Friday, May 27, 2016

"Coming Out" Doesn't Happen Just Once

I have written frequently about my "coming out" journey - the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of it, including two serious suicide attempts.  It's an experience that heterosexuals cannot contemplate since they have never had to admit to others who they are and then wait to see if they will be rejected -or fired, in the case of coming out to employers.   I have come out to past employers and was fired for being gay in 2004 by a sizable local law firm.  The economic fall out was catastrophic and included a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing.  Sadly, those of us in the LGBT community find ourselves faced with having to "come out" over and over again.  Case in point, while I was at a doctors appointment today, the doctor kept referring to my wife  even though all of my paperwork cited my husband.  Thus, I was faced with having to correct the narrative by in effect "coming out" yet again. Marriage equality has helped a great deal, but the issue remains alive and well. A piece in The Advocate looks at this sad - and sometimes emotionally draining - reality.  Here are excerpts:
We talk about coming out as if it’s something you only do once. In my experience it’s an ongoing part of life. Sometimes it’s easy, and other times it makes my stomach flutter. 
I first came out as a lesbian 30 years ago, when I was still in college. Initially I was very careful about who I shared this tender information with. In 1985 being gay felt both like being part of a special club and living in a freak show. Over time, I widened the circle of people I told. Sometimes I was praised for being courageous, and other times I was treated with contempt or confusion. One of the more memorable responses to my coming out was when my sister-in-law’s 60-year-old mother said, while we were cooking Thanksgiving dinner, “I’ve seen that on the Phil Donahue show, but never met one before.”
In 1991 my partner, Rinda, and I had a service of commitment in our Unitarian Universalist Church. Most of our family members came, and as far as I was concerned I was out to the world. It was a done deal.
Little did I know that becoming a parent would force me to be out in whole new way. It started at the birth in the hospital where I had to justify my relationship with my own child at every change of shift. Some nurses were tickled pink to be working with an “alternative” family. But others were confused, offended, or outright hostile. Looking back, I wonder how well I explained the situation, sleep-deprived as I was.
At restaurants, waitresses would casually ask, “Who’s her mother?” Rinda and I would stare at each other, unprepared at first. Eventually we learned to say, “We both are. We’re a couple.”  
So I learned to say enough without saying too much. And I learned to uncover what I was really being asked. And I learned when to give a 10-second explanation and when to have a longer conversation. And I learned to let our children take the lead as they grew older. And I learned to say the word “wife.”  
I never expected to be a wife or have a wife, but now I am one and I have one. It’s turned out to be the best thing ever, because that single word conveys so much, so clearly. Without any further explanation, total strangers understand my relationship to Rinda. “Girlfriend,” “partner,” “life mate” require more sentences to be certain that I’m being understood. But “wife” is completely clear.
The federal legal recognition that came last year brought more ease and clarity to my life than I had expected. After all, we’d been married in our hearts and souls since 1991. And our marriage was recognized in the state of California. What could a federal blessing of our marriage give us that we didn’t already have?
It turns out, a lot. Now that we were “out” to the federal government, when we got a mortgage we knew how to hold title. In the past we had long conversations with the title company, and all of us were just making a guess about the best way for us to hold title as a couple who were legally married in California, but not at the federal level.  We only have to fill out one joint federal tax return, which can be used for our state return. 
The potential cost of coming out is rejection. But the cost of being hidden, of living in shame, is far greater. And the opportunities that coming out affords are enormous. Coming out as a lesbian has given me the courage to come out as an artist, a writer, a Black Lives Matter activist, and a person of faith. It’s allowed me to be more of my authentic self in so many ways, and hopefully gives others the courage to do the same. And it’s given people permission to tell me their stories of spiritual and personal growth, connecting us across differences, but reminding us of our shared humanity.

I spent the bulk of my life in self-deception, self-hatred and denial of reality.  Coming out proved to be a financial catastrophe.  However, the sense of freedom and long underachieved self-acceptance has been priceless.  Would that more in the straight community had a clue of the pain and  emotional harm that they inflict daily on LGBT individuals.   Sadly, the "godly" Christofascist care nothing about the harm they do or the lives they destroy.

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