October 11 is National Coming Out Day. This year, it’s also the second season premiere of Riverdale, which is neither here nor there but definitely here.
Like most Internet-having queers pre-coming out, I first discovered “National Coming Out Day” when I was fifteen and obsessively researching things like “How To Come Out” or “Who Is Laura Dern.” The internet has every answer. Personally, I did not come out on National Coming Out Day – I came out in the spring which, arguably, is a gayer season than fall.
It’s the type of holiday that’s usually a blip on my radar every year. Because I placed no stock in it as that closeted fifteen-year-old, it felt largely irrelevant to me. But for some reason, in 2017 and in the state of our union, it’s been a strangely melancholic feeling.
I came out the same year that New York legalized same-sex marriage – it’s one of the first things my mother and I talked about post-uncloseting (whatever the opposite of a closet is, maybe an open-concept rack). I came of age in the Obama administration. I’m forever grateful for the kismet of these things, but they (in addition to being a white, cis male) also has allowed me to grow up inside a bubble – one that other members of the queer community were not able to have.
In 2017, queer rights are as much under attack as they have always been. We need National Coming Out Day not to remind us to come out, but to remind us why for some people it is an impossibility.
Trans people (and especially trans women of color) are being murdered at an alarming rate – the Human Rights Campaign reported that Ally Lee Steinfeld was the 21st trans person to be killed in 2017. The state of Mississippi recently released House Bill 1523, which gave its residents the ability to deny employment, housing and service to LGBTQIA+ people on the basis of religious or moral objections. Attorney General Jeff Sessions released similar guidance on Oct. 6, 2017.
Queer people, especially at the intersections of youth, race, class and religion, are as vulnerable as ever. Not everyone has the chance or opportunity to safely come out. So National Coming Out Day can be a painful reminder of your own situation, or a foreboding threat of what is at stake. Even successful coming outs come with various levels of pain and trauma; I don’t know a single queer person in my peer group who does not harbor leftover effects of coming out. Because even if you came out one year ago, or five years, or seven or twenty, you still existed in a state of permanent bottling-up. You kept everything inside and ran through a thousand awful scenarios; you shut yourself off and shut yourself down.
Like a lot of holidays, National Coming Out Day is rife with emotions – some good and positive, but some negative and painful. So I wanted to remind people of that; that this might be a nice memory but it could also be very real and present and current.
Because National Coming Out Day is living your truth out loud, and while there are still members of our community that are persecuted for doing so, then we have work to do.