Tomorrow is National Coming Out Day.
The process of coming out can run the gamut from easy-peasy to riddled with pain. When I came out it was much closer to the second kind. I was already an adult, married, with children. People have jumped to assumptions about what that meant for me – that I must have been hiding in shame all those years. But that really wasn’t the case. I loved my husband – I will always love him. I wanted to build a family and a life with him – I am overwhelmingly grateful that we remain connected parts of a strong and lively family.
I have spent substantial time considering why it was that I wasn’t able to realize this deep, important part of who I am any earlier. My family certainly wasn’t the problem – they’re all very supportive and open. As a teenager I knew that coming out wouldn’t have any negative repercussions on my relationship with my parents or brother. My religious tradition is equally supportive and open.
So what’s the deal? I think it’s about the heteronormativity that is so deeply embedded in American life. Other people made assumptions about me, and I accepted some (although not all – or even many) without questioning them. We all do this, to some extent. Unless something is or becomes unbearable, we tend to accept it so that we can focus on the areas that are screaming for more attention. For whatever reason, my sexual orientation didn’t kick up a big enough ruckus to get my attention until I was almost 30. What can I say? I guess I’m a late bloomer in some ways.
Because of this, the coming out process is very important to me. The ways that we come out, react to coming out, talk about coming out, all have huge impacts on how the humans around us feel. We need to be gracious, gentle, and we need to listen to people’s own experiences rather than jumping in with guesses about how it might feel to be them.
So today I am writing about a National Coming Out Day lesson plan that I wrote two years ago and that I’ve had huge success with.
EVERYONE COMES OUT
By Karen Rayne, Ph.D.
Understand why coming out is difficult and why it is beneficial.
Appreciate that everyone has secrets they could benefit from being honest (“coming out”) about.
Brainstorm ways to respond to someone coming out about their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Coming out, or self-identifying to close friends, family, and peers for the first time as LGBTQ, is a notoriously difficult process. People who have not been faced with the process of considering their sexual orientation as anything other than heterosexual may not be able to connect well with the range of feelings that can be part of coming out. However, the experience of exposing yourself to vulnerability is universal. This lesson invites everyone to participate, anonymously, in a coming out process. Drawing connecting lines between feeling vulnerable as an integrated part of being honest about the self and coming out in a more traditional sense about sexual orientation or gender identity is a powerful teaching tool.
The Center for Sex Education currently has relatively few resources for educating on LGBTQ topics, but they are working to rectify that right now! I am so excited to be one of the contributing authors for our in-the-works manual on sexual orientation! I am really happy to see this manual and more future resources coming from the CSE that support educators in addressing critical issues like coming out – not only for the young people who come out, but also for the advocates and developing advocates in their communities. We need so much more of this kind of education!