You know we’ve come a long way when Forbes.com can publish an article on its web site with the title “Two Powerful Ways To Come Out On National Coming Out Day,” and it doesn’t stir much controversy. At the same time, you can see how far we need to go when you realize that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are five times more likely than heterosexual youth to attempt suicide, and that suicide attempts by lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are four to six times more likely to result in a need for medical care than the attempts of their heterosexual peers. Add to that the forty percent of transgender adults who report having made a suicide attempt, almost all of those attempts which made before their mid-20s. Young people need to know that we queer people survive, and that we have their backs. (Statistics are from the Trevor Project page “Facts on Suicide” citing studies by the Centers for Disease Control (PDF) and the National Center for Transgender Equality (PDF).
It’s been eight years since I last wrote a National Coming Out Day post. I’m long past due. Coming out is a life-and-death matter, not because my life hangs in the balance, but because invisibility and the despair that comes from feeling alone leads others to suffer. In 2010 I wrote “Reflections on Outness,” explaining why coming out is an ongoing process instead of a ritual moment, while underscoring why those ritual moments matter so much. I argued that being out was about being open not only about our identity categories but also about our experiences. We are more than our labels. We are also our pleasures, our traumas, and our desires. I concluded that post with these words:
I want to affirm my outness around the following aspects of my sexuality.
I am attracted to people across a range of gender expression and sexual identification.
I fall in love with people who don’t like gender and sexuality binaries any more than I do.
I have the capacity to be in love with more than one person at a a time.
I enjoy sex that some people say is wrong to like.
I prize trust and openness above conformity and convention.
In coming out I declare my uniqueness but also underscore the fact that we are not so different from one another. The more we know about each other the more we see the wide range of variations that comprise human sexuality. And the more we see variations, the less easily we put people into categories. And the more we move from categories to variation, the harder it to distinguish an “us” from a “them” and the the easier it is for to understand that sexual freedom is a birthright to be celebrated, and not a threat to be feared.
I still believe those words to be true. I am a queer polyamorous cisgender woman in a monogamous relationship with a cisgender male lover while remaining married to a different cisgender man that I love dearly. I am out, yet my queerness is often invisible. I am unique, and I am not all that different from you.
Ps: For a different take on coming out, see this post on “Coming Out For Labor Rights,” where I talk about all the ways that the labor movement might learn from the LGBTQ+ activism.