Well, it’s National Coming Out Day once again, and I think I’ve finally run out of things to come out as. It seems like every year since I’ve been on YouTube, there’s been some serious coming out going on. First, I came out as gay to my family, which is probably the simplest and most basic form of coming out. The next year, my best friend came out as lesbian to her family, including her husband at the time. The year after that, it turned out that we were much more than best friends, so I had to tell my family that I wasn’t so much “gay” as “whatever”, and that I’d be moving across the country to stay with her and her kids. And most recently, I came out as trans – as in stepmom, not stepdad.
At this point, I’m pretty sure I have the most understanding and supportive family in the world, or at least the most polite. And having run through pretty much the entire gauntlet of coming out, I can say it doesn’t necessarily get any easier. Sure, I have more experience with it now, and I don’t think my family can really be all that surprised anymore, but it’s still just as difficult as it’s always been. There’s that lengthy period of dread in the back of your mind as you keep putting it off, the point where you finally get sick of this and commit to getting it over with, the adrenaline-fueled anxiety leading up to it, and the heart-pounding moment of uncertainty when you actually tell them and hope that they won’t freak out. And, if you’re lucky, there’s the most extraordinary relief when it turns out not to be a big deal at all, and you wonder why you waited so long to get it done.
I’ve usually come out incrementally instead of to everyone at once, because it feels like less of a single, enormous step, and it kind of snowballs in a way that makes it seem a little less scary as you come out to more and more people. It’s always helped to start with one person I trust, like a sibling, so that when I come out to more people, I can tell them about everyone else who already knows, and hopefully it won’t seem like such a big “thing” to them either.
I still haven’t come out to most of my extended family, but that’s because I don’t always know them very well and we haven’t seen each other in years, and I generally save the stress and anxiety of personally coming out for people who are really, really important to me. At the same time, I realize this information is no longer fully within my control once I start telling people, and everyone else could find out at any time if they go asking around or if someone decides to tell them. For me, being out is about being comfortable with that reality – after all, why out yourself if you don’t want to be out?
Of course, coming out will be different for everyone depending on their circumstances. Even for me, every time I’ve come out has been a unique experience. When I first came out as gay, there was the uncertainty of not knowing how my family would react to anything that had to do with the general LGBT cluster. And let’s just say that moving to Florida to live with a married woman and her kids can sound a lot more ominous than it actually is. But that really had nothing on coming out as trans, which actually required some explanation. Most people don’t fully understand what it means, and I had to gauge their knowledge and tailor the message accordingly. People know what it means to be gay or in love, but wanting to live as another gender? They might not even realize that this is possible, or real, or not like something you’d see on Jerry Springer.
Ironically, coming out as trans was more of a formality than anything. Almost nothing had actually changed about me at all, except for how I identified. I’d been slowly coming out for the past few years without even realizing it. No one could really claim to be shocked, and everything went better than expected. I had already gotten there, and now it was just official. At the end of the day, I was still me, and everyone knew that.
It’s easy to say this because it hasn’t ever gone poorly for me, but I’ve never regretted coming out. Not only was it a huge relief, but this is the truth of my life, and I believe it deserves to be shared with the people I care about. They’ve earned it. And I only hope that all of us can have someone in our lives who’s earned this invaluable trust: the trust that they’ll listen even if they don’t always understand, that they’ll see you as a human being first, and that they’ll love you just the same.