personal appearance and other aspects of material possession, stop giving a rat’s ass about whether you’ve got a nice car, a nice house, or any other nice stuff. If a cool car gives you a significant amount of pleasure, then by all means, have a cool car, but whatever you do, don’t accumulate that shit because you think it’s going to make someone else think better of you. I promise you, everyone else is too busy worrying about whether their shit looks good enough, to even notice your shit.
In general, stop trying to please and impress other people. There are very few people in anyone’s life that they should genuinely care about pleasing, and even then only under certain circumstances. For the most part, though, act to please yourself.
Have opinions and, when it makes sense to do so, speak them. Do it with kindness, courtesy, and respect. Refrain from ad hominem attacks, don’t be offensive, and if you’re conversing about politics or current events, do your research and know what the fuck you’re talking about. Assuming that you’re fulfilling those criteria, if you’ve got an opinion and the time is right to express it, do so. Nothing irrevocably bad is going to happen if someone disagrees with you.
Get excited about things. Too many people go around trying to be cool. Being cool is a big fat fucking waste of time. Find things you dig, consume as much of them/get as much information about them as you can get your hands on, get totally stoked about them, and show your excitement, for fuck’s sake. Find other people who are as stoked about the same things as you are. If other people, the ones who are interested in being so cool, look at you with disdain because you’re some kind of nerd, so what? I feel really sorry for anyone who isn’t an unabashed nerd about something.
If you’re happy or excited or passionate, be happy or excited or passionate! This is ancillary to the previous paragraph. Stop being so damned afraid of looking stupid. Ask yourself, do you really give a shit about whether someone else is going to think you look dumb? Will this person’s disapprobation be harmful to you in some way? No, I didn’t think so.
Feel your feelings. Develop the skill of internal inquiry, know what’s going on in there, and acknowledge and allow your emotional content. If you’re angry, don’t pretend you’re not. If you’re sad, cry, for fuck’s sake. Yes, person of the male variety, even you. Don’t let anyone tell you to “get over it” or “cheer up”. Caveat: feeling your negative emotions =/= doing negative things. Acknowledging your anger or sadness doesn’t mean acting out in a destructive way. It might be enough to just say: Hi anger, hi sadness, hi annoyance, hi desire to eat a package of Oreos, I see you. I’m not going to act on you, I just see you. Try it out. Emotions are not sources of shame, they are a huge and essential piece of the whole package of being human, so it’s OK so it’s good and desirable to have them.
Young ones, you may find the yoke of your parents’ wishes for you to be particularly galling right now, but try to remember these things if you can.
They’ve been your age, and they remember what it was like; even though their experience may have been far different from yours, one truism that spans the generations is that being young is terribly difficult, and if they’re good parents at all, they want to try to ease you through it as much as they can.
If it’s becoming clear that they’re not entirely happy with the trajectory you seem to be taking, do as much as you can to wait it out with kindness and grace. The reality is this: if you’re not making stupid decisions like not doing your homework, or taking bad drugs, or having a lot of ill-advised unsafe sex, and if you’ve given a considerable amount of thought and reflection to what and who God put you here to do and be, if you stay true to that path, no amount of effort on anybody’s part is going to pull you off of it. I have a young friend who was immensely relieved to learn that, even though his parental units are both gay men, he can still be a straight guy if that’s what he is. If the family are all penniless artists who have lived their entire lives in a grate, and you want to become an extremely high-priced attorney, no amount of parental influence is going to stop you from becoming an extremely high-priced attorney. If the whole fam dammily are staunch old-school William F. Buckley loving conservatives, and you turn out to be a yoga-doing, granola-crunching liberal, you go ahead and be that.
While you’re still a young ‘un, keep the faith as best as you can, and don’t be a rebellious asshole if you can help it. Always bear in mind that, ultimately, this is an argument you cannot lose. Find some significant other adults, teachers, coaches, aunties/uncles, etc., who can support you on your way. When you’re an adult you’ll be able to go ahead and be that black sheep. Black wool is very nice. The reality is that
They will not be able to stop you from being yourself, if you don’t allow them to.
In fact, that’s a nice way to summarize these suggestions. Just put yourself out there. I’m fairly convinced that the things that make us different, even the things we think we should be ashamed of, even the things that make us freaks, are the things that make us most valuable to the world. The world doesn’t need more sameness, it needs YOU in all your freaky glory. Come on out, now.