To "come out" suggests a single event, though anyone who identifies with a non-normative sexuality (GBLT) knows that it's a continuing process. One comes out (or not) at different times to different people for various reasons.
Some acts of coming out are hard to qualify. About a month ago, my boyfriend got a really bad stomachache. This stomachache was so bad, he visited an emergency room and ended up having several doctor appointments, blood tests and an outpatient procedure. For most of these, I was present. This means I had to provide information to intake clerks, nurses, porters and doctors. Did I ever come out? Only the doctor asked specific questions about our sex life, but even then I never stood up and proclaimed, "I am a gay American." Regardless of whatever the intake clerks, nurses and porters thought, however, I know for certain I was anticipating a snide remark, a cutting look, or outright expulsion at each step of the way. This was especially true in the recovery room, where we seemed to be the only same-sex couple.
This, then, seems to be one legacy of continually coming out. Whether one wants to, as an act of self-affirmation, or needs to, as an act of self-preservation, there is always the feeling that things may not go so well. And this is true even though almost everyone I know is no more interested in my sexuality than I am in theirs. Yet that moment of disavowal and destruction is so pervasive in our culture-Idaho's recent attempts to constitutionalize discrimination; the humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib by forcing them so simulate homosexual acts; the infuriating heterosexualized Will and his girlfriend Grace; the entertaining yet mindless fluff of Queer Eye-that even when one is lucky enough, as I am, to inhabit a queer-friendly enclave, the act of coming out remains a gamble.
"I can't say I'm surprised, but I can say I'm disappointed." This is what my mom said to me after I finally got up the nerve to let her know I am gay. While I stopped my weekly telephone calls to her during the time period I was working my stuff out, she only took a few months before we were back to normal.
It was scary to work up the nerve, but the anti-gay campaigns of the early '90s helped as my brother pushed me to come out to him. Then a sister helped to arrange a time my mom and I were in the same place at the same time. Of course, I waited until the last day of our visit, just a couple of hours before we were to go to the airport. I tried to take her comic book shopping but, alas, it was Sunday and the stores were closed. I came out to her in some empty parking lot of a strip mall outside Denver.
Now, my 78-year-old mother of 11 is a great friend. She seems to take the "families are forever" motto more to heart than some of my Mormon siblings.
-Nancy Elizabeth Spittle
One thing you gradually realize about coming out as a gay person is that your "coming out" experience never really stops. Although I've been living as an openly gay man for 12 years and in a same-sex relationship for nearly nine of those years, it seems situations inevitably pop up in which I find myself explaining to someone that my "partner" means my male spouse, or where I feel compelled to tell a new supervisor that I'm gay in an attempt to head off any uncomfortable situations down the road, should they arise. It's not an easy thing discussing one's sexual orientation-particularly in a place like Idaho-and I often find myself a little angry and resentful that I still need to. My partner and I have been fortunate to be surrounded by caring people who love us for who we are, but we often tire of the endless larger battle to justify to the world that what sex we happen to be attracted to doesn't-and shouldn't-define who we are as human beings.
If you would like to share your coming out story with us, we'd like to hear it. We hope to continue to collect these stories and post them online. In doing this, we hope to educate our readers about the challenges facing homosexual men and women in today's society because knowledge breaks down stereotypes and prejudice. We also hope these stories will help those in our community who have struggled with their own identity by learning of other's experiences. As both Steve and Tom said above, the process of "coming out" is a lifelong one. Because of this, and because these stories are about real people in our community, contributors to our coming out stories may remain anonymous. If you have any questions about or stories for our online project, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 344-2055 and ask for Bingo Barnes.