Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are

On the road I meet loads of people who live partially out of the closet. They do have some queer friends, especially on-line. They may have someone in their lives “who knows” but they tell virtually no one on their job, in their family, or in their place of worship that they may be lesbian or gay or bisexual. (I don’t mention transgender people because I can understand many of the healthy reasons to be silent about the trans experience).

And I can see why many LGB folks silence themselves about their orientation. I get the e-mails and talk to folks who perceive that to come out would be mean loss–colossal loss of relationships, jobs, housing, financial support for college, and even expulsion from precious faith communities. In most states in the USA, one is not protected on the job in regards to sexual orientation (and it is worse for trans folks).

Then there is the physical danger. Even in parts of liberal NYC, to walk hand-in-hand with someone of the same sex provokes violence–verbal and physical.

So yes, we experience real impediments to coming out, some external, but for most of us the biggest obstacles remain internal. Through years of living under the weight of homophobia and in a society that insists that heterosexuality is the ideal norm, we build up storehouses of shame and fear and self-loathing. We may even express disgust at what we view as “the gay lifestyle” mirroring what our oppressors say about us.

The Coming Out process takes time. It takes courage. It takes building a network of safe people. It means that our lives may turn upside down, or even more surprising, that things won’t really change that much at all.

When we walk around with shame about who we are, we send out the message that it is okay to treat us shamefully. When we embrace the depth and beauty and uniqueness of who we are, even if people do not like us, they will treat us with respect.

People often remark to me that when I speak in public about my life, one of the things that sticks out for them is how comfortable I appear in my skin. They say it disarms people the way that I express my contentment with who I am as a gay man, as a Christian, as a Quaker, as a vegan, as ME. I don’t see it myself with all of the various insecurities I carry, but I do know that the coming out process for me has contained much more than simply announcing “I’m here, I’m queer, get over it!”

The process has become more than just coming out gay. Rather it has meant coming out as ME. In a world that claims to celebrate individuality and uniqueness, we experience tremendous pressures to conform, be it in the conservative church, the gay party boy culture, the Quaker meeting house, the lesbian drum circle or a thousand other groups that draw us.

The act of self-discovery, leading to a fearless willingness to truly be ourselves, creates conflicts and challenges for those around us. But with the potential difficulties, it also brings much needed wholeness and health.

I became a born-again Evangelical, fundamentalist, conservative, Republican Christian at the age of 17 (even though I presented as a flaming homosexual without even trying). That is when I went to war with parts of myself. At the same time I began to suffer lower back problems with my back going out almost every six months, sometimes for as long as a week at a time. The problem continued and grew worse. It happened the week before I got married. I ultimately developed a herniated disc that hurt so much, I could only lie down or sit for 20 minutes at time before having to stand or walk to relieve the pain. I never got surgery for it and just endured the pain for six months until it began to heal.

Once I came out and worked through years of gunk I piled on myself, my back stopped going out. My body sent me a message all those years. Something is out of whack. My body mirrored the imbalance inside me. Today even with all the plane travel and the many different hotel beds, my back stays solid and has not gone out in over seven years.

Today is National Coming Out Day. At his blog Journeyman notes how dark the closet can be. Even if you can’t imagine fully coming out and you feel you must keep a foot in the closet (or more) turn on some light and invite someone into your life. As the 1980’s AIDS activists taught us Silence=Death. And we experience death in the closet in thousands of ways. Similarly waiting for us outside we will discover thousands of ways to live.

This post has 11 Comments

  1. KJ on October 11, 2007 at 7:13 pm Reply

    Peace of Christ to those, for whatever reason, who have not found the peace about stepping out. In faith, I’ll believe for you until you can believe it for yourself, all out are in free.

  2. Journeyman on October 11, 2007 at 7:55 pm Reply

    Peterson, this is one profound post. You give me reason to hope that the closet is not the end of my journey, and yet affirm me as I work through the legitimate fears that sometimes keep me there. Thanks for putting yourself out there. I hope to join you out there soon.

