BY PETER RENN
It took me almost ten years of my life – from the moment that puberty hit until my last year in college – to finally tell my parents that I was gay. I spent a lot of those ten years wondering in paranoid fear what their reaction would be. Even after I finally made the decision to tell them, it took me months to finally get the words to come out of my mouth. When I would go home to visit, I’d summon up the courage to tell them, but nothing would come out when I opened my mouth. I would even practice whispering the words “I’m gay” under my breath when they were in the same room as me, just to make sure that I could physically produce the words when they were nearby. But, in the end, I just couldn’t do it face to face. Instead, I called them, and after minutes of silence mixed with stammering, finally told them that I was gay.
Why am I bothering to give you the details about such a personal aspect of my life in such a public way? Well, for starters, October 11th marks National Coming Out Day. It is a day to encourage gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people to talk openly about their lives – just as heterosexual people do the other 364 days of the year without giving it a second thought. Perhaps it seems like this is a bad rerun of your college days. After all, didn’t all of us come out in college? Well, perhaps a good number of us did – but certainly not all. Not all of us come from very accepting parts of the country, and not all of us had the luxury of being in an environment where being openly gay was not guarantee for violence or harassment. It is the reason why we see 2Ls and 3Ls coming to their first Lambda meetings. And it is the reason why it’s important to share our personal stories in incredibly public ways (even if yours, like mine, probably reads like a poorly written personal statement to law school).
Coming out makes a difference, too – personally, psychologically, and politically. First, as a personal act, coming out often means coming to terms with who you are in an open and honest way. Coming out to yourself is perhaps the hardest part. For some, it is the admission of something that they have been taught is immoral and a sin. It is an act of courage to stand up against that dogma – because as indefensible and illogical as it might be, it was probably spoon-fed to you since day one.
Second, coming out is good for your mental health. It is colossally burdensome to constantly be on guard about keeping such a large secret. I used to always dread holidays because of the questions that relatives would ask about who I was dating. But of course this pales in comparison to the pressure that others may face – pressure so strong that it annually compels thousands of gay and lesbian youth to commit suicide. If you’re a social conservative, think about that fact long and hard next time you absent-mindedly tow the party line, dismiss homosexuality as a “lifestyle choice,” or think that your words don’t have an effect. They do. The conservative response is often to quibble about the details (“they are only slightly more likely to commit suicide” or “they only think about killing themselves more often”). If that’s the best argument you have – that you only push people to the brink of suicide but not quite over the edge – then perhaps it’s time to reexamine your own moral compass. Even short of suicide, the needless anguish and suffering that an antigay climate fosters is a serious injustice.
Finally, coming out makes a difference politically. People who know a gay person are more likely to support gay issues. Antigay forces know this; that’s why they would like nothing better than to force us back into the closet. And, if you’re a straight person, there are things you can do to help. Come to a Lambda meeting, for example. We’ll also be distributing equality stickers on Tuesday, and it is our sincere hope that everyone on campus will wear them to signify support for their GLBT peers. Coming out is obviously a process, rather than a singular event, but for at least one day out of the year, let’s make this place truly accepting.
Note: HLS will be celebrating National Coming Out Day on Tuesday, because Monday is a 1L holiday.
Peter Renn, 2L, is a guest columnist and co-President of Lambda