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COMMENTARY: Coming Out 101

With the coming out of NBA center Jason Collins last week, I’ve read enough opinion on “coming out” to last me a lifetime.

Gay, straight, Republican, Democrat, Christian, Muslim, black, white, Hispanic, Asian – absolutely everyone had an opinion. Everyone, of course, is entitled to their opinion. But my thinking is this: Unless you’re gay and you’ve experience all the emotions and fallout that comes along with “coming out,” you really can’t speak with any authority on the subject.

The moment you say to the world: “I’m gay,” everything in your life changes. You are no longer hiding, you are no longer running, you are no longer afraid of what and who you might lose in your life. Suddenly your life has become about what and who it is you have to gain by living your life as who you really were meant to be.

Many of us have lost friends and family and have been more or less pushed to the curb for wanting to live our own truth. Many of us pushed aside and hid our own truth for years because of our fear of rejection and ridicule and being ostracized from our families. As bad as it might have been living in the closet, it was safe and it was what we knew. The thought of leaving that cocoon was the most frightening thing I have ever known; hence I didn’t come out until I was 50.

There isn’t a pamphlet or a “Coming Out for Dummies” book for an LGBT individual to follow. We all come with our own truths, our own fears, our own set of life experiences. Some are braver than others and simply set out on their - let the chips fall where they may truth. They know who they are and they live their truth every moment with no second thoughts.

Others – like me – were stuck in the “I care what other people think of me” sort of truth. It takes us longer to understand that what others think of us is really none of our business. We live our lives trying to please others and not rock the boat of safety and security. Of course the little lives we’ve made for ourselves never work – and at some point in our lives – we will take the leap into the real world.

And it is a leap. It’s a leap into a world where not everyone is kind and sweet and compassionate. It’s a world of words like “pervert” and “fruitcake” and “faggot.” It’s a world where elections are bought and sold using the lives of gays as fodder for the so-called righteous do-gooders to make the laws they want passed.

It’s a world where in the United States of America, there are 29 states where you can be fired for being gay. There are states that won’t allow you in the hospital room of your dying partner and states that allow relatives to throw you out of your home – even if you have the proper paperwork – simply because you are gay.

It’s a world where sometimes having the courage to come out isn’t appreciated as being courageous. The truth is – until you admit it publically that you indeed are gay – it isn’t true - and in my mind, any act of courage needs to be recognized. See, no matter how famous one is, and how much you think you know about the people who surround you, your family may still walk away from you. You may lose roles on stage or television or movies. The sleeze press may hound you and politicians may use your life as an election issue.

Coming out is a huge risk for those in the public eye, and those who are brave enough should be honored and those who are not – well – they should be left to live their lives. The same is true for those of us who live in every town in these United States. Those of us who have the strength to live openly do – and those who are still hiding can learn from what we say and do, and how we live our lives.

I believe every person who has the strength and the courage to come out and live their truth is quite brave and in some sense of the word – a hero. When you look in the mirror and the eyes that look back at you are no longer filled with fear and loathing – that, my friend, makes you a hero – if only to yourself.

Do not weigh yourself down with what others may think of you. Do not waste time doing what is expected of you for it isn’t your parent’s life or your friends or you family or your preacher or whoever. The pressure on you may be overwhelming at times. You may be feeling pressure to keep secrets, to lie about who you are, and to be someone you are not.

Do not let anyone convince you that you are not worthy of love and being accepted for exactly who you are. Also, do not be pressured into coming out. Come out on your own terms in your own time – and never let anyone convince you otherwise.

SDGLN Contributor Barb Hamp Weicksel was born in 1952 in Pennsylvania and moved to California in the early 1980s, where she met her partner Susan. They've been together some 30 years and share the love of Susan's four children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Her blog, Barb's Gift of Gab, can be found HERE.