    (I actually linked back to you today in my own blog, and did so even before I saw your musings today.)

  3. Jarred on October 11, 2007 at 8:25 pm Reply

    Well said, as usual!

    I have to admit that I think we sometimes do the concept of coming out when we allow it to become conflated with some silly notion that we have to tell everyone (especially that we have to tell everyone right away). It just seems to make the whole idea even more monumental and frightening to some people.

    I think that you’re onto something with the idea of coming out as yourself, simply being yourself openly. It seems to me that a much less frightening way to go through the coming out process is simply to ask yourself in every situation what you can do in that moment to be most honestly yourself.

  4. Elliot on October 12, 2007 at 12:16 am Reply

    Peterson, I absolutely love that second pic of you, the black and white one. You’re a handsome man, you are. 😉

  5. Joe G. on October 12, 2007 at 1:06 am Reply

    Were you an ex-gay at the time of the picture of you in Paris? Because if you were, the program was clearly not working.

    You know I love you…

  6. Auntie Doris on October 12, 2007 at 7:09 am Reply

    hahah Joe I thought that too, but I was too polite to comment!!! 😉

    In fact it looks like you are about to break into a tap-dance routine or something.

  7. Peterson Toscano on October 12, 2007 at 11:32 am Reply

    ah, the bitter mean queens lash out 🙂

    Dear Joe and Dear Auntie Doris, the photo of me in Paris was taken when I was 17 about three months after I became a born-again Christian and about three months before I began counseling with my Fundamentalist pastor, my first foray into the ex-ay world.

    So I had yet to be “de-gayed” (Sort of like a dog gets de-wormed). You see me at the height of my flaming glory.

    And if you could tell just from one photo, think about how the jock and farmer boys in my tiny Upstate NY high school reacted to me with my pastel izod shirts.

    For me, the ex-gay movement was, in part, an anti-fem movement. Sure it was about my sexual desires and the Bible and such, but it was also about getting me aligned to a more gender-normative way of expression.

    That’s why when folks like Warren Throckmorton say that for many people the ex-gay struggle is one having to do with a conflict between one’s faith and one’s sexuality, they reveal that they are dangerously naive. There are so many other factors that force us to go straight each compounding the other but often going under the cloak of a faith struggle.

    So if you have seen my homo no mo play, you will know that I am much more like Chad than I am like Tex or Vlad, but I love them all. And Joe and Auntie Doris, I love you 🙂

  8. Ally on October 12, 2007 at 11:56 am Reply

    This is *so* my story, too, Peterson I’ve spent the last year “half in, half out,” out to my family, but closeted at work and school. In August, the weird, scary physical symptoms began. Three weeks ago I found myself in the ER at 3 AM in excruciating pain. After all the tests, the diagnosis was simply stress. And my loved ones “in the know” all knew where it was coming from, even better than I did.

    There may be healthy reasons for trans people to stay in the closet. For me, they’ve ended up being not so healthy.

    On Coming Out Day, I resigned my church-affiliated job. I can’t come out yet to my employer–it would jeopardize too much at this point–so I did the next best thing: I shrank the closet.

    And yes, I’m feeling much better. Odd that being jobless feels less stressful than the possibility of being accidentally outed.

  9. Peterson Toscano on October 12, 2007 at 12:45 pm Reply

    ally, wow, that is big. And the up side is that now that you are out of that job, we can talk more on the phone!

  10. Joe G. on October 12, 2007 at 5:08 pm Reply

    Well, Peterson, we femme boys have to stick together! I always thought that “de-femming” me was far more difficult than “de-fagging” me. 🙂

    Kisses galore!

    Joe G.

  11. Auntie Doris on October 12, 2007 at 7:20 pm Reply

    Peterson my darling. I like to think that Joe and I are here to keep you humble!! 😉 You come and visit Auntie soon…

    Ps) I love you too xxxx

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