LGBTQ+ People Are Always Coming Out
When people talk about “coming out”, they’re usually talking about it as if it’s one time — one instance where you’ve got to pull off the band-aid, face the potential backlash, and then move on.
The truth is a little more complicated than that.
The “big coming out” and then what follows
I came out at sixteen. This was the moment I told my parents, most of my siblings, and a few close friends that I was bisexual. For me, this was the big coming out — not only was I telling a large number of people all at the same time but I was no longer pretending to be straight. It marked the beginning of living openly as a bisexual woman.
After dealing with some of the initial backlash or general discomfort I received in response, I kind of thought that was it. I’d come out, did the hard part — case closed.
What I didn’t realize is that I wasn’t done coming out — in fact, I’d continue to come out again and again over the years.
The “little coming outs”
The little coming outs, as I call them, happen after you’ve had your big coming out. Maybe you’ve met a new friend or started a new job and people are suddenly curious about your love life. Even if it doesn’t happen immediately, there’s usually a moment where people realize I date girls and I have dated them — that the ex I refer to when we swap relationship stories is actually another female. Most of these little coming outs aren’t planned — they happen because people ask questions or your love life comes up in conversation.
My best friend found out I was bi after I told her I was going on a date — and that my date’s name was Megan. She didn’t even flinch and that was that.
In my experience, these little coming outs aren’t too big of a deal — a lot of people just don’t care.
Then again, some people do care and probably always will.
When I visited my eighty-year-old conservative step-grandmother, who I hadn’t seen in almost a decade, I didn’t plan on telling her I was bisexual. I wasn’t avoiding it, I just didn’t think it would even come up in conversation. That was a good thing — after watching her post outdated conservative memes on Facebook or fill up my newsfeed with those “Share if you love Jesus” pictures, discussing my sexuality with her wasn’t on my to-do-list.
Unfortunately, it was on hers.
Towards the end of my visit, my grandma asked, “And what about your love life? I haven’t even asked — do you have a boyfriend?”
At the time, I was in a relationship, but I was seeing another woman. It was a fairly new affair — I hadn’t even thought about introducing her to my parents yet and only a handful of close friends knew.
Being put on the spot, I only had a few moments to think up an answer: did I lie and tell her I wasn’t seeing someone or did I fess up and face the awkwardness that I know would arise?
Knowing my grandma, I understood that telling her about my girlfriend could result in a little discomfort — from both sides. What I also knew was that I wasn’t ashamed of my girlfriend either. Why should I have to hide my relationship just because it wasn’t heterosexual?
I steeled my nerves and said, “Actually, I’ve got a girlfriend, grandma.”
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an eighty-year-old woman look so stunned. The blood drained for her face, and we both stood in silence.
Finally, she seemed to gather herself enough to chuckle uncomfortably and say, “I’m not sure what to say to that. Do you still like boys?”
My stomach was in knots, but I told her yes — that I was bisexual, and liked both boys and girls. I even attempted to make some lame joke about women understanding each other to ease the tension, but the humor was lost on her.
We ended in the visit in a hug, and she didn’t say anything more on the topic.
For a little while afterward, I wondered if I’d done the right thing coming out to her. I could’ve avoided the awkwardness by lying or telling her no, and I deliberately chose the difficult path.
You aren’t responsible for anyone else’s discomfort
Although the encounter ended in awkwardness, coming out over the years has made me realize that I’m not responsible for anyone else’s discomfort. It isn’t my job to protect my grandmother or anyone else from this part of my identity. It’s why, even after knowing my sexuality would make my parents uncomfortable, I still told them.
This is especially true when someone else chooses to ask about your love life. It isn’t my — or any other LGBTQ+ person’s — fault if you don’t like the answer.
Although LGBT people may have an initial “coming out”, it’s taken me a few years to realize that I’ll always be coming out — possibly for the rest of my life. At times, I wish it was easier than this — that everyone would just assume I was bisexual like they assume I’m straight.
I recognize that there may be times when LGBT people can’t come out — when telling people that you’re queer may result in violence or vicious homophobia. You’re welcome to stay in the closet if you need to, but it’s also important to understand that it isn’t your responsibility to protect someone else from feeling uncomfortable about your sexuality.