National Coming Out Day and what it means to be queer

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Oct. 11 was National Coming Out Day, initially established in 1988 as an awareness day, as many LGBTQ+ people thought that homophobia might dissipate if more people saw some they knew who is a member of the community. Today, National Coming Out Day exists in a flurry of colorful social media posts surrounded by a dialogue of shared experiences from every corner of the LGBTQ+ community.

I always felt rather odd about coming out. I am a notorious blabbermouth, even with my own secrets, so it would eventually slip out to friends and family in the most random ways imaginable. It was never some big talk I had with people I knew. There was no big lead up, no “I brought you all here today to tell you…” It would eventually just stumble out by chance in conversations about relationships and other things. I had no fears about coming out which I’m very grateful for. I know that isn’t always the experience of many members of the LGBTQ+ community, but I’m lucky enough to have a supportive family. Some of my friends were the same, simply supportive and on my side, but others haven’t been so great. But I’m of the attitude that if you’re so bothered by who I’m attracted to, then I don’t want you around anyways.

However, as of late, I’d been overwhelmed by the amount of questioning from friends and family. Things along the lines of “I think you’ll end up with a man eventually, maybe you’re just bi!” and “well, you don’t look gay!” These questionings of my sexuality from well meaning (and not so well meaning) family and friends have added to my distress that I just don’t feel like I quite fit into the LGBTQ+ community. I’m not quite sure I know what it means to be a “good queer person.” What does that even mean? Is that even something I can accomplish? It was clear there were things that separated me from my straight friends, but I also felt a disconnection from the LGBTQ+ and queer community. I had no idea how to reconcile this gap I felt. That is until recently. I was watching the LGBTQ+ Town Hall and was listening to Mayor Pete Buttigieg speak. Disregarding politics, I think it is incredible and groundbreaking that we are currently witnessing an openly gay man run for president. When speaking about his own experiences as a gay man, Buttigieg said something that radically changed the way I thought about myself in the community: “There is no right or wrong way to be gay, to be queer, to be trans and I hope that our own community, even as we struggle to define what our identity means, defines it in a way that lets everybody know that they belong among us.”

This one singular sentence has helped me think about myself and the LGBTQ+ community at large in a completely different light. A sense of belonging is something I had always struggled to find. But recently, I’m starting to feel more and more whole as a queer person. I’ve become involved with the Gender Studies Program and met more people who identify all sorts of ways. What I’ve learned from all these things is that my identity, my queerness, it is a part of me, but it doesn’t define me completely. It is a significant part of me that I am proud to share with the world.

We’re living in a much different world today than in 1988 and we’ve come a long way, but that’s not to say we still don’t face challenges. As I write this, nine Supreme Court Justices are deciding whether or not it is legal for LGBTQ+ individuals to be discriminated against in the workplace and frankly, that’s insane to me. To think we’ve come so far yet have so far to go. I hope for a future where no one has to worry that how they identify will impact how people view them.

To my fellow members of the LGBTQ+ and queer communities, I say: keep doing you. You are valid and you are important no matter how you identify. If you ever feel like you don’t belong, keep searching. I promise you the answer is out there somewhere.

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