Today is National Coming Out Day. My initial instinct was to let it pass and say nothing here. Wait, I shouldn't say "instinct". I should say habit. It has become a powerful habit of mine to leave my sexual and gender orientation out of my discourse when it comes to offline life, and this has become increasingly unhealthy for me as my carefully constructed artificial barriers between my on- and offline lives have dissolved over the last almost three years.
For the first seven-and-a-half years of my identity online, I was completely anonymous. I did not use my real name to sign up for anything, and I used pseudonyms for every place, person, and animal I knew. I had kept who I was carefully cloistered within myself for 30 years, except for a few forays into being out within small groups, and the internet, with its strange pairing of relative anonymity and surprising intimacy, offered me a freedom I had never known.
I feel strangely indebted to this machine, this virtual space. It has literally, in the true sense of that word, allowed me to become who I am.
I began coming out here in such subtle ways that even I could barely pick up on my own cues. I wrote about other LGBTQ people. I talked about a girl I had once kissed. I shared my then confusing personal history with gender and sexuality in private online conversations with a handful of people from all over the world. I wrote a couple of clumsy confessions. It took me almost seven years online before I finally wrote a couple of essays about my early childhood experience of gender and the harsh light of puberty.
Not long after that, I ended up on the news in a healthy living segment about sobriety and blogging, a year later I gave a TEDx talk about the power of personal narrative, and my anonymity was blown. It was time, and it was actually a relief to drop the dual identities I had been juggling, but, secretly, I hoped my archives would be the quiet little strongboxes that had so far hidden my larger secrets. Being out everywhere equally felt complicated. My story felt complicated.
It is tiring to hide, though, and, so much more than that, feeling complicated has felt less and less valid as a reason to pretend to the less complicated manner of the Female and Heterosexual categories which my married-to-a-cis-male* life seems to fit me into. My truth is neither.
To keep it simple, I use "queer" to identify myself. Since I was three, I have been keenly aware that I am gendered neither female nor male. My body presents me as female, but I would prefer androgyny. I am attracted to men, women, and the myriad hybrids in between. I am queer.
I am laughing at myself as I write all of this down, because there is just no damn end to coming out. I came out to a high school guidance counsellor as a lesbian at 15, to my closest friends at 21 when I told them I might be bi, to a fairly unwelcoming lesbian community when I moved in with my girlfriend, to a bigoted boss to stop him from talking about "those ugly dykes", to several boyfriends, and to all and sundry on the internet.
But this is the marrying of lives and identities in the new age where we can mould our identities in seemingly but not-so-really disparate spaces on- and offline. This website is, and quite recently, too, a space inhabited by not only me and my clusters of internet friends but also my brother, mother, father, parents-in-law, present and future clients, etc. This is how coming out keeps happening again and again.
I have not written explicitly here about my gender and sexual identities in quite a long time, partially out of habitual quiet and partially out of a low-level fear with this new brave world of blended identities I've been navigating. I'm sure that for some of you this will be me coming out. For others of you this will be met with And why is she talking about this again? In a couple of months, this post will be buried under mounds of cat pictures, navel-gazing poetry, and a slippers giveaway, and I will end up coming out all over again to someone who wasn't here for the first forty rounds of my coming out in the sometimes welcoming/sometimes tolerant/sometimes downright hateful early part of the 21st century.
One of the main reasons that I am writing all of this out today is that I want to normalize the idea of coming out and coming out repeatedly. Coming out is not usually something that happens with one decisive leap. It happens again and again. It can happen so often over the years that it can feel tiresome and even boring. Yes, boring. After the first time I came out in person to a group of people I loved, I was horrified when I realized that it didn't mean I was out to the everyone I loved. Wait, you mean I will have to do this again? And then I did it over and over and over. One day, society might be less inclined to make coming out have to be a thing, but for now? I take a deep breath and repeat myself.
This coming out thing gets easier, though. You become more practiced at it. Hopefully, you learn to separate how you feel about it from how your chosen coming-out audience feels about it. Sometimes it lands like bomb went off and you lose a friend. Sometimes the person you tell is able to connect more deeply with you in ways you couldn't imagine.
As our world slowly grows to accept the non-binary grayscale of genders and sexualities, these are the waters we navigate. I used to dread these conversations, because anticipating being told that you are headed for Hell is no joy, but now I kind of like them. My gender and sexuality are so untidy that it opens up some fascinating conversations when I come out to someone new, and quite often we dig into the other person's experiences and identity in ways that they don't often, if ever, get to discuss.
Coming out, once you've grappled with some of difficult stuff attached to it, is a gift, really, at least a good portion of the time. I never would have believed it had I told this to my sweaty, entirely freaked out, 15-year-old self, but it's true. There is a deeper freedom and intimacy with other people when you can cut out the shame and guilt that can arise from hidden identities, and it is because of my growth through my original anonymity online that I have been able to come out wholly, shamelessly, and with hope for those of you who may be coming out today or who are still sitting with your truth, waiting to find your footing.
My advice today? Come out when you are sure and ready and, above all, safe. There is a patient community here that will wait for you. We are literally everywhere, and, once you find us, it's hard to dodge us.
Whether you are already out, coming out for the first time, or still deeply attached to your closet, from my whole heart, happy National Coming Out Day!
* I just leaned over to the Palinode to tell him that I was outing him here as a cis-male. He says that is okay. I figured I should cover all my bases.