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The Tricks and Treats of Coming Out

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The first National Coming Out Day took place on October 11, 1988, a date chosen to mark the one year anniversary of the March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights, but it’s appropriate that the day meant to encourage gays and lesbians to come out of the closet shares the month with Halloween.

There are many similarities to life in the closet and the holiday in which we don masks, dress in costumes, knock on doors and squeal "trick or treat."

For most gay people, everyday is Halloween. Our lives become a masquerade from the moment we realize our attraction to members of the same gender. It usually happens during puberty when sexual feelings begin to dominate our thoughts. Some teens accept and publicly admit their feelings even in the face of ridicule and other forms of ostracism, but most of us struggle with our desires. Before long, we quietly accept that we are homosexual, but deny it in public while attempting to pass as a member of the heterosexual majority.

Pretending to be straight is a trick we play on ourselves and others, but rarely is our deception rewarded with a treat. Masks are uncomfortable and flimsy, kept in place by nothing but a thin piece of elastic string. Those who wear them live in fear that the mask will slip off.

National Coming Out Day is the day when thousands of gays and lesbians give up the trick of pretending to be straight, and claim the treat of finally being themselves. Your life is yours. It does not belong to society, your family, your employer, or your pastor. It belongs to you, so come out and claim your life.

Coming out has never been easier. In 1969, the year of the Stonewall riots, there were few gay rights organizations, and none succeeded in attracting the attention of mainstream society. Now, there are hundreds. The Human Rights Campaign, the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force, P-Flag, Lambda Legal and other organizations all work to help gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people claim their rightful place as equal members of society. There are even partisan political groups like Stonewall Democrats and Log Cabin Republicans. The phrase "coming out" is now so widely known that only the most isolated heterosexual is unaware that it refers to a public admission of homosexuality.

And coming out has never been more important. Our visibility has made our opponents more visible, too, and they’re as outspoken as ever. They condemn us from the pulpit, and perpetuate the fiction that our "issues," notably same-sex marriage, determined the outcome of the 2004 presidential election in their favor. We can still be fired because we’re gay, and if we never get hired, we can always wonder if our sexuality was a factor. Even when we’re not out, we know the score and probably suspect others do, too, whether we tell them or not.

We still have a long way to go, but we’ve come too far to return to the closet. The only way to claim our equality is to openly fight for it.

The theme for the Human Rights Campaign’s Coming Out Project for 2005 is "Talk About It." In the words of HRC president Joe Solmonese, "Every single time we talk about our lives as GLBT Americans, we are another step closer to equality."

This year, talk about being gay with someone you trust. If you are not comfortable initiating such a conversation, make a resolution to be honest whenever an opportunity to share the news presents itself. If a co-worker asks you why you’re not married, be brave and admit that the institution is still legally closed to you. If someone is blunt enough to ask if you’re gay, you’ll probably blush, but since your reddened face will contradict a denial, drop the mask and say it: "Yes, I’m gay." Publicly acknowledging such an important part of your life is one of the most liberating and exciting moments you’ll ever experience. It’s a treat you can only give to yourself, and it will keep on giving as you embark on a life free of that stuffy mask. You’ll feel better about yourself, and most of the people you meet will feel better about you, too. They’ll feel flattered that you trust them enough to be honest. The good will you establish will benefit gays and lesbians everywhere.

Many useful tools for coming out are available on the Human Rights Campaign’s web site at hrc.org. There is also a vast library of coming out stories on the internet, most notably at comingoutstories.com. Read them, compare the experiences of other gays and lesbians with your own, and add your own story to the collection if you wish. If you’re not prepared to take that step, reading the experiences of other gays and lesbians can give you the strength you need to become ready.

If you’re ready now, let me be the first to say it: Congratulations!

by Brian W. Fairbanks

Writer for Date.com Newsletter

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