There have been two people who chose to tell me (separately) that they were gay; in fact it sounded more like a question than a statement. It was the first time each of them had disclosed this hitherto unrevealed fact to anyone other than themselves.
Diana Ross I’m Coming Out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoRBFNOgeHw
From the look on their faces I sensed that there was apprehension as to what my reaction would be. They each waited worriedly for my response; beads of sweat growing larger on their furrowed brows, lips pursed together, breath held silently.
“Congratulations”, I said.
Last night I met a friend for half-price sushi. We were chatting over salmon sashimi with particularly fiery wasabi when I sensed that he was summoning the courage to tell me something. He looked to his left, then to his right, and then he uttered the words. From the look on his face I sensed that there was anxiety as to what my reaction would be. He waited worriedly for my response; beads of sweat growing larger on his furrowed brow (anxiety or wasabi?), lips pursed together, breath held silently. “I love singing opera”, he told me. “Congratulations”, I said, actually I said, “how wonderful, like music to my ears!”
Some would argue that I am being flippant by daring to suggest that these two comings out are equivalent. Yes, there are real and dangerous external constraints; being lesbian in South African black townships has cost women their lives and still does.
The Brutality of ‘Corrective Rape’ NY Times http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/07/26/opinion/26corrective-rape.html?_r=0
On the other hand I have seen people for whom coming out as homosexual was actually quite straightforward, easy, painless and happened at a relatively young age. I have also known some people to contemplate suicide in part because they could not tolerate or allow parts of themselves to emerge or be seen in the light of day, and in these particular instances it had nothing to do with being gay. Having said this I accept that some comings out are riskier and carry with them much higher stakes than other comings out.
I see coming out as the recognition that there are attributes, any attributes, within us that want to be seen, want to live, but for a variety of reasons are unable or are not allowed to emerge into the light of day or to be integrated as a regular part of a person’s life.
Like anything else it is possible to exist without these things emerging but one might come to sense that the quality or richness of one’s life is perhaps not quite what it could be without this particular attribute or set of attributes.
The thing is that these attributes if not allowed to emerge will not really go away. They may change character or shift their energy in another direction but will not really disappear. I suppose we can shape ourselves into a desired package to some extent, but to imagine that we can reject parts of ourselves invites trouble. When I think of this I see an image of a heavy water filled balloon and somebody trying to hold it still or shape it in some desired way; futile unless you put it into a box; but then the joy and mischief of being a water-filled balloon is gone.
In many cases the term coming out is not relevant and would not be the most useful way to describe what is happening. Lots of people are lucky enough in that the things that they are/ have within them naturally emerge and manifest in the world, in the light of day, as part of the process of growing and maturing.
Perhaps external circumstances in the lives of such people were intimate, supportive, and welcoming, as opposed to threatening, judgemental and distant. The internal resources we each possess to cope with challenges, such as seeing, accepting and manifesting parts of ourselves in the world, vary widely. For some people recognising accepting and manifesting parts of ourselves is very difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible.
I like ordinary things. I like ordinary courage. I sometimes feel concerned when I see the emphasis and value placed on unusual courage; the man who has no body from his waist down who scaled Kilimanjaro using his hands, and the young guy with no arms who wrestles for his school team. I wish in no way to diminish or trivialise the real courage and fortitude of spirit involved in such endeavours. I also realise that the world offers us few genuine heroes to serve as role models, to inspire; people who do courageous and valuable things whether they are being seen or not, people with principles that stand for human dignity and human rights without hatred and violence. Mandela, Pope Francis, Aung San Suu Kyi; (is this still true?) can you name any other living person of this heroic magnitude? I certainly hope so.
Kyle Maynard training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro WITHOUT using prosthetic limbs http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2048116/Kyle-Maynard-training-climb-Mount-Kilimanjaro-WITHOUT-using-prosthetic-limbs.html
The thing is, I believe that just to live in this world takes courage, whoever you are. Does it not take courage, every day to be a person, a parent, a single parent, a child, a teenager, an old person, a provider? Does it not take courage to face each day, to try ones best, to engage with life’s demands, to be honest, to take responsibility despite the obstacles in one’s life? This courage is seldom recognised let alone acknowledged and valued.
It takes courage not simply to live each day as best we can but simultaneously to bravely risk allowing one’s true being and nature to emerge in the world.
I do not equate coming out with transcendence or self-actualization. Such fantastic notions do not do justice to or describe in any useful way the ordinariness and difficulty of coming out.
I am idealistic; ask those who have crossed swords with me; but idealism based on real life and real living and real people.
The Daily Show Comedy Central http://www.thedailyshow.com/
Let me briefly illustrate some comings out from my experience with people.
