Thursday, October 15, 2015

Why Coming Out Day Matters

5 years ago on National Coming Out Day I read a message posted in jest on an acquaintance's Facebook page by her long time girlfriend. It said: 

 "I have something to tell you. I want to be more than "just friends" because...I'm gay."

The conversation that followed was pretty incredible. People sharing experiences and telling folks that having these conversations with people they care about was a brave and courageous thing to do. The original poster wrote: 

"I really have had this conversation in the past, and it was hard and scary. It's great to be able to joke around now, but my heart goes out to everyone who is truly struggling to have this conversation. You can do it, and you are going to be ok!"

The thing is, I was struggling to have that exact conversation. I had developed an incredible friendship with a woman that for almost 6 months had felt more and more like a relationship. I didn't know if she was gay. I didn't really know if I was gay, though I had opened myself up to the possibility of being in a relationship with her. As far as I knew, she had no idea how I felt.  Which left the ball in my court. I had confided in a few friends, one who encouraged me to, in the words of the great Billy Joel, "Tell Her About It." 

After reading that Facebook conversation I decided to take the plunge. Late one night after a particularly lovely day with this friend I crafted a private Facebook message. (I'm an internal processor, that was all the bravery I could muster.) I typed and typed and sent the message late at night, after all reasonable people had gone to bed. I confessed to having a crush on her, to being scared about telling her, to being worried that it would ruin our friendship. Her response came the next day, it was honest and sweet, and basically said I need time. (She also rewarded me a bazillion "bravery points"). The following weekend she let me down. Two months later she admitted having feelings for me. Three months after that we really started dating. It took a while to get all of our ducks in a row, because this is hard work. Telling the world you are something other than straight is hard. Sometimes telling our families is really hard. Sometimes telling our employers or co-workers is hard. Sometimes telling our friends is hard. The list goes on and on. 

This is why we need to have Pride Days, and National Coming Out Days, and Spirit Days. We need to give people who feel safe and secure saying "I'm gay" or "I'm in love with this woman" to say it, and maybe it will give someone else the bravery to say it too. I'm so thankful for those few friends who encouraged me at the start to share my feelings, and extra grateful for the Facebook conversation that transpired between people I hardly knew, that gave me hope and courage. After Ali and I started dating (yes, it was Ali) and we made it "Facebook Official" I got several messages from women I knew confiding in me that they might have feelings for other woman. I was happy to be able to share my experience and tell them "you can do it, and you are going to be ok," and to pass on a few of my bravery points.