It was National Coming Out Day this week and every year I post something on my personal Facebook page.
It is important that when we think of LGBTQ2S+ that real people come to mind. Knowing someone personally helps because the hateful conditioning, stereotypes and fear mongering don’t match up with the real people we know.
During the early years of the AIDS epidemic, many more people were in the closet because we could be fired from our jobs, and ostracized by family and former friends. Gay bashing was common and many died. The families of many men who contracted HIV found out that their son/brother/father/uncle were gay at the same time they found out their loved one had AIDS and was dying.
Do you remember being shocked learning that Rock Hudson was a gay man and was included in the Names Project? One thing about facing a life and death situation is that it clarifies our priorities. We’ve had enough of hiding. We take the risk of saying “this is who I am”.
There are many hidden costs of invisibility and hiding. When I was a teen in a small prairie town, I literally had never heard the word lesbian. I had no idea what to do with the feelings I had and I suppressed them so thoroughly I didn’t know I was a lesbian until my mid twenties. Many people married and had families then came out in their forties and fifties when they could no longer live a lie. Many more were depressed or addicted. Hiding affects everyone around us.
The theme this week in our Sunday class is Standing Tall and Strong. I’ve been reflecting on the question of what we can do with our increased strength and resilience? The benefits of healing from past trauma and fears are personal and intimate and valid on their own. And the effects ripple out to others.
By living with more courage and authenticity, we inspire others in our families and friend circles. It becomes safer for everyone to express themselves authentically. It might be something big like coming out. It might be the compassion we bring when someone is crying or the genuine interest we have in getting to know them.
My son and niece both shared my Facebook post and my heart is taking in their words. Dustin reflected that it was “interesting growing up with an out lesbian activist mom” and that he wasn’t embarrassed when kids at school asked if that was his mom on the news. His attitude was the opposite of a mom of one of his friends who berated me for being a bad mother for subjecting him to homophobia and prejudice when I had a choice to hide. He didn’t hide having a lesbian mom and was always strong and steady in his own self and identity. He brings this strength, clarity and compassion to his own family and life.
My niece Crystal called me her “brave and fierce Auntie” and said I was a positive influence on her. She remembered stories I told about working with people with AIDS and feminist activism. At the time, I was just being myself. She was one of the few in my bio family who appreciated the feminist and intersectional lens through which I looked at our family and life. I admire her grit and courage as she has persisted through difficult circumstances to write her PhD thesis on Indian residential schools, become a professor, and a fierce and loving mom to her daughter.
It is only looking back that I see how important it is to have role models for clarity and courage. This week I read Jody Wilson-Raybould’s book Indian in the Cabinet: Speaking Truth to Power, about her time as Canada’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General. I watched Gabor Maté on the Wisdom of Trauma series speak with people who are clear in their analysis of injustice and what needs to change to further freedom for everyone.
Sometimes we have a more public stage and affect people we don’t know personally. Ellen DeGeneres and Elliot Page are two people who had enough of hiding and took the risk to come out and say “this is who I am”. Their courage inspires others. It changes us.
We all do this in small and large ways. Healing our childhood trauma is a foundation to having the emotional strength and stability to be who we are. We let go of false core deficiency beliefs. We relax in our body and realize that getting to know ourselves is rewarding. When we are in fight/ flight/ freeze, we are limited in how much we can be present within ourselves or with others. We need to heal enough to be in a state of trust and connection more of the time. This is when life and possibilities open up.
From my post on Coming Out Day: For all of us at whatever age we are and wherever we are in coming out and exploration of identity and expression – may we land in a soft affirming place. May we love ourselves and not take on other people’s conditioning and fear as something wrong with us. There is nothing wrong with us. We are not broken or evil or perverted as they claimed. We are whole and deserve the right to be and express authentically who we are. Love is love.