I did a little research on the history of National Coming Out Day. It began in 1988 with the premise that coming out as a queer or trans person was the most basic form of activism one could do, because of the rationale that it is harder for people to hate queer or trans people if they know one. Although there had been a first march in 1979, National Coming Out Day is a celebration of the second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights that put forth such demands as increased funding towards ending the AID pandemic, an end to apartheid in South Africa, an end to sodomy laws, and the passing of a gay and lesbian civil rights law. What an amazing and magical moment of visibility and power. Check out some of the speeches from the 1979 March here.
However, as others have pointed out, national coming out day and its premise as the most basic form of activism is complicated. Soon after National Coming Out Day, many of us go to events for Trans Day of Remembrance on November 20 to celebrate the lives of our trans siblings who have been murdered. Queer and trans youth make up 40 percent of the total homeless youth population. Coming out can be dangerous.
Adrienne Rich wrote an article about the notion of coming out as perpetuating heteronormativity by positioning queerness as “other”. So, I'm curious about what kind of work/activism would upend the heteronormativity she speaks about. What if everyone were encouraged and given the space to interrogate their desires….for themselves…..without the need for a performance of any of it? One of my favorite sex educators, Ignacio Rivera, has a model of human sexuality shaped like a pyramid with a base of curiosity and imagination before anything is manifested in consensual play with another person. What if our work is to dare to come out to ourselves? To get honest with our pleasures and desires (sexual and nonsexual). What if we spend more time imagining our best lives? What does it look like? Who’s around? What are we doing?
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking “oh! This isn’t a hard task. In fact, I’m living my best life now.” If this is you, congrats! Celebrate that! And then dig deeper. What makes coming out to ourselves the most basic and intimate form of activism is the ways systems of domination and oppression are so embedded in our psyches that they take lifetimes to uproot. Our work is to liberate our desires from capitalism, sexism, anti-black racism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia (to name a few) that tell us we don’t deserve to feel good in our bodies and experience pleasure. Explore that nook and cranny.- that thought you dare to think just long enough for you to stop yourself from thinking it. Just think about the times when you feel guilty for resting or turning in something at your school or job isn’t perfect because you spent that time having lunch with a friend.
I could write forever about this, but the last thing I’ll say is is that the spirit of rest, curiosity, play and imagination is coming soon to a Thrive Youth or Young Adult program near you! We are doing the work of coming out to ourselves and asking what is it that we really want to do together? Who can we really be and do we really have the gumption to try living into that?
So in honor of National Coming Out Day, check out these resources for that deep work of coming out to ourselves: