10/11/2011

National Coming Out Day

Today is National Coming Out Day in the USA. If you're in the U.K. please wait until tomorrow to come out. (Don't ask me why they're a day later.) Regardless, I can remember when this all begin it was sort of a big deal. October 11 was a big day for "the talk." I don't think it's quite so fraught with tension anymore because more and more people come out at younger ages. I can remember when it wasn't uncommon to run across guys in their 60's who'd never admitted to anyone they were gay. And let's not forget all the elderly "spinster sisters" who weren't really sisters at all.

Today, people tend to be more open, although there are lots of folks who insist on hanging out with the coats and hats in the back of the closet. Personally, I've been out publicly since about 1986. I never got to have the big "I'm Gay" talk with parents or siblings. Everyone knew I was gay it seems. My mother and father knew so well that they arranged for me to spend school vacations with my gay brother in San Diego instead of hanging around a little southern town. When I struggled at Clemson University - in part because I was gay and had a lot of trouble hiding or "fitting in" with the pussy hounds and party boys - they arranged for me to transfer to a college in San Diego. That's where I had my big coming out moment, for what it's worth.

I worked part time in my brother's travel agency in the Hillcrest area of San Diego. If you're not familiar with Hillcrest think tamer version of the Castro mixed with octogenarian Jews and Italians.  I was actually a natural with computers and this was the age when computers were quite the mysterious gadget. They hired me to compile their customer lists and eventually I began doing reservations and walk in bookings for flights, hotels, and weekend trips. Since I handled the walk in business which consisted of lots of old ladies needing a plane ticket to either Las Vegas to gamble or Fort Myers in Florida, I had the front desk. Each afternoon the letter carrier (postwoman) would come in and drop off the mail. She was a very, uh, butch lesbian. She was also really friendly and funny. One day she dropped the mail on my desk and casually said: "So, are you gay too?"

This was sort of to be expected. After all, the agency employed all gay men at the time. I thought for a minute then said, "Yeah." She smiled. "Cool! Well have a good day!" and walked out.

Behind me I heard one of the agents pick up a phone and begin whispering, "He's out! He came out!" Soon, the little office was abuzz. I couldn't figure out what the fuss was about. After all, in my mind I'd never been IN the closet. I never dated women to cover, I never told people I was straight. Of course, I didn't run around Clemson University screaming "I'm a faggot!" out of self preservation. Still, what was the big deal?

It seems to them it was a big deal. Until I had stated publicly my sexuality it was taboo for anyone to mention it. This was in the days when there was still a strict code in the gay community about "outing" people against their will. Until I'd said it aloud it was something that just couldn't be discussed in the open. Now that I was officially "out" I could become part of the group and I could also be invited to parties, events, or nights out.

I never got the tension fraught coming out scene, thank goodness. I feel sorry for people who do have to go through that and deal with family strife or friends who drop them or even hate them. I'm sorry for the people who come out to their churches or communities only to be attacked verbally or physically or even killed. I'm very lucky to have a family that supported me and friends who cared about me.

So, if you're not out, why not make today your day? Isn't it time to throw off the shackles of denial and kick open the closet door? Who knows, it may not be nearly as difficult as you think and the world outside is a beautiful place!

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