No matter how much support a person may have behind them, there is a moment when everyone realizes that support -- from family, friends, and even from themselves -- is only theoretical until it is tested. It can be frightening then, to take that leap of faith. Label writer Josie Hilton explores the idea of accepting one's own identity, coming out to family, and how personal and public experiences can effect our hopes and fears.
When I made my way home this past December, I had a mission that I wanted to accomplish before the holiday season was over: come out to my family. Excited to no longer police my speech or censor my feelings, I headed back to America’s heartland determined to tell my truth. Thankfully, I was met with love and positivity, and a casualness that I wasn’t expecting but was pleasantly surprised by. Finally, I could be myself at home.
Over the break, while on-the-go with my mother, she said that she wished I had come out sooner, though still very happy I chose to come out to her. This passing comment stuck with me. In my head, coming out before now would have been a disaster. I’ve identified as asexual for over three years and biromantic for more than a year now. Being single and previously only ever dated guys, I saw that as a hard sell to parents who thought of me as straight. My biggest fear was that if I came out having not dated a woman that my parents wouldn’t believe me. I didn’t want my identity to be taken as a joke or phase because “a lot of girls go gay in college.” In my head, I needed “proof” to defend my identity to my family. If debate has taught me anything: having evidence to back up your claim makes a stronger case. So I waited. Luckily, I’ve found an amazing girlfriend who helped give me the courage I needed to share my identity with my family.
Truthfully, I was nervous to come out to my parents. I was scared that they weren’t going to accept me or that my relatives would shun me. I was running scenarios through my head of what might happen. Would there be yelling, or crying, or maybe just silence? I was running risk assessment with my girlfriend. The rational part of my brain was saying that there was about a 90% everything would be fine and nothing would go wrong. Yet, that 10% plagued my thoughts until I finally was able to tell them. This was going to change my relationship with my parents, but I didn’t know how. Even though I know my parents love me, it was worrying to think they might not love a gay daughter.
My parents are liberals who are LGBT+ positive. On our way to Michigan, we always stay with our friends Mary and Martinique who are now married with two children. We hang out with our friends Bill and Steve at the pool in the summertime. They knew I held a leadership position in my school’s Gender Sexuality Alliance and were always very supportive of our endeavors. My parents love me and I knew that, and yet, I couldn’t shake the voice in the back of my head telling me that coming out would ruin everything.
Things have turned out all right for me. I’m very fortunate to have parents that I feel safe being out to. I’m very fortunate to have relatives that I feel comfortable being out to. I wasn’t in any danger; my well-being wasn’t at stake. But sitting in the passenger seat of my mom’s car, I was still scared. I felt so ready to be out but was still having to shake the last bits of hesitation that’d kept me silent.
Coming out isn’t easy. It’s not always met with understanding and compassion. Horror stories are passed around and stick with us. Until we can live in a world where nobody is afraid to live as who they are, people are going to wait. They’ll wait hesitantly in the closet, thinking maybe now is the right time only to hear about mothers being disowned by their children and teenagers bullied by bigoted teachers. So they wait. And wait. And wait and wait and wait until their time comes. We need to change our social environment to be more inclusive, understanding, and accommodating for the LGBT+ community. Safety and security play a big role in deciding whether or not to come out. Be critical of yourself and your peers to improve yourselves as well as your environment. But also be understanding of the person who is now choosing to come out to you. Think not about how you wish they’d have told you sooner, but why they waited for so long in the first place.