Today is National Coming Out Day. As if coming out is a singular event. I couldn't begin to truly count many times I have come out over the years. I think the last time I came out was to a new coworker about a week ago. There have been times that is has seemed like a daily occurrence in my life. It comes in waves. They may be easy to bear or they may tumble you around, leaving you ragged and confused.
You have to come out to yourself before you can "come out" to anyone else. Then your friends and family. I think this is what people think of when they think of "coming out". Even this can include so many conversations and so many layers. So many emotions and expectations and reactions. What about your job? There are still a lot of states that sexual orientation is not a protected class so you can be fired. Even if you can't be, your life can be made difficult.
Then there is a lull... But maybe you change jobs or you move. Maybe you are getting married and that grandparent you never told because they were of the "we just don't talk about it" mindset may or may not actually know. Maybe you're buying a car or a house and have to navigate loan paperwork (I swear I'm not still bitter about our loan being held up because they were waiting for our husband's credit reports... okay, I guess I am). Maybe you're on a date and the server just can't comprehend that you don't want the check split and that you are sharing dessert.
For me, having children changed everything. When we were foster parents, we discovered just how intrusive and tactless people are when children are involved. Children are public domain. Strangers make up a story in their head and if you correct them on their assumptions, it is offensive. When we had a baby that had a different ethnicity, people would ask me "what" her father was. When the children looked more like us, it was more plausible to people that we were sisters and each had one kid than us being a family unit.
So it was a conscious decision that if we were going to have a family, we needed to be out. O. U. T. We never wanted our children to feel like our family structure was something to be ashamed of. We couldn't continue to "pass." As it turns out, pregnancy gave us a lot of opportunities to practice. My [least] favorite comment: "Oh, you're having a girl? Is your husband disappointed?" Wait... what?
Since then we have had to navigate mom & baby groups, soccer classes, day care, school, swim lessons, pediatricians, and a million other situations where we are not the norm. Even the grocery store cashier-
"She must get her curls from her daddy!"
"Actually, she doesn't have a daddy."
"That's okay, Jesus can be her daddy."
This is a legacy that we will pass on to our children. Regardless of changing public opinions, it is hard to be seen as "different." E is already faced with the decision of whether or not to correct classmates when they assume she has a father, whether to take one her mothers or a uncle or grandfather to "daddy" events at school. We haven't labeled it for her, but these are her first "coming out" stories as the child of lesbians.
So to our allies on this National Coming Out Day, remember that coming out is not a one time shot. Sometimes it is easy and sometimes it is not. It can be a beautiful, liberating experience, but it can also have catastrophic repercussions. And sometimes, after years and years, it can just be a chore.