We start our lives in the closet.
There are the occasional leaks. Tiny cracks in an otherwise carefully crafted facade that, if recognized, provides a key to the person's hidden world. Many of us have, or had, a public persona and a private persona.
The secret side takes the form of a struggle and we work very hard at protecting it. We can live stressfully bifurcated lives, juggling back and forth between pseudo straight and gay. Until the day we come out, burst out, or are forced out.
October 11 is National Coming Out Day. The day was born out of the 1987 GLBT march on Washington DC, where hundreds of thousand of Americans marched to support equal rights for LGBT people. If you are still in the closet make your first step out of it on this day.
There is no right or wrong way to come out. It's a lifelong process of being more and more open and true with yourself and the people around you.
When we finally come out to families and friends we meet a challenge that was given to each of us by chance at birth. The challenge is to be honest about this aspect of our beings even when it is hard and painful.
Even when we do not know the right words, our culture, our families, our churches teach every newborn that we are "supposed" to be attracted to people of the opposite sex. None of us were told we might fall in love, or feel a certain way, with someone of the same sex.
We come out because, sooner or later, we can't stand hiding who we are anymore, or we are pushed out by external events beyond our control.
When we finally do it we discover that it feels so much better to be open, honest and free than to conceal such integral part of who we are.
We also realize that our biggest fear was fear itself. It is, however, a leap of faith. It’s no cakewalk. Those you thought would be least judgmental or upset may be the first to turn way. That' s what my younger brother did. While those who seem least likely might be the ones offering the strongest support, as my middle brother did. The journey from coming out to living openly is ongoing. There will be bumps on the road and one should take it at his/her own pace. The only certainty is that it gets exponentially easier with time.
I have had my epiphanies and wonderful surprises on my journey. Years ago my 15-year-old niece sent me spinning. I was visiting my brother in Italy and one day she asked me to meet her after school.
“There is a place downtown you will like,” she said in a conspiratorial tone. The cafe was a hang-out for leftists, artists and gays. Socialist magazines and communist newspapers were on every table. A poster of Che Guevara hung on the main wall.
I had the feeling there was a very specific reason for this meeting. It didn’t take long. “May I ask you a personal question Zio P?”
“Sure, go ahead,” I replied, knowing already what was coming.
"Are you gay? I think you are but I’m not completely sure.”
“I am. Does it make any difference?”
I never saw anybody react to my being gay the way she did. “Oh my God, of course not, this is great! It’s wonderful… I knew it all the time… I have to tell all my friends!”
A typical teenager.
She was ecstatic to have a gay uncle. She wanted to know, in rapid-fire succession, about my life, my friends, my partner, when she was going to meet him, how long we had been together, what was our life like… everything.
Nobody ever made me feel so good about being gay. I was pleasantly shocked, relieved and completely blown over. When I was 15, it never crossed my mind to ask a relative or a friend if he/she was gay. I did not even ask myself the question, for that matter. I was too scared of the answer. For my niece it was the most natural thing in the world.
I left the cafe with a new spring in my step and felt much lighter. That afternoon with my teenage niece will always be memorable. There was a new and special bond between us, and a sense of peace with the world around. Moments like that make it all worthwhile.
So, no matter how old you are: Just do it. You will never regret it. Yes, come out, come out wherever you are be yourself, or you will never know what life is and remember: everyone is born straight, only the gifted overcome it. After all, there is nothing wrong with being fabulous. Pier Angelo