In March of 2012, my parents came into my room and sat on my bed next to me. They knew something was going on with me and wanted to talk. It was the painful stretch of time between spring break and summer when you’re both counting down the days and running out of time. I had been not-so-subtly dating a boy behind their back, and I knew they had found out. It was a relationship that happened quickly and unexpectedly, and was going in all of the wrong directions. I stared straight ahead at my closed door and my blue walls and mumbled responses to their questions. Yes, I’m okay. No, nothing’s going on at school. No, there’s nothing I want to tell you... Yes, I’m gay.
Except, even though I think I came out at that moment, it wasn’t for another year or so that I could say those words. Even though I had been surrounded by queer people my whole life, the truth that I was gay still didn’t make sense to me. It felt like a new label that I was supposed to fit into, and not a word I could use to identify myself. It felt backwards, and it felt like there was an extra layer of approval I needed with every new person I met. Do they know? Are they okay with me? Should I be hanging out with these people?
In a way, now that I had come out, I was more ashamed than ever, and there was nothing anyone could tell me to fix that. Throughout high school my identity as an openly gay student seemed to settle in easily – there were good days, there were bad days. Fortunately, in my memories I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, but there were so many beautiful moments that came out of my coming out. Sometimes people wouldn’t want to talk to me, but more often people felt comfortable telling me about their own personal struggles, and came to me with questions about their family members. I felt a deeper connection to the people who showed they wanted to be around me. I felt like I understood my friends better. A few years after coming out, I felt comfortable. I said the words without flinching.
Yeah, I’m gay.
Oh, I’m actually gay.
As a gay student,
You know I’m gay, right?
How lucky I felt to have settled into this identity so early on in my life. While I know many people my age are struggling with their sexuality now, I used to be sure the confusing part was behind me, and the coming out process was over.
These days, I realize a fixed mindset like that is exactly the sort of thing that I want to stay away from. The label of gay is something that I feel describes me, but that does not mean I need to change anything about myself to be that way. I just am. In my life, I have had feelings for women, and I have thought about my gender in a lot of different ways. It’s not an answer I’m looking for, but rather a question I’ve chosen to exist inside. Queerness isn’t something I achieved when I sat on my bed with my parents in 2012. That is not my story – it is the inciting incident of a narrative that then went down and up and down and up again, and still is.
So even though I let myself be the gay kid in high school, and I try my best to remain autonomous in my perspective, I choose not to remain fixed in my identity or my coming out story. It is still happening every day. I learn new things about myself with every new friend I make, every new book I read, and every walk around the city that inspires me. And the funny thing is, I’m the same person every time. Really. Just with a new understanding of myself and the people around me.
When I talk about being queer, I celebrate being different, and I know that many people don’t have the same opportunities that I do. It’s not easy to come out, it’s not easy to stay out, and that does a lot to a person.
If you can’t come out to your family or friends on National Coming Out day, know that it’s important to stay safe and it’s okay to take your time. The hardest part, for me, was coming out to myself. Remind yourself of who you are. Allow yourself to change. Ask yourself what your intentions are with the identity you’ve created. You don’t have to decide your entire future today.
An idea I’m in love with right now: José Esteban Muñoz talks about queerness in Cruising Utopia, reminding us that queerness is a horizon that we never reach, it’s not something that will ever get closer, or that we can ever achieve. It is a constant journey.
Freedom has a funny way of working from the inside out.
Happy National Coming Out Day to my friends, gay, bi, trans, pan, ace, ally, queer, and everybody else. +