Improving the Coming Out Experience

“What?

“I had no idea”

“Okay.”

“Oh.”

“WHAT!?”

“That’s weird”

“I love you no matter what.”

“Oh my god”

“I am happy if you’re happy”

“But you had a boyfriend”

“I just want you to be safe”

“Wow.”

 

Silence.

Tears.

Blank stare.

These are some of the initial reactions I’ve gotten when coming out to the people I love. Some of these outings have been intentional and thoughtful while others were impulsive and even caught me by surprise. Some of these initial reactions felt better than others and some of them just made me feel confused. Do they get that I’m gay? Did they hear me? Should I tell them again? I came out to my father twice in two years because since he never talked about the fact that I was gay, I wondered if I had just made it up in my head that I came out to him in the first place.

I watched Love, Simon about two weeks ago and as I walked out of the theater I just had to pause on my way to the bathroom and capture the feel-good fuzzies that were happening all over my face on my Instagram story. “Just watched Love, Simon and it was soooooooo good” I wrote over my puppy eyes and tiny smile. The scene that captivated me the most from this movie was one where he is sitting in the living room with his mother shortly after coming out to his family. His mother, played by Jennifer Garner, explains that even though she didn’t know he was gay, she knew something was weighing on him. “It’s like you’ve been holding your breath for all of these years and now you can exhale,” she says to him. Obviously, tears are like rolling down my face and I’m feeling really fucking passionate thinking loudly in my head YO JENNIFER BEN AFFLECK FUCKED UP YOU ARE THE SHIT haha even though it’s not actually Jennifer and anyway…

For me, this simple phrase shed light on a missing piece of many coming out scenes I’ve watched, personal accounts I’ve heard from friends and experiences I’ve had myself coming out to loved ones. Gardner’s character not only said that she loves her son no matter what or wants him to be happy. She didn’t normalize his experience to the point where she just said “that’s cool.” She recognized and validated the fact that he had been through years of fear and anxiety about being gay all on his own. She accepted him but recognized that even though being LGBTQ is a beautiful gift, it was probably really fucking hard and painful to be in the dark closet all by yourself. In her own way, she recognized a trauma that often goes untouched.

As I watched this scene, I was reminded of the years of anxiety and heartbreak I experienced behind closed doors. My grandmother held me to sleep as I cried by her side when my high school boyfriend and I broke up but I had to hold myself when my college girlfriend and I broke up. I went to years and years of family gatherings where my loved ones asked me if I had a boyfriend and I would say “nope” because I was too scared to tell them that I actually had a girlfriend. I’ve been very lucky that the majority of initial responses have been okay. After watching this scene though, I felt drawn to the emotion I felt and wanted to explore it.  I used to think that just moving on and normalizing the situation after I utter the words “I’m gay” to somebody I love was the best way to respond. After watching this scene though, I realized that being in the closet is actually not a “normal” experience and by normalizing it so much, we disregard a possible pain that needs to be addressed.

Based on conversations I’ve had with some of my closest friends I know I am not the only queer person who has experienced a lot of internal turmoil when I was realizing that I was gay. Like many of my fellow LGBTQ, I dream of a world where coming out is not even necessary. But for now, it’s still a reality. There is still pain and struggle for some a lot more than others depending on a multitude of different factors. If you are a parent, a sibling, a cousin, aunt, uncle or grandparents, and ally consider recognizing a trauma that often goes unnoticed by members of the LGBTQ members themselves and their loved ones. Your LGBTQ loved one might say they don’t want to talk about it but offer the space because the likelihood is that they probably do. In addition to the well-received clichés like I love you no matter what, I accept you, you’re amazing, I am so happy for you, I think it’s time to incorporate another layer to the “coming out” scene- one that recognize the greatness but also the possible pain. Below are some possible statements.

  1. If you want to fill me in on any of the pain you went through before this moment, I am here to listen
  2. I am so happy that I know now and am here to offer support if you want it.
  3. Do you want to talk about what it has been like before this moment or what it has been like to realize you’re _____?
  4. I am excited to hear about all of the greatness that comes with this but just know I am also here to listen about the struggle too.

pride

My Coming Out 

We were in the kitchen when I tried to come out my grandmother. I was 11 years old. It was a few days after September 11thand for the first time ever the thought crossed my mind. A girl that I knew told a joke and it made me laugh the way that a boy’s joke would make me laugh. I remember laughing at her joke and then getting a pit in my stomach because I realized I had developed a crush. 9/11 was one of the scariest days of my life. So much so, that I always say it scared the gay out of me.

I sat on our kitchen stool and mami stood on the other side of the counter. “Mami, I think I like girls.” She looked at me and without skipping a beat, she responded “Ay Pamela por favor.” I never mentioned it again until I was 25 years old. In the same kitchen and in the very same spots we had found ourselves 14 years before, I said “Mami, I have a girlfriend.” This time, I didn’t let her brush it off. And when she seemed upset about it, I explained that I loved myself and was comfortable with myself and she has nothing to worry about. I smiled at her and hugged her. “I’m not dying mami, so you don’t need to cry.” She didn’t cry and it was the best decision she could have made.

To all of the people in my life who have had to come out, I see you and am proud AF of you.  Happy pride month everybody ❤