Today is National Coming Out day. It’s a day when people who have been living in shame and confusion about who they are encouraged to take a bold step and say, I’m gay.
Hi, Mom. I’m gay.
Sounds great and it’s never easy. Coming out stories are told like recalling war wounds, or having a house burn down. As years go on, you are calmer about what happened, and even can find the humor in it but not when it first happens.
I am a firm believer that coming out stories should be told by those closest to the experience. The very real pain and terror of losing your family, your friends, or your job is on your breath like a night’s sleep. I am so far removed from coming out, I can’t tell my story without cracking few jokes and poking fun at the situation.
But when I thought about it today, I realized you come out over and over again. In many different ways, and sometimes choose the closet in odd situations.
I sat yesterday on a piece of driftwood that was lying in a small cove in Down East Maine. One gentleman with a thick southern accent came up and then two others, and suddenly I had more company than I’d seen in days. The first gentleman was coming to get some seawater to boil some lobsters in and the other two saw him trying to traverse the rocky shore and came to help.
A conversation was struck. I noted that I did not have the proper boots to help but did have a cell phone I was willing to use if calamity happened. We then all discussed the proper way to cook a lobster- steamed, never boiled, and only in seawater. Cook till they turn red, give ‘em two more minutes then pull them. Take a good rock to keep the lid on and don’t mind the scratching on the side of the pot.
I was thoroughly enjoying talking lobsters- the two rescuers were in fact lobstermen on a trip to hunt birds on the point. I asked about migration patterns and the other gentlemen asked about trap allotments.
Suddenly, the talk turned to jobs. And from jobs it went to racism so thick I thought I was going to choke. The southern gentleman no longer sounded like a gentleman. He sounded like a bigot. He referred to Mexican Americans as “Mex’s” and the trouble they cause and how they import poverty and make everyone’s lives miserable.
While he talked, and the other two agreed with hearty nods, I was starting to feel very uncomfortable. My wife is Mexican. I only know hard working people who have gone from migrant workers to a generation of lawyers and professionals. On that log, in that cove, so far away from everything I know? I sat quietly and said nothing.
I chose not to come out.
I don’t think I was in any danger but I was afraid. I went back to talking about lobsters, the over fishing of sea urchins and would the new kelp industry help.
But then it was the Chinese who eat the urchins- not true; it’s the Japanese- and import drugs into our country.
Drugs? I stop being afraid and challenge the notion that the Chinese are importing drugs into our country in order to turn us into their slaves. Drugs and an issue when the economy is bad, don’t ya think? I say.
It felt like standing on the edge of the shore and shouting, I’M A LIBERAL! Which would be even more frightening than saying I was a lesbian.
The conversation eventually dies down after a lively discussion about housing costs and how working people can no longer live where they have for generations. No one argued that point. We all hung our heads, shaking them.
As I walked away, I felt like I wasn’t really true to who I am and knew it was because I didn’t feel safe. I would not have approached the situation any differently. There are times you simply do not come out.
A friend emailed me after I told my story about the lobstermen and neighbor. She told me about a time she and her partner and their daughter pulled into a gas station, riding on empty, in a small town in Western Massachusetts. There was no other choice, no shining 24-hour pay at the pump station, only a one-pump store with two men working the place. Poverty doesn’t mean to be frightening but when you are two lesbians with your child in a car and the people at the pump have no teeth and invoke the “Deliverance” theme, you are, in fact, frightened.
Not to mention you are sporting the “We’d rather have a marriage license” bumper sticker, a banner for the gay marriage equality movement in Massachusetts.
And when one of the guys leans over and reads the sticker and calls to his friend, HEY! Come here and read this…
You start to sweat. You panic. Your kid is in the car. Your spouse, not yet legally defined but still … and two men much stronger than you in remote area are looking at your GAY bumper sticker, you think, she told me, you are going to die.
Finally, the other one who has slowly inspected the slogan smiles and says, “Well girls that's a great way to advertise for a husband!”
So today, on National coming Out Day, I want to hear the stories from the people most recently involved in the struggle with their loved ones.
And remember that every day we decide to come out… or not, often depending on the soundtrack of the situation.