Just read a blog entry from Small Town Queer, entitled "Reasons to come out in a small town." The points are well made and I agree that a life out of the closet is ultimately so much better. That said, coming out is, for many of us, a long process. There is no right way, despite the directions provided at sites like wikiHow.com and eHow.com. That is why each of us who has ventured beyond the precisely folded Armani sweater collection has a different story. Stories, actually. Some are comical (if only in retrospect), some affirming, still others are disappointing, even tragic.
I first came out twenty-five years ago, choosing my best friend as a potential supporter who deserved to know the truth. We sat in my darkened living room, each of us in a separate beanbag...more comfy than the card table chairs. She said she'd wondered. She said she accepted it. She said she supported me.
And then she didn't contact me for several weeks. (When we chatted last year about it, she denied this account, but I had stumbled upon my old journal entries. Reading my anguish from the time brought a fresh flood of tears.) The reason why coming out is such a big deal is because you can never predict the response.
Relationships are on the line.
When the reaction is less than positive, it is easy to assert that the person is not a good friend/relative. I've heard it many times: love should be unconditional.
Even as we tap on the shoulder of 2011, coming out can be complicated. I know it took me years to come to terms with my homosexuality before I ever talked openly about it. How is it that we grant ourselves a prolonged period before self-acceptance but expect instant acceptance from others? It is a process for both people in the conversation. While initial rejection stings, whether or not things can grow from there depends on how people act on both sides of the coming out drama.
I have had many positive experiences in coming out, but I've also had my share of rocky episodes. For me, silence has always been the most difficult. Without conversation, how can there ever be enlightenment? Questions are good, even if the first ones are offensive. When I came out to my parents, my mother immediately blurted, "Can't you abstain?" Over time, her questions became more thoughtful. My sister, by contrast, still refuses to talk about it, with me or with my mother. I like to think that my sister is the one who is now barricaded in the closet.
I learned a long time ago never to judge how one person interacts with his or her family. There's too much personal history, much that the person may not even be able to articulate. We can't all be Brady Bunches, Cleavers or Waltons. Each family dynamic is unique. The same goes for coming out. Who and when depends on the individuals involved. All the rest of us can do is share our stories, offer our congratulations when the experience is positive and provide support (through more listening than advising) when coming out feels more like coming undone.
Come out, come out wherever you are...but only when it truly feels right to you.