Coming out: a lifelong process

Shelby Niehaus, Columnist

As I write this article, the newsroom is celebrating National Coming Out Day.

“Celebrating” is not actually the best way to put it. Work continues as usual. We looked up for a moment upon remembering the holiday and laughed about how little it impacts us now.

As a queer person, my first Coming Out Day was the most important, and many other queer folks feel the same way. The anxiety of planning your announcement, the inspirational stories you load yourself up with to steel your resolve, the careful wording you rehearse to describe yourself to the world… all of that makes a first Coming Out Day nerve-wracking in the best and the worst way.

In my case, the first Coming Out Day was a little lackluster. I tried too hard to make my announcement flippant and wound up sounding like a joke. Three weeks later, I had to come out a second time to the same people.

On the second and third Coming Out Days, I re-affirmed myself on Facebook, updating my more distant family and friends to my personal revelations. These affirmations went over well and were largely lost to the tide of social media, buried under updates about school and exams and, later, recipe videos.

But today, on my fourth Coming Out Day as an openly queer person, I nearly forgot the occasion. I made a joking announcement to the newsroom about my status (as if my coworkers did not already know) and continued on with my day.

For queer folks, Coming Out Day quickly loses its luster because coming out is a lifelong, daily process for us. We have to constantly come out to each new person in our lives and sometimes we need to assert ourselves over and over to be heard. Some of us have to define and explain our orientations and worldviews constantly, stuck in the battle between making our true selves known to the world and giving in, accepting the word “gay” or “queer” as the only viable public identifier.

I love watching people celebrate Coming Out Day. The first public declaration is always fantastic: every year there are stories of success and renewed support. For those who do not get the support they need, I feel obligated to be present for moral support. Regardless of the outcome, a queer person’s first Coming Out Day is often a big event.

But after that, I often feel sad as the novelty wears off. I wish dearly that we could retain the first Coming Out Day’s magic, that a single day in the year would be enough for us, that we did not have to wile half our lives away explaining ourselves to the world.

To everyone who is celebrating Coming Out Day today: I am so very proud of you. Whether you came out as gay, transgender, asexual or questioning, this was a big step in the rest of your lives. The rest of your community is here for you, and we are prepared to support your future outings.

And to the queer folk who have it all figured out and managed to keep the first Coming Out Day’s magic alive all this time: teach me your ways, and spread that positivity around for the rest of us.

Shelby Niehaus is a senior English language arts major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].