It's National Coming Out Day again! Funny how these annual things work. 'NCOD' was started in 1988 by Robert Eichberg and Jean O'Leary to raise awareness and celebrate coming out. So we'd like to add to the awareness.
For the majority of the LGBT+ community 'coming out' isn't a onetime event (I wish!). In reality, as most people are assumed straight by default, coming out is something they do over and over again. And although LGBT+ rights and acceptance is growing year by year, for a lot of people coming out is still a scary and dangerous prospect. Being disowned by family and friends, the threat of violence, etc, is still a sad reality many face.
Are you straight and think that National Coming Out Day has nothing to do with you? Well, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find out that in fact, you're a huge part of it. Just as with any social justice movement, it can't be won without allies. Robert Eichberg once said "Most people think they don't know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact, everybody does." That's why it’s so important that you use every opportunity to let the people around you know that you support the LGBT+ community. Personally, the first person I came out to was a straight friend of mine, simply because she did just that. As a result, I was confident that she'd continue to love and accept me.
NCOD is also an opportunity for out and proud persons to share their coming out story to the world. Eichberg continued "It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes." The more people are exposed to persons who may seem different to them, the more they realise how alike they really are. Sharing your coming out story sends an invaluable message to persons who are struggling to come out, or even to accept who they are. The trials you've had to overcome and how you did it are deeply encouraging for someone who’s still in the early stages of their journey to hear.
If you're reading this and you are not out yet, hang in there. I know how tough it can be; I’ve only been out a few months myself. I grew up in a country where being gay can get you killed; having to always 'pass' as straight and keep looking over my shoulder was traumatising. For years I was so worried about being disowned by my family and being rejected by my friends. Eventually I concluded that even if I lost everything, it would be worth it to be able to live the life I wanted to live. Sadly, as expected, my parents reacted very negatively. On the other hand I was so moved by the outpouring of love and support by others in my life. Even by people I wasn't expecting to accept me. My parents will take time to come around, but I'm confident that they will.
Everyone's journey is different, so please don't beat yourself up for not being where you want to be. You will come out at the right time for you; you're never going to be "too late". And when you do, there will be a big, bright, colourful and fabulous world out there waiting for you. In the meantime, please reach out for help if you need it; your mental health should be your #1 priority. In my darkest hours I'd always be so comforted by calling the Samaritans and the Switchboard LGBT hotlines (helpful resources will be linked below).
And if you feel safe and ready to come out to someone in your life, the right way to do it is whichever way feels most comfortable. That could be face-to-face, over the phone, over text, a video message, or a letter, to name a few. I've come out most of these ways, but by letter was my favourite. It allowed me the time to get all my thoughts out onto paper, and allowed the recipient time to digest it too.
It gets better, and more importantly, you will grow stronger.
Samaritans (116 123) - Please call them if you are depressed, anxious, or suffer from suicidal thoughts. Or if you know anyone who struggles with these.
Swtichboard (0300 330 0630) - Please call if you are struggling with your sexuality, want to come out, or want to know how to be a better ally.
Stonewall (0800 0502020) - Their website and hotline is a valuable resource for LGBT+ help and support. And they also help provide accommodation for LGBT+ youth who are/face being made homeless due to their sexuality.