This Thursday is National Coming Out Day. It’s difficult these days to remember that being open about whom a person loves comes at a high price. It costs families, friends, housing, jobs, physical harm, psychological health, and even lives to be openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or even just questioning.
Almost everyone these days knows someone who fits into one of those categories, and by knowing that person’s identity, you represent–at one point or another–a potential risk, an unknown quantity. That person made a calculation, based in an algebra of emotional connection and human-hearted estimation, scrounged from past experiences, conversations, jokes, off-hand remarks, forwarded emails, Facebook posts, retweets, and a million spoken and unspoken signals. This equation spits out answers ranging from standing in the full light of exposure, to straddling an awkward threshold, to pressing flat against the shadows, barely breathing, praying no one sees through the grey mantle of disguise pulled tight around them.
And, from that equation, they took a risk on you. Every time that risk pays dividends of love, trust, and authenticity, it gets better.
Last year, on this here very blog, I came out as bisexual. It was the Least Eventful Coming Out Ever. In fact, the utterly underwhelming response–all kind and supportive, ye punters!–even contributed for a little while to my neurosis about not “having earned” the identity or label.
But in a discussion with one of the organizers at Minnesotans United for All Families earlier this year, I was surprised to learn that that (completely un)fateful blog post was hardly the first time I’d come out in my life. By the time I made my sexual orientation public, I was practically an old hand at revealing parts of myself I’d previously hidden for fear of rejection, punishment, disappointment, or harm. I’ve had more coming-outs than a 23-year-old debutante.
So here, in no particular order, are pieces of me that have spent time in one closet or another:
–I’m a witch. I know I said a while ago I was going to be more coy about this, as I have done when teaching religious studies, but frankly, you’re not my students (for all my professorial posturing). I studied for two years before I committed myself to this faith, and when I told my parents about my choice, my mom cried a lot. She said she’d known something like this was happening, but she’d hoped I’d fallen in with a “nice Eastern religion.” I knew things were going to be okay when she sent me goofy witch socks next year at Halloween.
–I’m autistic. As an adult woman, it would be incredibly hard to get an official, clinical diagnosis, and there’s nothing particular in terms of care or resources that a diagnosis would make more available to me. It was my son Connor’s Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis that unlocked this mystery. The more I read and observed in him, the more I recognized and understood about myself. I’m so much more functional and kind to myself (and him) than I used to be, now that I understand the patterns that govern my thoughts and senses. And it’s precisely because I am NOT what most people picture when they hear the word “autism” that it’s important that I’m out about this.
–I’m a pack rat. I blame being a historian. Papers and Christmas cards and books and kids’ drawings aren’t junk–they’re artifacts.
–I’m a rape survivor. I knew my rapist; I was dating him. He raped me twice, once vaginally, once orally. I didn’t even know the second one was rape until the support group therapist named it as such. I told no one for two and a half years. Apparently, coming out is easier in batches, because for my own crazy reasons, I told my parents about that within 24 hours of the Witch Talk.
–I hate Napoleon Dynamite and the game Risk. Don’t judge me.
–I’m the child of an alcoholic. If autism didn’t give me control issues, this sure as hell did. I didn’t have a single drink of alcohol until my wedding night, which came 10 months after my 21st birthday, and 4 months after I came home from a year of study in France. I wanted to be sure my personality was fully formed, and not addictive, before I even went near the stuff. I’ve never been drunk, if only because by the time I started drinking, I was big, Irish, German, and discerning enough to make getting drunk a very expensive proposition.
–I have an invisible disease. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in July 1999. It’s hard to know how I got this–debates rage about what causes chronic pain disorders. Most likely, the car accident I had 10 days before my wedding, which caused fairly extensive soft tissue damage to my neck, shoulders, and mid-back, triggered it. When I got to grad school, a doc at the health center put me on a tricyclic antidepressant for severe tension headaches. It effectively masked the developing fibro symptoms, until its lifespan expired and everything came tumbling out. For the practical implications of this on my life, I refer you to the Story of the Spoons.
–I can’t do math. I’m pretty good at arithmetic, even mental figuring, but from algebra forward, I’m hopeless. I’m not sure I’d call it dyscalculia, but I’ve never had it explained so I could understand it. I’m pretty sure I don’t care to try again.
–I spent five days in the psych ward of a hospital in August 2009. When we moved, my efforts to establish continuous care for my fibro and related depression failed utterly, and I had to go off all my meds, all at once. When I did manage to get back on something after an ER visit, it was too little, too late, and I couldn’t pull out of the tailspin on my own. At 5:00 pm on a Thursday, I emerged from our bedroom and told my Darling Husband that I had thought of nothing but killing myself all day long. I asked him to take me to the hospital. They doubled my meds, and I felt like myself in fewer than 72 hours.
–I can’t play video games. They stress me out to the point of panic attacks. And this isn’t just with the new immersive FPSs or rich-environment RPGs. I first noticed this about myself on Super Mario Brothers and Tetris. I’ve managed to pry this open just enough to enjoy the occasional song on Rock Band or round of Hexic, but even then, all my upper body muscles are sore afterward from the tension. Most of the time, it’s no fun at all.
So there: I’m out. About a bunch of stuff. I recommend it highly, if only so that the next time someone comes out to you about anything at all, you’ll know the feeling of standing on that precipice, waiting to step off. You’ll know how important it is to put your arms out and catch.