One word. Three letters. Out.
Recently, National Coming Out Day was celebrated. I’ve been out for close to three years now. When I was a teenager, terrified of my homosexuality, I heard all of these stories about gay couples in other parts of the world. Suddenly, I began to think somewhere out there, there was acceptance for everybody. In the years to come, a man was tied to a fence and beaten to death for being gay. Several adolescent boys took their own lives because they were gay. These boys were no older than fourteen. I wondered what made me so different, that I should be accepted when they weren’t. I guess I always held out hope that somewhere out there on this huge planet, I might not be so alone in seeking absolute acceptance. I hoped that I wasn’t alone in feeling alone.
But “out” is more than a word to the vast majority of us. There are places in the United States and places in the UK that are not only tolerant, but truly accepting of their LGBTQ population. It’s wonderful to know that there were and will be gay people around the globe that live in environments where they don’t have to hide who they are because the truths of their identity are so accepted and celebrated. But for those of us that didn’t grow up in those places (the Midwest, for example), out is a truly horrifying concept to any person who might lose the people around them for being true to their identity.
So, growing up, closeted youth teach themselves to speak the harsh language of “closeted”, surreptitiously teaching shame along with it. It was so easy growing up to hear and sometimes use words like: “fag” and “homo”. It was so easy to use atrocious phrases like: “that’s so gay”. Looking back, I wasn’t blending in. I guess I hated myself so much that words like that only fueled my fire, people using them derogatorily made my self-hatred justified, so I just kept doing it. You get so comfortable within those walls until you just aren’t anymore. Suddenly, you have to take a close look at everyone around you and really, truly think about what your life would look like if they weren’t in it. Best case scenario: they are as loving and as accepting as you knew them to be, you don’t have to be afraid anymore.
“Out” is just another word. Worst case scenario: they refuse to tolerate your “lifestyle” or the “path you chose to go down”. They leave you in the dust, the word “out” blasting above your head like one of those awfully colored, piss-yellow neon lights above tacky roadhouses.
There have been people around me, some that I’ve known my whole life, that refuse to acknowledge what’s just another part of themselves. One came out recently; not entirely, but enough to show him that he wasn’t alone. And for him, it was enough in self-confidence to tell everyone around him like it was the best news he’d ever heard. National Coming Out Day became something that I didn’t foresee it being this year. Because when you’re closeted and you are struggling on the inside, depression plaguing you like a bad cologne, you never know when you’re going to burst and tell somebody. What National Coming Out Day became was a symbol, for those that have come out and those that have yet to, a light against the darkness that can sometimes surround our lives that says four really powerful and unavoidable words: you are not alone.
So this word, this one word with three letters, that’s only one syllable, becomes less of a prison sentence. They become less like waters that drown you. Instead, the word “out” becomes a beacon of empowerment and self-identity. Out defines that inner-struggle that a lot of the LGBTQ community went through to get there, to tell someone, to tell everyone. Because “out” isn’t the worst case scenario anymore. It’s the best case scenario.