This has been much tougher to write than I thought it’d be. This is a much more nuanced (and debatable) topic in my mind than something like marriage equality. As I began to write, though, I realized: This really is not my case for coming out. It’s my case for not hiding.
Not hiding who you are – from your friends, family and coworkers – is truly freeing. It’s amazing how sometimes the things we’re most afraid to do are the things that can free us most. And it’s all about a leap of faith. Trusting your family to love you or finding unconditional love elsewhere. Trusting your friends to support you or finding new friends. Trusting your coworkers to keep it professional and look beyond your sexuality or finding another job. Hiding who you are is rooted in fear, regardless of what you tell yourself. Fact: Facing fear is freeing.
Not hiding who you are will show you who your true friends are and who really loves you unconditionally. Of course none of us expect all of our friends to love us unconditionally. But surely we expect our friends to respect, understand and support us. If they don’t do at least that much, what use are they? You may lose some friends, but you may also gain some. Pushing through makes us stronger. In fact, if anything, pushing through this particular issue strengthens your character even more because you’re finally not only being honest with yourself, but with the world. It’s a beautiful thing.
I’m constantly amazed by people who talk about being gay as if it’s a choice we make. A lot of people get away with this because they don’t know any openly gay people. Being honest with others puts a face to the broader issue. It makes what used to be an abstract idea for the neighbor down the street one that hits close to home. It shows how important this issue must mean to you – so important that you’re willing to put your entire life on the line to be honest about it. It’s a significant issue. It matters. We don’t choose to be gay, but we do choose to be honest.
And if the personal benefits to not hiding who you are aren’t enough, think about what kind of example it sets for younger people! Even with last week’s announcement by President Obama, people started to openly support marriage equality more and more. As more people stop hiding and start to come out, more teens and children will see these people as examples that it’s OK to be different – it’s OK to be gay. Because it is.
We talk a lot in this country about how unhappy we are with our government and the people running it. But what a lot of people don’t seem to realize is that we are in control of our happiness and we live in a society where change really does start with you. You may be the only person on the block who supports something, but if you believe in it enough, you should be clear about your support. There’s a way to respect others’ views, but not shy away or play down your own. Change starts with you.
I always go back to the most basic truth about not hiding your sexuality: It’s honest. If you’re not setting an example for your friends and family by being honest about who you are, how do you expect your friends and family to be honest with you about who they are? Even more – if you have children and you’re ashamed or worried about the ramifications of who you are in front of others, how do you expect your children to understand or be OK with you or with themselves?
When I made my decision not to hide who I was, I didn’t think people should have to ‘come out’ as gay. I still believe that. I also said being gay didn’t define me. And I still believe that. But what I’ve realized is, for now, we need to come out. We need to be proud. This doesn’t mean we all walk around in rainbow-colored tank tops and drive our cute little cars blaring showtunes over to the glitter party. And it doesn’t mean we walk around to each and every person and make sure they know we’re gay. It simply means we’re bold enough to be honest. The reality is our sexuality is no one’s business – but these are times in which we must be in front of the issue and not playing catch-up to inaccurate portrayals of who we are.
I talk with a lot of people who say they want equality in America. They say their relationship is just as valid as a straight couple’s. But they refuse to be open with others about who they are. And I think they fail to realize that they’re contributing to the lack of equality in this country by hiding who they are. Women didn’t win their fight by hiding their gender. Black leaders didn’t win their fight by hiding their skin color. Surely, we’re not going to win equality by playing it straight. Surely, we’re going to win equality by doing the same thing that others who’ve fought similar fights before us have done – by refusing to back down, by demanding action, by celebrating differences, by being understanding – by being bold.
Hiding isn’t bold. Honesty is.