Today, October 11th is National Coming Out Day. This year marks the 32nd anniversary of a day when members of the LGBTQ+ community celebrate the act of “coming out”.
Coming out can be transcendent, joyful and cathartic. It also can be a a difficult, frightening and sometimes dangerous experience. No two coming out stories are ever the same. As members of this community we talk about the need to come out when it’s right for the person coming out, not before, not after.
What we don’t frequently talk about is what to do when coming out goes badly. When you offer someone the privilege of knowing your truth, they may not respond the way that you want them to. I speak from personal experience.
I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. Growing up I was taught that the bible hates homosexuality. I was taught that you should hate the sin but love the sinner. But the way to love the sinner was TOUGH LOVE. Knowing this I hid my truth. I lied and told my parents that my girlfriend was my friend. When they were suspicious of how much time we spend together, I made up her fictional boyfriend who was in the army. I told them she was lonely. I was drowning in lies. And not even convincing ones at that!
But how do you prepare to turn your whole world upside down? You pray for the best and prepare for the worst. My parents reported their suspicions to the elders (the judicial committee for Jehovah’s Witnesses). When they asked me about my “alternative lifestyle” I finally told the truth.
Looking back, I was tired. I was tired of trying to pray the gay away (unsuccessfully). I was tired of hiding my joy. I was tired of pretending to be someone I’m not. I knew the risk. I was well aware of everything I would lose. They told me they could help me find the path to righteousness if I was willing to repent. I told them I wasn’t sorry. I told them, “When I meet God, if the worst thing I did was love someone, then I’ll sort that out when I get there”. They told me they would announce my disfellowshipping publicly the following Thursday. I had five days.
I frantically started secretly preparing for life on my own. I bought dishes, silverware, a mop, broom and dustpan. Things I thought I would need if my parents kicked me out. Looking back, I’m laughing at what I thought were “necessities” as I’m sure you’re laughing now. I kept hiding my purchases in the basement knowing that they would be there when the time came.
The night the announcement was made, I was PHYSICALLY thrown out of my house at 2 in the morning. I sat outside on the curb holding only my cell phone. I couldn’t get into my car to drive anywhere. I couldn’t get back into my house. I phoned the police for help. While I waited, a locksmith arrived and changed the locks on my house. I didn’t even know that was possible! I was technically homeless for a week. My mom called me three days later to tell me to come get my things which were all in the driveway. That was the last time I spoke to my mother for years.
I found a roommate on Roomates.com whose mother cosigned for our first apartment. I was 20 years old. I had no credit. I had no car insurance. I had no living room furniture. I’d lost my parents. I’d lost my friends. But I was free.
Sometimes you lose EVERYTHING you have to gain yourself. But even when coming out goes badly… it is STILL WORTH IT.
Here’s five things I wish I had known. My greatest wish is that you’ll never need them.
1) Have a place to go. If you’re living with someone who doesn’t know your sexual orientation, have a backup plan ready. Friends or support family member can help to keep you off the streets.
2) Have some money set aside. As someone who had to come up with a security deposit and first month’s rent in five days, I know the value of having a little change in the piggy bank before you come out.
3) Have a support system. Figure out what friends and family are pro-gay and reach out to them before coming out. Even if you’re “asking for a friend” having allies is always a step in the right direction.
4) Go online. There are a lot of resources for therapy, counseling, support groups and more. There may be resources in your own neighborhood that you have yet to discover. A quick google search for “LGBTQ resources near me” is a good place to start. Pro tip: Remember to clear your browser history if you’re not ready to come out.
5) Have your phone handy and call the police if you feel unsafe. One of the best things I did that night was call the police. They were able to step in, talk to my parents and get my personal items out of my house safely. When coming out, tensions and emotions can run high. Don’t be afraid to call 911 if things escalate.