I recently issued the following tweet on my personal feed in response to a specific incident:
I think I had to encounter some of the negative effects of being openly gay to appreciate how much I never ever want to be closeted again.
I’ll preface this by saying I’ve been fortunate to never encounter the most negative effects of being gay. I’ve never been physically abused or threatened, I’ve not been explicitly rejected or abandoned, and I generally feel safe where I am. If that’s not been your experience, or if that’s not your context, take what I’m going to say with a grain of salt.
Though my experience has been mostly positive, there have been undesirable ramifications of my coming out over the last two years. I’m not keen on getting into specifics—I prefer to address them directly, on my own—but suffice it to say I’ve run into restrictions and attitudes that didn’t exist in my world when people assumed I was straight. There was a season when I was out to only a few friends and family members, and as we discerned together whether it would be wise for me to come out more conclusively, we wrestled with the knowledge that it would inevitably lead to new complications and obstacles. Because I had opened up to a circle of people who were involved in my life and who cared about me, I didn’t feel any moral or social obligation to make my orientation known on a wider scale. The essential question for us was whether the benefits of incorporating my orientation into the version of myself I allow everyone to see would outweigh the potential risks and costs.
It’s probably true for some sexual minorities that coming out to only a certain coterie of loved ones is the ideal outcome. (I’m biased to think not telling anyone at all about one’s orientation is inherently unhealthy and, to be frank, exhausting.) Nevertheless, I can say with full confidence my decision to be completely out—to everyone from my roommates to my grandma—was the ideal outcome for me, one I’ve not regretted at all since I took that irreversible plunge. By no means do I bring up my orientation or have “the talk” with every person in my life; in my case, being out meant writing this blog and no longer asking people to keep my orientation secret. I’ve essentially accepted that everyone in my life at least has access to that information, if it matters to them.
Whenever I do encounter some of those “negative effects of being openly gay,” my mind automatically starts to try and form the question of whether I’d be happier if I could somehow climb back into the closet, but I never even get the entire question out before I’ve already answered it: No, of course not. (In 2013, of course, the concept of climbing back into the closet is difficult to imagine even hypothetically in light of the Internet, social media, etc.) After spending half a dozen years compulsively monitoring my words and mannerisms and opinions to avoid betraying what I wasn’t ready for people to know about me, it’s difficult for me to exaggerate how pleasant it feels to be free from that anxiety and second-guessing. Actions as forgettable as bringing up some LGBT news item in conversation feel like huge privileges to me because I no longer have to calculate what other people might assume about me. (They don’t have to assume because they know!) Furthermore, actions as significant as working with The Marin Foundation or leading a chapel session at my school about homosexuality have unlocked an entire world of passion and gifting for me that was out of reach when I was too afraid to associate myself with that topic.
So, yes, incidents like the one that inspired my tweet are always severely disappointing and painful, especially for what they signify about where our culture is and how things need to change. But if I have to choose between living honestly with some negative consequences and living dishonestly without those negative consequences, my experience with both of those options leads me unequivocally to prefer the former. That I’m able to say that with such confidence is evidence of how blessed/charmed my life has been, to be sure, but I think most of us would agree that where we’d like to see our culture end up is an environment where people can be honest without worrying about whether that honesty might ruin their lives. In the meantime, those of us who can be out ought not to take for granted what a privilege that is, actively seeking to make it a possibility for every sexual minority.
If you’re the commenting type, I’m curious to hear about your experiences: Are you grateful to be out, or are you grateful that someone in your life came out to you? Or, do you regret coming out / regret that someone in your life came out to you? My experience has been positive enough to make me think the benefits of honesty (even if only the benefits for peace of mind) will nearly always outweigh its costs, but I know others have faced consequences much more severe than mine. How has your or someone else’s coming out affected you?