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National Coming Out Day

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On October 11, we celebrate the 27th annual National Coming Out Day. On this day, we honor coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or as an ally.

“Coming out STILL MATTERS. When people know someone who is LGBTQ, they are far more likely to support equality under the law. Beyond that, our stories can be powerful to each other.” – Human Rights Campaign

 

And I think that’s true with most stories of expression.

 

I don’t believe the term “coming out” is restricted to sexual orientation and/or gender identity. I believe at one or several moments in our lives, we are all restricted to the walls of a closet. Coming out of the closet is a much more universal concept than we are lead to believe. It means expressing yourself when something is at stake. It means taking a step into the unknown and risking something very important to you, in most cases, the relationship of one or more people.

 

To some (arguably 2% – 10% of the population), coming out refers to LGBTQ. To others, it may mean telling your spouse you lost your job. Others come out of the closet when they tell their parents they are pregnant, have dropped out of school, or are Democrat. Some of these examples may seem silly to us, but it’s not about us. It’s about the relationship that’s perceivably at stake. When you follow your gut but risk possibly losing relationships, you come out of your own closet.

 

When I came out of my own closet four years ago, I lost some closest friends and my church. Furthermore, I fell in love with a man for the first time and simultaneously ended a five-year relationship with my best friend and fiancé and hurt her deeply in the process.

 

However, on the other side, I strengthened my relationship with my parents and learned what true parental love is. When my parents say, “I love you,” I finally believe them. In my new skin, I was (and currently am) able to surround myself with former and new friends who love and accept me for my authentic self.

 

I also found the courage to pursue my acting career in Chicago. Acting is hard, but acting while in the closet is painful and inauthentic. Coming out for me made it easier to be in touch with my own emotions, thus making it easier to be an actor.

 

Most importantly, when faced with a difficult decision, I remind myself . . .

 

I did not come out to settle. I came out to be wowed.

 

I came out to live the life God intends for me. I owe it to my past and future selves to make the difficult decisions in order to live a purposeful and intention-filled life. If I can come out of that closet, I can do anything.

 

I went from having my entire life planned out to uprooting myself and not knowing what the future holds for me. I went from being extremely stable and inauthentic to slightly less stable and authentic.

 

I’ll take authenticity over stability any day.  

 

We all have coming out stories, and it’s important to share them. We learn from them, relate to them, and change the world with them.

 

And like the HRC states . . .

 

Our stories can be powerful to each other.

 

Take Leelah Alcorn’s story, for example.

 

Leelah-Alcorn-change-org2

 

Leelah was a transgender teenager, and this past December, she took her own life after leaving a message on her blog. In it, she states, “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was . . . My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year.”

 

Before I say anything else, here’s an important fact: LGBTQ youth with supportive families are four times more likely to commit suicide than straight-identified youth, but LGBTQ youth with hostile parents are eight times more likely to commit suicide. Parents: take note of this. You matter!

 

It’s too late to save Leelah, but it’s never to late to be moved by her powerful story. When we tell our stories and come out of our closets, we break down barriers. Through sharing these stories, we realize how alike we all are, and that’s definitely something to be celebrated.

 

So tell your stories. Listen to others’ stories. Celebrate our sameness and rejoice in our differences. Our journeys begin today.

 

What about you? What does your closet look like? Share your story! Leave a comment here, tweet me @EricFeltes, or Facebook me!