A Decade Coming Out

A few months ago, I watched the movie Love, Simon. Twice, actually. In less than 48 hours.

Love, Simon is about a teenager coming out as gay during his senior year of high school. It’s in the style of a teen romance, and in contrast to many coming out stories told in books and movies, this one ends gets a happy ending. Though it’s not a linear trajectory, by the time the credits roll Simon’s identity is not at all a source of alienation. It’s a source only of connection.

The movie’s not perfect, for sure, but there is so much about it that resonates with me (other than, fortunately, the part about being outed to the whole school). There are the awkward, closeted conversations about dating life, the offhanded homophobic comments by others, the tense moments when you think you might muster the courage to say something but don’t. There is the realization that previous friendships were actually crushes, the wondering about whether someone you like is gay too, the desire to take control of your own story. There is the first female friend you tell, the blessing of loving family and friends, the sense of being able to take a deep breath for the first time. The feeling of becoming “more you” than ever before.

When I watched Love, Simon, it was like being transported back to the first times I had each of these experiences. I relived the nervousness, the exhilaration, the relief, all mixed together––and I was kind of a wreck for a week after watching the movie. Didn’t help that I kept watching the glorious final scenes over and over on YouTube and tearing up each time. Oh, and then I read the book it’s based on, too.

This fall, it will be ten years since I first told someone I was gay (well, I wrote it down and passed a note). For me it was senior year of college, not high school, but to say that the moment I wrote that note was the beginning of my coming out journey would be to ignore the months (years) of reflection that led to it. So, in recognition of Pride month, I’ll call it a decade now.

A lot has changed for me in ten years, and, in some ways, it would be appropriate to say that I’m “done” coming out. I’m married to an awesome guy, everyone in my communities knows that, and I no longer experience the distance from anyone that comes from feeling like I am withholding that information (whether it’s relevant or not to the interaction). In most circumstances now, the fact that I’m gay has little bearing on my experience. It’s just part of the normal background of life.

A great illustration of this is my yarmulke. When I first started wearing a kippah regularly (initially only during prayer, now at all times), I wanted the kippah to have all the colors of the rainbow (though not necessary in a rainbow design). I was influenced by this post, the author of which I met at the retreat where I also met Ari (and ran into again years later at a Women of the Wall service at the Kotel). I wanted to express my identity externally as wholly as possible. Now, while I still like colorful kippot, I’d rather match the one I wear to the rest of my outfit. (Okay, so maybe that’s still pretty gay.)

But the truth is that the world is still heteronormative, and until that changes, I’ll never really be “done” coming out.

Just the other day, for example, I was setting up some financial paperwork over the phone, and the person I was talking to needed information about my spouse. She asked me about Ari, “What’s ‘her’ date of birth?” I confidently corrected her, and we moved on with the conversation. Six or seven years ago, that would have sent my heart rate skyrocketing. Not anymore.

Here’s another situation, though this is one that still does feel like part of the journey: Ari and I are uncomfortable with our own public displays of affection. Even walking around our quiet, fairly liberal town, we often feel like as soon as we start to hold hands, the whole street is watching. (Not true, of course, but we’re not immune to the effects of growing up in a heteronormative world.) When we meet or part ways in public, like all those times we used to drop off and pick each other up at the airport during our four long-distance years, we might disguise a peck on the cheek within a hug. But a real kiss like all those straight couples share at the airport? Forget it.

Sometimes I wish I had come out sooner. I became much more confident and less inhibited in all aspects of my life after starting the process, and I wish I could reclaim those closeted years. But I also don’t regret any part of my journey or any relationship that led me to where I am today.

It’s like Pastor Megan says in the moving first episode of Queer Eye season five: “Would you ever tell that kid in your congregation they didn’t come out soon enough? So why do you tell yourself that, child of God?”

Powerful stuff.

I really do feel blessed in my life. I am blessed by supportive friends, queer and otherwise, by models of queer parenthood, and by queer-affirming places of employment. I have seen LGBTQ rights take center stage in some major court cases, including this week, along with what seems to be a steady change in popular opinion toward acceptance. I got to celebrate my marriage surrounded by family and friends almost three years ago, and now I soon get to start the journey toward parenthood with my husband.

The blessings are all the more clear to me because not everyone’s story is as privileged as mine (or as Simon’s in the movie). The unearned advantages of being a cisgendered white man make carrying the gay part of my identity much easier. Others are handed a far heavier burden by the world. Trans folks, and trans people of color in particular, face intense discrimination and violence. In the last two weeks alone, two black trans women, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton, were murdered, and the Trump administration rolled back protections for trans people in health care (though how that will interact with the Supreme Court opinion released three days later is unclear). Such circumstances spurred the recent march in Brooklyn, proclaiming––as we all should be saying––Black trans lives matter.

I pray that, someday, all people will experience the blessing of controlling how and when they express their identities, and no one will fear violent retribution for doing so. As a gesture of apparition for what we have, and in honor of Pride, Ari and I are donating to the National Center for Transgender Equality, which advocates for policy change, offers educational materials, and provides support and legal assistance to trans people and their families.

As for me, my heart fills with gratitude when I think about the last ten years. I look forward to seeing what the next ten will bring.

Today, though, is the day the Love, Simon spinoff Love, Victor premiers on Hulu. Guess what we’ll be watching this month?

Montreal, 2018. Nothing like showing up the day after the parade.

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