What National Coming Out Day is like when you can't come out

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October 11th is National Coming Out Day. Here, a contributor anonymously discusses being queer while having parents from a country where LGBTQ+ people are persecuted.

National Coming Out Day has been on my radar for years now. Every October 11th, I see hundreds of encouraging messages directed at LGBTQ+ people who have just come out. I see people rid themselves of the fear that prevented them from living their truth. I see unashamed love.

But for the foreseeable future, I will not be one of those people, because I can’t come out.

I’ve wanted to come out for the longest time. When I was 13 and understood that my years-long heart eyes for girls meant more than a desire for friendship, I considered it. I thought about explaining to my church, my school, and my family that I liked boys, girls, and everyone who was both or neither.

I struck down the idea just as fast.

For some folks, the coming out process is as simple as getting comfortable with their sexuality, and then expressing it. That just isn’t the case for me.

My parents are from a country where LGBTQ+ people and their relationships are illegal — and in some cases, punishable by death.

While my mother is understanding and accepts the LGBTQ+ community in social spaces, she still believes queer sexualities to be fundamentally wrong — and especially dangerous for her family. She fears for our safety.

My father, however, identifies strongly with the beliefs of his home country.  In high school, I was in no position to come out. I would have no home, no financial support, and no means of continuing my life. As a result, I grew increasingly depressed. I felt at odds, both with myself and the world.

***

I wanted to come out because I didn’t want to feel like a fraud anymore.

I remember sitting in church on Sunday evenings and thoroughly enjoying the service, until a pastor would offer prayer to anyone struggling with “confusion about sexuality or gender” and ask them to come forward. Approaching the altar would mean outing myself, losing my parents’ support, and probably dropping out of school. I’d remain seated in my pew, feeling uneasy because I had a big gay secret, and I thought everyone knew.

When I tried to explain my queerness to some of my friends, they couldn’t make sense of it. I became depressed watching people come out so easily. I longed for that experience, even though I knew I couldn’t have it.

***

I had my first boyfriend in tenth grade. I talked about him as every teenage girl would. My mom and siblings all laughed with me and listened to my gossip.

When I was in twelfth grade, I fell in love with a girl who turned my world upside down. I kept quiet. I wanted to hold her hand in the mall without worrying that someone would see me and tell my father. We both wanted to tell everyone how much we meant to each other. We both wanted to post cute couples photos on Instagram.

But she was out and I wasn’t. So we didn’t.

“We’re really good friends,” was the story I told everyone.

My close friends knew we were dating, so I probably talked about her more than I stopped to breathe. During senior year, I had a distant friend who was actually mad that I hadn’t come out to her. She yelled at me, and accused me of betraying her by not being honest. For the first time, after being confronted about my queerness, I felt anger instead of sadness.

Queer people do not owe it to anyone to come out — the same way straight people don’t.

A person’s identity is theirs. They decide whether it is something to reveal or conceal. Never out someone because you think they’d be alright with it, or because you think you’d be helping them; it’s not your place. Identity is not a secret to be kept from people who think they should know it.

On National Coming Out Day, I’m thinking of queer people who live in countries where their existence is outlawed. I will be sending love to them all. I will be hoping for the day when we can all live our truth, when love is love everywhere.

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