Monday was National Coming Out Day. In light of the attention given to recent suicides by bullied gay teens, I paused to reflect on how my friends came out to me.
See, I always knew that Stacy was gay. I took it in stride. I never expected him to march up, clap a hand on my shoulder, and announce, brightly, "I'm gay." It would've been the ultimate non-sequitur. He was who he was, and I loved him no more or less because of his sexual orientation. He's the first person who tried to teach me to drive, landing us squarely up against a tree in his parents' golf cart during the annual Country Club luau. He's the only guy who ever thought we should go all matchy-matchy for a dance (we sallied forth in identical lavender button-down shirts and purple neckties, sharing a pair of my long, dangling rhinestone earrings- one each). He moved with a feline grace that, as a dancer, I envied.
One of my other friends, Ty, is not speaking to me for reasons I don't really want to discuss publicly, although a couple of people close to both of us can well surmise why. He was extremely ticked off at me for several years because I failed to wail and gnash my teeth when he came out to me...which happened right after I walked through the line at my graduation, and when I was late for a party. Again, I'd always known Ty was gay, from the moment that he joined my mother's Brownie troop (his mother was her assistant leader that year). What did he want, a cookie? Especially, a cookie from me, when I could've cared less if he was pink-and-purple-polka-dotted or a Sweet Transvestite from Transylvania??? In my world, he was just Ty. Period. Gay, schmay. Really. My total reaction was, "Oh, okay. Yes, I knew that. Thank you for telling me." I guess it was a little anticlimactic.
Another friend, whose name I'll omit, was busted out of the closet. Since I bearded this one for a couple of years in high school, well, HELLO, Captain Obvious! I marched into a gay club one night with a pack of friends only to encounter him stamping hands at the entrance. He hauled me off to the side and hissed, "PLEASE don't tell anybody back home! I'm NOT out!" I didn't. I mean, I kept that one under my hat all the way through his engagement in college, so why would I go home and broadcast it that long after the fact?
At a different gay club, a few years later, I turned around during the drag show and was confronted with another inadvertent outing. He bolted, and that was because this one was personal- I'll lay you fair odds that he never admits it to his family. Don't ask me, kids, it's not mine to tell. I love him anyway, whether he chooses to cop to it or not.
*I'm not just a Fag Hag, I'm the Fag Hag, and that's Professor Fag Hag to you...*
I'm not dismissing the idea out-of-hand that coming out isn't a traumatic and dramatic event for a lot of people. I know that. One of the reasons I co-founded the Gay-Straight Alliance at the college is because I noted pretty quickly that there's a high rate of high school dropout among the LGBT teen population where I live. A successful federal anti-gay school bullying lawsuit came out of the local independent school system, and that young man was a student employee of the college library for a while... and yet, two friends' sons have been bullied in the current school year in that SAME school system based on a perception (false in both cases) that they are gay. (Incidentally, both boys are in the band program.)
My mother's great-nephew came out during preparations for his sister's wedding, touching off a furor involving his parents' Southern Baptist pastor. I found out about it when my mother called and asked me for the name of a Baptist pastor in Louisville whose congregation was gay-friendly...because her niece's pastor was homophobic. At the time, my first cousin was dying of breast cancer, and I knew that part of her son's decision to come out lay in a need to tell his mother the truth about himself. When she went to her pastor for advice, the man started screeching about sin, repentance, and bad parenting. Let me just add that he didn't last much longer as the pastor of their church after that...but that's another story. My cousin wanted us to know who he really is, and he knew it would come at a price. He's my cousin. His grandfather was my uncle. I love him no less because he is gay- in fact, I admire him for facing up to our family with that truth. I have a feeling, though, that my aunt probably prays for God to make him straight...but she's old, and that's her way. He's ours, we claim him, he's gay, so what?
Not everybody's been that lucky. Not everybody will be.
As the awareness campaign says, though, it gets better. I understand being the outcast...I understand 'otherness', and that's why I fell into that milieu from an early age. My door, my mind, and my arms are open, and those of us who are allies need to step up, be visible, be available, and be heard. One suicide is too many. This number is terrifying. It has to stop, and we have to be the agents of the change we'd like to see.