My name is Beth and I am a gay woman.
I assume that this is not news to any of you who read this on anything like a regular basis.
I tend to assume that it isn’t news to most people, these days. To the point that when someone discovered earlier this year that I am indeed gay and imparted their new-found knowledge with a whiff of the vaguely scandalous, my response and everyone else’s was not to ask how he found out but rather to ask how he didn’t find out until now.
You might wonder then why it is that I’m bothering to say it.
Today is National Coming Out Day. And today, I could tell you about the first time I ever came out, or the first time I came out to someone in real life, or the first time I came out in real life to someone I knew, or the first time I actually managed to use the word “gay”. I could tell you about coming out to my mum, and about being told that she loved me but that I shouldn’t tell the rest of my family and about how far she’s come since then. I could tell you about, several years later, quietly and earth-shatteringly and on the background of a Christmas holiday when I had done nothing but cry about it for four days, making the decision to tell the rest of my family anyway. I could tell you about all the times and situations when I’ve made a conscious choice to not come out.
But the thing about coming out is that it isn’t an event and it isn’t really a process. It’s a lifetime.
There are some people who would claim that they don’t understand why LGBT people do choose to come out. There are some people who I assume are either trying to be funny or else are drowning in their straight privilege when they say that LGB people shouldn’t come out as LGB, because, after all, straight people don’t come out as straight. (Unless they’re Darren Criss.)
But it’s not always about announcements and scandals and newspaper headlines. It’s not that I introduce myself by telling people that I’m gay and it’s not that I wear dungarees and a rainbow-striped stethoscope to work. It’s not about those things.
It’s about the half beat of hesitation, the first time you have to decide whether it’s worth correcting the casual acquaintance who just asked about your boyfriend (or girlfriend). It’s about conversations with medical staff who are appalled when your answer to, “What kind of contraception do you use?” is, “I don’t.” It’s in having an opinion about gay rights and choosing to tell the truth when someone asks why you care. It’s when a colleague makes a joke about his obs and gyn rotation almost turning him gay and you don’t stop yourself from making the joke back about yours almost turning you straight. It’s listening to casual homophobia and not being able to pretend that it doesn’t sting. It’s about the complexities of finding a church where nobody will marginalise you or try to fix you. It’s kissing your girlfriend (or boyfriend) in Starbucks, and knowing that there will be some people who will notice and some people who won’t like it. It’s when getting married or having children is seen as a political statement rather than a public declaration. It’s about the tiny flicker of surprise when you mention your same-sex partner or your plans to attend Pride at the weekend.
It’s all of these things and a thousand more.
And they’re less about coming out than they are about simply being out.
It’s making a choice to live life out loud and and without shame. It’s the privilege of having been born in a place and a time where I can safely make that choice. It’s knowing what it’s like to do the other thing, and knowing that that life is a life lived less honestly and less joyfully. And it’s knowing that it really does get better.
I was told something once, from a pulpit, not long after I moved here, and it meant an awful lot to me. It occurs to me that today,when people are quietly and earth-shatteringly making the decision to come out to their communities, to their loved ones, and to themselves, that this is a day when people perhaps need to hear it. It’s here.
But this is the important bit:
“Know this truth and know it for it is Gospel. You are made in the image and likeness of God. You are included in the sphere, in the circle, in the circumference of all that is holy, of all that is truth. You can’t be thrown out of the vineyard. You are loved. You are blessed. And nothing and no one can take that away.”
You are loved.
You are blessed.
And nothing and no one can take that away.