Today is the twenty-ninth anniversary of National Coming Out Day, a day for LGBTQ people to proudly express who they are to family, friends, and their communities. One out of every two Americans has someone close to them who is gay or lesbian. For transgender people, that number is only one in ten. And when people know someone who is LGBTQ, they are far more likely to support equality under the law.
Sharing our self-discovery stories with each other can be very powerful. So, in honor of National Coming Out Day and in support of our nontheistic LBGTQ community, we would like to share three empowering coming-out stories.
I was in the seventh grade when I privately started to acknowledge, in my mind, that I was gay. I was going to a little magnet school called “The New Orleans Free School,” a place where a kid could be a kid, learn, and grow. It was there that I had my first pubescent crushes and battled with whether or not I believed in God. I remember like it was yesterday a conversation I had at recess with my favorite teacher, Mary Garton. It was a warm and sunny day in New Orleans, and Mary, a classmate, and I were talking about random societal issues (yes we were pretty advanced). I suddenly blurted out, “I think that I might be gay…” and our conversation continued with a thoughtful acknowledgement of my statement. That day was a precursor to the day I would actually come out as gay and all the ways my life would change.
Later, during my freshman year at McMain, I learned that one of the teachers at my school had come out as gay in an interview in a local paper. I called him to tell him that he had my support. The conversation ended with an invitation to meet in his classroom with a small group of students to discuss creating a Gay/Straight alliance on campus. We created the “Student Alliance For Equality” or S.A.F.E. and recorded a video introduction for the morning announcements. We ironed out a script for those who would speak and when the camera started to roll something weird happened. The person who was supposed to say his lines froze. I remembered the lines and stepped forward to recite them. “Hi my name is Ashton Woods and this is the Student Alliance for Equality, if you are gay, lesbian, or bisexual come and join us at the S.A.F.E. club…we are family.” My actions during this recording facilitated my coming out to a student body of some two-thousand students.
Rebecca Benson-Bates, a mother and executive assistant who lives in Northern Virginia. She’s also an active Down syndrome advocate, half-marathon runner, and photographer.
Coming out for me really should have come sooner. A true new wave child of the Eighties, and one who’d only dated boys because those kinds of pairings were the only ones available to me in my small town, I grew up with the romantic notion of marrying a foreigner (one with a cool British accent) and having a cool kid who would have dual residency. Those are all the right reasons to fall in love…right? Yeah, I was young.
And I married young. I moved to England at twenty-one, married a hipster (with that great British accent) at twenty-three, and brought him back to the States with me. I knew it was a mistake from the get-go for so many reasons, too many to list, not the least of which was that I wasn’t so sure a life with someone of the opposite sex was what I really wanted. My first real regret was not having had the experience I knew I needed to figure out what my true path was. And I thought about that often.
But marriage comes with a vow. I felt guilty for bringing this guy to the US, who at the time owned nothing but the shirt on his back and had no family to speak of. And I wanted a baby. So I stuck it out. For twenty-three years.
Yep, twenty-three years. Until one day I woke up at the age of forty-six and told myself, this can’t be the rest of my life…this is MY life! I have only one shot at this… I have my child, I have my career… But I’m missing true love.
So, after a huge fight with my husband, coinciding with a torrid affair with a female friend, I knew I would never look back…that I had finally taken that plunge, that first huge step in truly knowing who I was, and who I was meant to be.
And I had absolutely no qualms about it, other than the guilt of hurting someone.
Coming out for me, in these liberal days of acceptance and openness and to a family that’s encouraged me to be whomever I want to be as long as I’m always first and foremost a good person, was easy. I feel incredibly fortunate to live in a time and place in which I can feel safe to love whomever I want to love.
Visiting my father one weekend, dressed up and ready to drive to Philadelphia for a Match.com date while he babysat my daughter, my stepmother asked me, “So, where did you meet him?” “Her,” I corrected. Without missing a beat, she adjusted her language. “So, where did you meet her?”
I never expected anything different from them. It was the same with my mother when I told her. And my friends. And my colleagues. Nobody batted an eyelash.
Every day I am thankful for those who fought and suffered to pave the way for this path to my happiness. Every day I am thankful to have the support that I have. Every day I am thankful for the love I am free to have in my life.
Every day I am thankful for the decision I made to be who I am, to love who I love, to feel what I feel.
It’s never too late.
Trav Mamone, LGBTQ Humanist Alliance board member.
As someone who is both bi/pansexual and genderqueer/non-binary, being in the middle of both the sexual and gender spectrums made me feel like I wasn’t “queer enough” to come out. I have known since high school about both my sexuality and gender identity (although then I didn’t know the word “genderqueer” existed), but at the time the main discourse surrounding LGBTQ youth focused on cis gay kids. I knew I still liked girls, even though I fantasized about kissing my friend Tony at the same time, so I just assumed I was just a straight kid who liked a little something extra on the side.
It wasn’t until I was twenty-nine that I realized it was time to come out. I started researching bisexual support groups online and realized that I was queer enough to come out. But I was also near the end of a six-year relationship with a conservative Christian woman who I knew would not support me. After talking with my therapist, I decided I had to be true to myself. I ended the relationship, and told my parents I was bisexual. They couldn’t have been happier.
I discovered the word “genderqueer” a few years later when someone on YouTube described it as being “both a boy and a girl at the same time.” I thought, “There’s a word for that?” Once again, I started doing research online and realized how much sense it made. These online communities helped me realize I was not alone and that there were plenty of people who were willing to help me out through my coming out process.
Although our stories may be different, each story is important to put a human face on LGBTQ rights. Some come out to supportive family and friends, and some aren’t so lucky. Some realized they were LGBTQ at a young age, while others took years to figure it out. No matter what the story looks like, it still matters.