I’m lesbian… a homosexual.
Today is National Coming Out Day here in the United States. Today, Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgenders (GLBT) gather their pride and stand up for who they are. The first Coming Out Day was in 1987 and celebrated with a March on Washington (the second one). I was at the first March on Washington in 1979; it was sheer coincidence that I lived in DC at the time.
I remember the ecstasy of walking around with thousands and thousands of gays and lesbians (the bisexuals were suspect and transgenders were considered “others”), screaming happily, carrying signs, cruising… all for the very first time in public… being visible with news cameras everywhere. Exhilarating! I was out and proud (as the saying went).
Yet, when I was back home, everyone questioned my “sexuality,” saying, “You just haven’t met the right man,” or “You’re just going through a phase.” Amusingly, I wasn’t the strongest-minded back then, so embarked on a Let’s-Find-the-Right-Man adventure… a trip that eventually led to marriage and three kids.
Then Sarah and I met at a La Leche League meeting when my youngest was two days old and she was seven months pregnant (they are both 24-years old now).
Apparently, the right man was a woman.
My then-husband, Sarah’s then-husband and Sarah were all in the Army. Once we became “lovers” (the vernacular of the day), we moved into her military quarters where we lived with all four kids, relatively undetected by the straights for 18 months.
When someone turned us in, the investigation found that Sarah was, indeed, a homosexual (gasp!). She was subsequently kicked out of the Army even though she’d won an array of awards, including being Soldier of the Year, separated from service with an Honorable Discharge with a bar to re-enlistment. When the first Gulf War started, she received a call asking her… begging her… to please come back because her MOS (a mechanic on trucks 22.5 tons and bigger) was desperately needed. Her response was, “This dyke wasn’t good enough in peace time, she sure isn’t good enough in war time.”
Sarah vowed to never live in the closet again and she’s paid for that promise many times over the years. She was overlooked for promotions, not hired and turned away despite her always exemplary schooling and employment history. That she looks like a dyke, most certainly has had an effect on her career. (Oh, c’mon, you and I both know there’s a look to most dykes. Even though I don’t fit the stereotype, it isn’t difficult to pick out the butch or androgynous lesbians. It’s in the genes.)
Despite graduating top of her class in Administration of Justice and also finishing top of her class in the Police Academy, a local police department, known for their “progressive” views of the GLBT community, didn’t hire her, saying she didn’t have the right qualifications. Those qualifications, apparently, include not looking like a lesbian. The Sheriff’s Department snatched her up without batting an eye.
It’s been easier for me since I “pass.” I look like a girl (er, woman… Sarah despises the use of the word “girl” for women), so have to come out in nearly every situation that includes more than a few minutes’ contact. That means I’m out to clients as well. It took a long time for me to figure out what the line was I wanted to draw between me and my clients and when I finally settled on being out, I was able to relax considerably. Before I make a consult appointment, I ask clients to please read my Bio page, which explicitly talks about Sarah and our (legal) marriage. Over the years, I pondered the issue, thinking, “Doctors don’t share their sexual orientation, why should I?” or “What does it matter?” But, in the end, I chose being out. The first reason was personal integrity; it just felt right. The second reason was I didn’t want a client to find out after I’d given her care and be upset that a lesbian had seen her naked or, even more dramatically, touched her. I know it shouldn’t matter, but I am also well aware that it does matter.
A recent discussion had folks in their twenties saying National Coming Out Day shouldn’t even be done anymore, that there is too much pressure for closeted GLBT’s on that day and besides, shouldn’t people get to define themselves? Shouldn’t the assumption be sexual-orientation neutral until proven/stated otherwise? Hmm… aren’t there about eight million “should’s” in our lives already?
We live in the real world, not Utopia, where not everyone lives an authentic life. Because the overwhelming majority of people in the world are heterosexual, the assumption is, and I suspect, always will be, that you/I are heterosexual, hence the coming out process over and over… throughout a gay person’s lifetime.
Sure, it would be wonderful if everyone could live an authentic life, but even that definition shape-shifts over time. I was heterosexual, lesbian, heterosexual, bisexual and lesbian again. Today, I consider myself about 5% bisexual, but still identify as lesbian. (And the whole deal with my genital activity being the basis for my classification gets on my last nerve, but that’s a different story.)
But National Coming Out Day means so, so much more than just “coming out” and announcing your sexual orientation. Perhaps it is time to change the name to GLBT Pride Day or GLBT Recognition Day. Whatever the name, it offers companionship, camaraderie and solidarity in a fight (yes, in many ways, it is still a fight) for equal rights. You don’t have to be GLBT to show pride or come out today. In fact, the more who aren’t GLBT and proclaim their out-ness, the better!
For people like Sarah who are clearly homosexual, it’s Coming Out Day every day of the year. For those that pass like me, I come out in my own way… my choosing to live out(loud). But, there are so many other ways you can come out. Not just in support of the GLBT community, but also in touching and embracing your authentic self. Are you a closet artist? Writer? Did you always want to be a clown? Have you secretly wanted to act? Grab that part of you, the part you are embarrassed or even ashamed of and give it light. If it is your sexuality tucked away behind the coats and board games, dust it off, too. See if it still fits. And if it does, come on out. You are not alone.
Especially today, you are not alone.