#NationalComingOutDay: Yes, It Matters a Lot
Before I get into the gist of this article, I want to explain something. I'm a teacher. I work with high school kids, who range in age from about 13 to 18, most of the year. I also train with a lot of teens at the karate school. It's fair to say I know kids pretty well. I also help facilitate our school's Gay-Straight Alliance, or GSA, which means I have the opportunity to hang out with youth who are supporting those who might be coming out or who might even still be closeted.
Why Does National Coming Out Day Matter?
Over the last few months, I've read articles, some from larger online publications, questioning whether or not coming out matters or is even necessary. While I wish mightily that we lived in a world where it didn't matter to anyone who you might be sexually or romantically attracted to or what your gender identity was, the truth of the matter is, we still have kids and adults who are struggling for self-acceptance and for acceptance from their loved ones because of their sexual or romantic attraction or their gender identity.
People struggle daily to live their authentic lives, and because their families and friends might believe they are living in a heteronormative way, there is an effort that might last a lifetime to keep up that appearance. After some time, however, that effort becomes herculean in scale, and it ultimately becomes exhausting to maintain. So, the struggle then becomes a question of whether or not coming out is necessary.
Sometimes, it's just a matter of making that admission to yourself that you don't quite "fit" in a heteronormative, gender binary world. It's hard, though, when you start to believe that your entire existence as you know it might crumble if you actually acknowledge to yourself that you might just fit outside what is often colloquially referred to as the "gender norm." If you've got family members or friends that you believe might not accept you because of your sexuality, your romantic attraction, or your gender identity, it becomes that much more difficult.
At our core, we all want to be loved and accepted by our families and friends, no matter what. We as a species cannot thrive in a vacuum, so having a solid group of people in our lives that elevate us and make us feel "whole" is critical. If there are questions about whether these same people will continue to love us and make us feel safe if we reveal our authentic selves to them, fear begins to grow and efforts to maintain appearances continue to try and flourish.
We also can't live our lives based on stereotypes and ignorance. Coming out, no matter how you do it—hopefully, you're in an environment where you can do it safely and on your own terms—is part of your unique story, and there is no set script for doing so. Are there ideas about how to come out to family and friends? Sure—a Google search of "how to come out of the closet" lands 196 million hits, so there are options to choose from, ranging from a WikiHow page to videos to Lifehacker articles. However, only you will be able to determine when and how to come out to people.
National Coming Out Day matters because it helps spread awareness that coming out actually does matter, and it is important. Your family and friends might look at you and say, "OK—do you want to go to the mall now?" afterward because, for them, you continue to be the person they've always known. Your sexuality, or your romantic attraction, or your gender identity is only one part of who you are in this world, and for some people, they don't care who the person loves or what gender identity they have—the person who just came out is still their brother or sister, or parent, or friend.
For others, though, coming out is part of a process towards self-acceptance and growth, and sometimes, that can be a far more difficult process to navigate, particularly if there are fears that coming out might mean your life might fundamentally change due to a lack of acceptance from others. Unfortunately, there are no "clean" answers as to why some people who come out are embraced by friends and family while others end up in turmoil, at least in the short term (and sometimes in the long term as well).
However, National Coming Out Day is a celebration of coming out because coming out still matters, if for no other reason than it clears a way for you to fully embrace who you are, regardless of what others might say. It has been a battle for years for those who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community to be able to live authentically, and coming out has been a fundamental first step to that.
That first step is still so important, and it needs to be honored.