Out, proud shirts help out

(Melissa Gottlieb | The Oswegonian)
(Melissa Gottlieb | The Oswegonian)

Why would a baseball team of LGBT players never win? Because everybody would be out.  That’s what happened last weekend, as a record number of “Out and Proud” shirts were worn, even outnumbering the “Ally” shirts. But what is coming out, and what does it mean to those who do come out?

Coming out means accepting who you are and not allowing fear of what others might say to keep you quiet.  It’s a public declaration of a possible unpopular aspect of yourself, something that not everyone accepts.  Coming out represents a point where a person has had enough of hiding themselves and want to feel safe. Unfortunately, the former is more common. I say unfortunately, because that one involves fear.  People who come out this way have had enough of keeping silent, but they kept silent because they did not feel safe revealing themselves to their close friends or family. They were afraid of rejection from those who meant most to these people, a fear that may be justified.  We have all heard stories of people who come out, only to lose friends or family members who can’t accept them. They come out when they’ve reached a breaking point and can’t hold it in any longer. Some come out with tears of shame, while others let it out in an outburst at homophobia, as if to disprove it by being on the other side (and I’m using homophobia generally, as an umbrella term for all anti-LGBT sentiments). This approach doesn’t always lead to positive results. One person who came out after a family member was making homophobic remarks hasn’t spoken to that person in years. That family member would rather see them on the streets than living with her.

On the other hand, coming out when one feels safe is easier, but it takes longer. I came out as gender-free this way. The day I realized what I was, I immediately told a close friend. I was lucky to have friends who I already knew wouldn’t care what I was, and had been through other things with me. Not everyone has people who are so close, and they resort to hiding themselves until they can’t keep silent anymore. Those who do have an immediate support system have people to rely on, who can help this person learn about what they are. I had to ask one of my friends if there was such a thing as a lack of gender identity, and together we discovered gender-free. I also had another friend who has helped me be more confident in my lack of a gender, and find ways to experiment with it. However, for the longest time, only they knew. I never felt a need to tell others, since some people already knew. So it became something I’d tell people openly, but only if I trusted them enough not to run in disgust. It allowed me to choose who knew and still let people know.

Over the last weekend, I came out publicly. I was already out, but I never let strangers know. In part, it was because I didn’t feel safe letting people I didn’t know have this information. Another reason is that I didn’t want to stick out, but Coming Out weekend offered me, and many others a chance to both fit in, and put the world on notice about ourselves.  By coming out with others, all on one day, it allowed us to find others, who were in the same situation as we were and find a community. It helped us stand out as a group rather than individuals, and there is safety in numbers. The Pride Alliance, who provided the shirts, report that almost all of their shirts were given away this year, compared with having boxes left over in previous years.

Also, there were more “Out and Proud” shirts given out than “Ally” shirts. People came out in record numbers this year and felt safer as they saw others from all over campus and beyond, who were also out and proud.  It represented a shift in our campus culture, and hopefully it continues. Not everywhere is a welcoming place for people who are different, but everyone needs a place where they can feel safe. I’m thankful that this campus is one of them.