“I had to realise accept and manifest the fact that I am an (the) alpha male. I was in business with another male friend. I became depressed and didn’t understand why; I don’t get depressed. I needed psychotherapy to help get to it. I have to be in charge for better or for worse. I started my own business; I am the alpha male; if you’re male don’t mess with me…I’m out big boy! Some will like this and some won’t…tough”.
“I have the power to be aggressive; this was no secret to me. I didn’t let it be seen as I was terrified of this threatening force inside of me. I thought that if I ever allowed it to emerge someone would get hurt; someone other than me. Life, exacting master that it is, pried it out of me like an oyster refusing to yield its coveted pearl. I discovered that I can harness its immense power; this is as far as you can go with me my friend. It was hardest for those who knew me as accommodating and forgiving, the one always swallowing their endless dumping of shit; “you’ve changed…you used to be caring.” What they really meant was I can no longer feel good at your expense…you are no longer someone I can push around or emotionally manipulate…how could you deprive me of that?”
Being assertive http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/assertive/SR00042
Learning to be Assertive http://www.fgcu.edu/caps/files/what_is_being_assertive.pdf
“I love working as a clay potter; I am closest to myself when clay sploshes through my fingers. Oh yes I dabbled; a bowl here a mug there, but I was just a tourist. I was told and I came to believe that being an academic was what was real, important and of worth. So I spent years being a scientist concerned about one single species of bird, a universally acclaimed authority cut off from my squelchy messy joy, slowly shrivelling up and losing heart; but they called me doctor! We emigrated and I found myself centred on my clay work by dint of circumstance and they say emigration is hard! I have recently won acclaim from my peers in a potter’s exhibition, it’s not a PhD, but it goes to the heart of my soul not just a bird in my brain. To think that bliss could be so simple, messy, and squidgy”.
“I am a woman and I have found myself loving other women; it feels so much more genuine than the endless contrived chore of pretending to love men. My father’s home was brutally female loathing. Endless guffaws of laughter at the ridiculous notion that respect might be due to a woman. There is no such thing as a lesbian in my father’s culture, only in other people’s morally depraved cultures. It came to me late in my life, a loved one saw what I was feeling, rather, doing with other woman; flirting, seeking connection, being emotionally available without unspoken passive aggression. If I had allowed myself to feel it before I would have had to face the rage I feel towards my father and then take responsibility for my own life choices without resorting to blaming others. Without realising it I buried my sexual (and life) passion deeply and started to believe that I had no sexual desire, no libido. Lately I am open, new and filled with passion”.
“I love to sing opera in front of an audience; blow me over, who would have imagined it! I have spent so long probing why I was such a mess as a person that eventually I forgot to recognise that there is a person here, let alone a person of worth and interest. I agonised for years; hell bent on scrutinising what was wrong with me, why was I not normal? What chance was there for anything of value and beauty in me to feel safe enough to steal a glance over the lip of the self-loathing cesspool? On my travels I found myself in the land of Verdi and Parmigiano. I’m not saying fate brought me to this point, but there I was whatever the cosmic route. I stood up walked in front of the group of opera lovers, gave a small bow, and freed my breath to sing, I felt what I had never felt before….one with myself”.
“I wanted to write. It’s just rubbish I would say. Who would want to read this drivel? Whatever I write I see as rubbish. Saying that I am astonished when I read my work years later; with the passage of time somehow the devil of self-contempt is caught off guard. My coming out was slow, arduous and profoundly burdensome. I had to fight for every word on every line on the screen as if my very life and the life of my children depended on it”.
Teen Ink | A teen literary magazine and website http://teenink.com/
The New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/
So let me be plain, coming out is just life, this is your life, if we choose and are able for that life to emerge. There is no way to successfully bypass the living of life with all its demands no matter what is in you or has come out of you.
This Is Your Life Official Web Site http://www.thisisyourlife.com/tiyl.html?id_tiyl=0916TL525776
If you have allowed your attributes to come out you will still have to live your life day to day.
Having said that, after my friend yielded to his love of singing opera I observed that he was feeling differently. I immediately saw him differently and I felt that he saw himself differently. This is what I mean by a miracle, it was a miracle, where the thing that occurred ran contrary to the firm expected conviction of what was and what was not possible in one’s life.
Jefferson Starship – “Miracles” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tCrBF71JCU
So we decide and are able to come out because we no longer feel any worth in pretending… we believe that we will survive the emergence and manifestation and in no small measure because we are connected to people who love us; social support.
We say to the world….here it is, but who are we talking to? More often than not we are talking to ourselves; those ourselves that have become internalised voices from people, rules, admonitions, reprimands, tellings-off, dire threats, criticisms, emotional blackmail, absences of love and support, trauma… that we have experienced in our lives.
Is that all? Sounds so easy. Not always.