Today, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day!
Truth be told, all week I’ve been waiting in anticipation of this day. Actually, I’ve been waiting for months. But, now that it’s here I’m met with much ambivalence. Mostly I’m challenged with the fact that we have National Coming Out Day at all. This is not an original idea – I realize that. The bottom line is if we didn’t live in a heteronormative society then we wouldn’t need this day. Moreover, why do people who aren’t straight need to come out when straight people are just presumed straight? You want to talk about privilege?!?! So framing this day as a privilege, celebrating that someone “gets” to come out is just so unbelievably frustrating. It’s like EVERY other day of the year it’s not your space, privilege, right, obligation, expectation to come out but today it is? And so coming out becomes yours under whose terms? I don’t need to spell this out but even National Coming Out Day operates under the constraints of the dominant, majority groups. So is it really our day?
Moving past my rant, National Coming Out Day is also another day that is FILLED with labels. Right? We’re supposed to say “I’m _________” in the vein of solidarity and support. The alphabet soup of the LGBTQIA movement is hard to swallow and the myriad of identities is difficult even for experts to dissect. I started considering this more earlier this seek when I saw these three images:
I just wonder, how can we have National Coming Out Day and consider that yet another triumph in the LBGTQIA movement when certain identities are still minimized even within minority communities? Someone who is Bisexual feels like they should just say the’re gay because it would be easier. Someone who is Asexual doesn’t know how they fit into the community. [side note: this Buzzfeed video captures that sentiment in a super compelling way: 15 Poignant Asexual Confessions] And then I saw this on Instagram in reference to National Coming Out Day: “don’t you dare come out as an ally”. First, everyone needs allies. Second, this is about the time I want to smash all labels (and all social media). I’m frustrated! These words mean nothing if they’re simultaneously residing in the realms of discrimination and unity. National Coming Out Day is supposed to be freeing. It’s, to me, a demonstration of how large the community is and an opportunity to find support and connections in an unforgiving, hard to navigate world. But instead, I feel like even National Coming Out Day is also being dominated by a majority group. It’s a day for CERTAIN people in the LGBTQIA community. Others stand to the sideline and grapple relentlessly with their positionality. We question “are our identities valid enough to be recognized on this day?” or “have we struggled enough to deserve to participate in National Coming Out Day?” Here’s where it comes back to labels. We decide the meanings we attribute to these words and then we judge. Why should one person who identifies one way fear so violently speaking their label? Owning their identity? Even on National Coming Out Day these wonderings, these anxieties, are real and for some of us they’re amplified.
[Side note: I’m not in any way attempting to minimize any one person’s struggle or journey. I realize that coming out as anything is challenging or even terrifying. I’m not even talking about who people love or who they’re attracted to. I’m talking about labels. And in doing so, it feels like I’m taking a huge risk.]
Labels can give us closure but they can also really harm us. I’m thinking here about a medical or mental health (not sure why I made that distinction – ugh society) diagnosis. These labels follow us and while in some contexts they allow us to receive the services and interventions we need to be our best selves in other ways they limit our potential by attaching an inescapable stigma that lingers long after we’ve felt that we’ve triumphed and moved on or overcome one of our many hurdles. Similarly, in the LGBTQIA community labels speak volumes! Among others, they indicate the level of struggle you’ve endured, who you are sexually or romantically attracted to, and who you love.
I haven’t talked yet about the third image I saw. It said “Be Yourself”. I liked this one the best but I also wish that we didn’t need motivational pictures on social media to remind us to be ourselves. I wish there wasn’t a day where it was okay to proclaim loudly who you really are and then attach a label to it so other people can make their judgement about you or know how to categorize you. I hope that tomorrow people can still proudly and loudly be exactly who they are and how they identify without any stipulations. Our labels are both constricting and empowering when we first speak our truths. However, once society gets a hold of them, we’re leaving our words to be interpreted differently with each repetition of who we are. The threat of misinterpretation makes me breathe too quickly. On National Coming Out Day I can choose my label but I cannot choose its connotation. That’s scary.
National Coming Out Day reminds me there’s still a long way to go in the LGBTQIA movement. We’ve had victories large and small but the whole idea that we need a day for people to say who they are makes me wonder, if I don’t come out today will I have missed my chance?
And now, I’ll resort to homework and hiking today to avoid this social media mess of labels and many, overwhelmingly colorful displays of false or fleeting approvals (which I interpret with a certain degree of insincerity) to someone’s real, breath taking proclamation of self.