The first National Coming Out Day was on October 11th, 1988. I was 12 years old. I had known I was gay for about 3 years at that time. I hadn’t talked to anyone else about it at that point. But who was I kidding? Am I right?
Rock Hudson had died roughly around the same time I first realized I was gay. In those days, every pop culture reference to anything remotely queer involved sickness, death, rejection, and/or loneliness.
I think in some ways, all children must feel a little bit like aliens in a strange world, but for me, for many queer kids throughout history, that sense of not belonging in the world was intense and very real.
National Coming Out Day was conceived as a radical and yet simple form of activism that was conceived at least in part as a response to the negative cultural image that had formed around what we now call the LGBTQ+ community.
Over time, the activism of visibility achieved remarkable success. In sharing our stories we won allies. We built connections. We won hearts and changes minds.
Although 12 year-old me wasn’t ready to come out on the first NCOD, the culture I lived in started to change. And even though I lived in a very conservative area, it was clear to me that the world was getting better, not worse.
That steady improvement filled me with the hope I needed to survive the closet; it implanted in me the optimism that would lead me to activism and the fight for justice. Sadly, suicide statistics for queer youth reveal that too many couldn’t find that hope and optimism.
Now, 31 years later, we mark another National Coming Out Day in a world in which 12 year old queer kids not only live in a world where ordinary people come out of the closet, but some occupy powerful positions. One gay man is running for President of the United States.
I obviously feel a deep sense of pride in the candidacy of Pete Buttigieg. I’m grateful to him for his historic candidacy. But all of us also owe a debt of gratitude to the brave souls who paved this road.
To those who came out at a time when doing so wasn’t safe or certain to end in acceptance: thank you for the gift you gave me. I look at the world around me in awe at the changes. I wonder what 12 year old me would have said about all this.