“Coming out is not a moment. It’s a process...”
That line, said by the first speaker during Oct 11th’s Booth OUTreach Lunch and Learn, was a reminder that it’s a journey, and one that people shouldn’t have to make alone. Over 30 Boothies gathered to tell stories and hear stories, during a Booth Stories style lunch.
Trisha Chakraborty, Co-Chair of Student Engagement for OUTreach, noted the intent of National Coming Out Day. "While certainly important, the goal of this event was not simply for LGBT students to celebrate being out. Equally important is celebrating our allies and conveying how critical their support, be them friends, family, colleagues, or complete strangers, is to the coming out process. We literally can't go through this process alone."
As someone who identifies as an Ally, this Lunch and Learn was an event I didn’t want to miss. While I can only empathize with those who struggled coming out, I can recognize that even at the best of times, it's hard to love yourself and even harder to show who you are to the rest of the world.
Five speakers told their stories of coming out while a sixth told his story of why he was an Ally. And as the six speakers talked, there were moments when they related the humor they found in their journey (...my father just said, “I really hope [your boyfriend's] not vegan because there is only so much I can handle”...) and powerful moments of heartbreak that turned my paper of notes into a tear-stained, barely legible mess.
While I believe each story truly belongs to the speakers, I want to take this opportunity to touch on the themes that that are important for us as members who identify as LGBTQ or as Allies: Community, Courage and Love.
When it came to the idea of Community, the speakers talked first of fragmented communities, of building two worlds - one where they could be themselves and one where they found themselves hiding a part of who they are. They also talked about struggling to reconcile their multi-faceted identity in these communities with the fear that others may want to define them only by the fact that they identified as LGBTQ. But they also talked about the communities that supported them, people that made them feel like they belonged, and how instrumental that community truly was.
Which took us to the idea of Courage. It took immense courage for the speakers to share their stories not just in front of us but in front of so many people through their lives. They had the courage to conquer the fears - both real and those they built up in their heads - to stop, as one speaker said, “ducking, diving and dodging questions” and say the words “I have something to tell you.” But what was also moving was the courage the Ally speaker spoke of. It takes courage to speak up in defense of what you believe especially when you defend your thoughts to people who may need to have those difficult conversations to rebuild their value systems or at least to respect yours.
But at the very end of it, each story spoke of Love. The difficult process of allowing people to love you and accepting love but also how important the love is to allow people to be their true selves.
I started with the phrase that one of the speakers said - coming out is not a moment. It’s a process - and I want to end with a reminder that this process can be a lifetime of choices. For every person that identifies themselves as gay, they make that choice to come out in each new encounter and choose to tell each person they meet. So we must remember that we all play a role, whether by listening to stories, telling stories ourselves, and at times, standing up for those who need us to.
National Coming Out Day was first celebrated in 1988, when tens of thousands of LGBTQ people and their allies converged on Washington for the first National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The event, routinely held October 11, is now marked with many different celebrations nationwide, including rallies and parades.