Now that that’s out of the way.
First, a quick history: started in 1988, today is the 31st annual National Coming Out Day. It was originated by Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary as a celebration of coming out and as an alternative to defensive action, which they believed would have been panned as both predictable and reactionary, in the face of homomisic activism and policies. When Eichberg and O’Leary founded National Coming Out Day, October 11th was chosen as, in 1988, it marked the one-year anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. This was in the midst of the AIDS crisis and the utter failure of the Reagan administration to do anything about it because, they reasoned, AIDS was a gay person’s disease. O’Leary and Eichberg and myriad other activists saw National Coming Out Day as a time to celebrate what they saw as the “most basic form of activism… coming out to family, friends and colleagues, and living life as an openly lesbian or gay person.”
Let’s move on to that bit in my portrait about having no desire to be polite. While I appreciate the spirit of National Coming Out Day, we need to have a little chitchat about the letter of the day and some of the unintended consequences.
It is currently 2019. In the intervening years since NCOD’s creation, we’ve witnessed the rise and fall of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act; HIV and AIDS aren’t the specter they once were, if you can afford the medications; towns and cities across the nation have passed anti-discrimination ordinances and twenty-one states—as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam—have anti-discrimination laws on the books. BUT! The flip side is that 29 states don’t have anti-discrimination laws protecting their Queer citizens. Additionally, we’ve got a number of states that still have harmful, archaic HIV-exposure criminalization laws on the books and one state has enacted a new one as recently as 2011. There are also the developments over the last two years, not least of which being the three Supreme Court cases being heard right now that may strip me and my Queer and trans kith and kin of what few federal protections we have as workers. Oh—OH! And let’s not forget the fact that there are literal neo-Nazi fascists walking around who would like to get rid of us Queer folx, in addition to pretty much all other marginalized communities, particularly communities of color.
So, back to my being contrarian: coming out is not the baseline. The idea that the most basic form of resistance is coming out is incorrect and dangerous—but more on the danger bit shortly. No, the most basic form of resistance is surviving. Surviving this world with a sense of self intact as a Queer and/or trans person and, for many in our community—trans women of color, in particular—just surviving is a monumental undertaking. Messages from pulpits, public servants, and politicians, a lack of representation in media that isn’t all tragedy and death, unaccepting families and communities, very real threats and actions of violence… and now a very possible return to the increased risk of losing livelihoods because of our sexual orientation and/or gender identities all coalesce to create such intense barriers to survival that muddling through is a major accomplishment unto itself.
I have enough privilege (and luck in circumstance) that I can, more or less, afford to be out. I’m white, I’m cis-assumed, I happen to live in a very liberal-leaning geographic bubble. So, I can go to Pride in my rainbow tutu and my “gender is cancelled” tank top and the predominant repercussion I will suffer is light sunburn and a significant lack of spoons. I can write long-winded pieces to publish on the Internet wherein I unequivocally out myself. I will not lose my job. I will not be disowned (well, I won’t be disowned more—I’ve already lost those folks and, honestly, good riddance). My physical safety is only very slightly more at risk than it is on the daily. This is not the case for so many Queer and trans folx.
It is not only okay, but it is good and right and preferable for folks not to come out if it risks their safety. Living stealth or remaining in the closet a necessary full- or part-time strategy for survival for so many folks, most of all trans, enby (non-binary), and gender non-conforming folx. This is part of the reason that labeling being out as the most basic form of LGBTQ activism is dangerous: it alienates the folks who can’t be out.
I like being out. I like celebrating my Queerness as well as the breadth and depth of the Queer community. I like that I can publicly resist homomisic and transmisic rhetoric and policies. But I absolutely do not like the idea that a day meant to be for celebration is day of pain and anxiety for so many folks. So, in an effort to include the folks who cannot be out today:
I love you. I understand. You are no less valid. You are beautiful and valuable and needed and wanted, so please take care of yourself. Survive. Thrive. And know that until you can celebrate who you are publicly, I am celebrating you loudly and joyously.
Happy National Coming Out Day! Stay safe!
And just in case it needs to be said, here’s a not-so-friendly PSA: do not out anyone. Don’t do it. You could be putting their bodily safety at risk. DO. NOT. OUT. OTHER PEOPLE. Or else.