If you had told me 8 months ago that I would be out to my family and essentially the rest of the world, writing so openly about my experiences in the LGBT+ community, I would not have believed you. It was July, nearly the peak of a sultry silent summer just begging to be over. Trump had been in office for about six months. It had been just over a year since the Pulse nightclub shooting. Pride month had just ended, but I wasn't feeling very proud. My own sexuality, pansexual, was the answer to a problem I had worked out but hadn't shared with the class. I found comfort in the label, but only behind closed doors and in the obscure corners of the internet. I wanted to come out; the question wasn't if but when, and the timeline for that felt far-off. Being out in Trump's America was looking like less and less attractive of an option every day. The idea of subjecting myself to potential discrimination by trying to be "out and proud" while living in my traditionally conservative Ohio small town was one that made me want to vomit. I heard what people said while I was still in high school and at family gatherings. I saw the posts people shared on Facebook. I still vividly remember one of my friend's experiences after coming out our freshman year of high school, and it wasn't pretty. I knew all too well the ugliness that could reside in people's hearts, and that made me want to run for cover.
So I tucked my sexuality away like the ten years of violin lessons you take while growing up and then do nothing with when you leave for college. You might think that makes me a coward, and there's a part of me that might agree with you. I had just faced a series of days of reckoning with myself that allowed me to not only figure out my sexuality but truly understand and accept what that meant to me. And at that point, the thought of facing more days of reckoning with the people around me was too much. I knew who I was, and in that moment it was enough.
At some point between then and now, I had spent an afternoon watching TED Talks on YouTube. One TED Talk that stuck with me and inspired this article was entitled "Why Am I So Gay?" given at Georgetown University by Thomas Lloyd. In it, Lloyd discusses his experiences as a gay man in high school and into his college career at Georgetown. This 22-minute TED Talk wormed its way into my head long after I had clicked out of the video, and anything that can hold my attention for that long and leave me thinking after the fact has to be important. Lloyd is honest about how people look at him, and how he looked at himself based on how people look at him. He talks about covering, something LGBT+ people often do to act "less gay" to avoid discrimination and teasing. He talks about the shame of being LGBT+ that we often feel in that stage between realizing we are not straight and accepting this part of who we are, and he talks about it in a way that's almost candid like he's having a conversation rather than giving a prepared speech. I may not relate 100% to his experience because my experience is, of course, different than his, but I derive comfort from the way he spoke so easily about his experience. I want that ease in explaining my life and my sexuality to a room full of people I can't guarantee will treat me kindly. I want to speak my truth without fearing my voice will shake because I've already learned how to steady it. But mostly, I want to understand my story so well that I can help other people begin to understand theirs.
One part in particular that has stuck with me was when he was talking about working in a lab just a few blocks away from the Stonewall Inn, the site of the 1969 riots that many consider to be the birth of the modern gay rights movement. He had no idea how close he was to such an important piece of LGBT+ history until he walked past it one day, and seeing the Stonewall Inn and knowing that it was so close to him did a lot for him. He said, "Being exposed to this history gave me the strength and knowledge that I was joining a community. I was not the first. I had shoulders of giants to stand on."
While I was still figuring out my sexuality, I distinctly remember following a bunch of LGBT+ people on Twitter. It was a domino effect: I'd follow a few. Then I'd follow a few of their friends. Then I'd follow all their significant others. Then I'd follow all the significant others' friends. And then the process would repeat itself. Suddenly I found myself knee-deep in people around my age, all at different stages with their sexuality and/or gender identity and all being vocal about their process of figuring out who they are. And when it came down to me figuring everything out for myself, I pulled all these people and their experiences around me like a blanket. I found comfort in knowing I wasn't the only one trying to figure myself out, and I found comfort in knowing that if I did come out, I'd have an entire community waiting for me. It felt like I was starting a garage string quartet with a bunch of people I barely knew, but that feeling I had when I pulled my sexuality back down from the closet shelf and started acknowledging it again was worth the fear. And the amount of love I received when I came out was worth the fear. And allowing myself to be vocal about part of my identity after silencing myself will always be worth the fear.
So now I sit here, and I don't ask myself "Why Am I So Gay?" because admittedly, I still am not as "out and proud" as I could be. Sure, I write about LGBT+ topics bimonthly (give or take). I share the occasional LGBT+ post on Facebook. I crack the occasional gay joke to my friends when the timing is perfect because I know they'll laugh and not give me the "Did you really just say that?" look. But I don't talk about it with other people. I don't try flirting with girls, and it's not just because I don't know how to flirt. I don't tell people about girls I think are cute, because Oh My God What If The Girl Finds Out And Thinks I'm Creepy? I don't put myself out there as a Not Straight™ person for the same reason I didn't want to come out: I'm not ready for more days of reckoning.
But, dear reader, here is my vow to you. Starting today, I vow to be outrageous. I vow to tell the jokes, and call out homophobia, and own my sexuality. I vow to get rejected, and stumble, and (hopefully) learn how to flirt. I vow to put myself out there, not only for myself, but for the people like me who are going to need all the "out and proud" people they can get to pull around them like a blanket so they can start to figure out who they are.
I vow to be the kind of "Out" me "Closeted" me so desperately needed.