Coming Out in Baby Steps
Coming Out in Baby Steps
by Lindsay Amer
For me, there was no grand, singular coming out moment. I opened the closet door one little push at a time, and one day found it was sitting open in front of me. Only then did I step out purposefully, with intention. The process was a gradual shift toward the decision to quit lying and live my truth.
Before I dive in, I want to acknowledge that I am incredibly lucky to have liberal, accepting friends and family (well, almost everyone). I grew up in New York City, arguably the most diverse (read: gayest) city in the world, and my barely observant, culturally Jewish family could care less about the gender of the human I wanted to date. My coming out was never impeded by anxieties that anyone in my life would be anything less than supportive. The conflict was primarily between myself and my own internalized heterosexual bias. My experience is one of incredible privilege that I am grateful for every day. That said, the struggle was still very real.
In high school, I experienced the stereotype that is falling in love with your best friend. It was painful and fraught and chock-full of teenage angst, less because I was so obviously gay, and more because, as the cliche follows, she was in love with a boy. Her name is Wednesday and that’s a real true fact. We were roommates at a pre-college theater camp in Boston, she was the first girl I ever kissed (playing truth or dare), and a gay little light bulb turned on in my lonely closet. She is now a dear friend, but that took time and a whole lot of healing. Back then, to say I was confused would be a gross understatement.
One night, I was frustrated when she didn’t text me back, so I had a spur of the moment shower thought to come out to my mom as bisexual. I thought Wednesday would have to race back to her phone to talk me down from a freak out if I did it. Needless to say, that genius plan backfired. The text back happened but the aftermath was far more real than I anticipated. I sat my mom down on her bed, said I was bi, and a strange silence followed. She didn’t know what to say, and neither did I.
I would advise against doing this. I wasn’t ready to come out, it was for the wrong reasons, and I shouldn’t have. It was impulsive, and my mom had no idea what to do. It wasn’t what I had expected. It was weird, and awkward, clunky, and confusing; adjectives that have never described my relationship with my mother. It was wholly uncharted territory. I hadn’t thought much past the first statement and she didn’t know the script to follow. The words took us time to come to naturally. When Lance Black won the Best Screenwriting Oscar for Milk that year and dedicated it to LGBT youth, she gave me a knowing stare from across the couch, and, while she meant well, the shame and embarrassment was far more than I could handle.
After coming out to a few select friends, I binge-watched The L Word and left for college still confused but excited to start with a clean slate. I stuck to the bisexual label at that point. I went to (very regrettable) frat parties and theater shenanigans replete with closeted white boys. I started coming out as bi more publicly, and it felt very nearly right. I developed a pattern of flirting with guys and promptly chickening out when hooking up seemed imminent. Then I started taking Gender Studies classes, called myself a Kinsey 4 (mostly gay with straight tendencies on the sexuality scale), and toyed with the idea that I might lean a little gayer than I thought.
The summer after my sophomore year, I received a research grant to travel to London and study methods for presenting complex social issues for young audiences using theater. I was in a foreign country completely alone for three months, so I decided to conduct my own off-the-books research project on the sly. The research question: what would it be like to be gay?
To find out, I packed all my flannel shirts, looked up the remaining lesbian bars in SoHo (RIP CandyBar), bookmarked articles on Autostraddle, made friends with queer foreign ladies at 4 a.m., and rendezvoused with a cute Belgian hatmaker. I was a little lonely, and I hated my sublet, but I felt right, I felt free and independent, and surprisingly not at all scared. I found that I liked being gay, it felt natural and easy, but mostly, I loved loving women.
I came back Stateside with newfound confidence in myself and in my sexuality, a little solo travel know-how, and a whole lot of gay paraphernalia from London’s World Pride. I displayed a rainbow flag loud and proud in the bedroom of my first apartment for my parents to see when they moved me in, and that was it. For me, that’s the “coming out” moment that sticks with me. That’s the moment I decided to stop lying, to stop hiding. That’s when I stopped caring what people thought. That’s when I stepped out of the open door of the closet I had trapped myself in for too long. A few months later I started dating my first girlfriend, declared a Gender Studies minor, and unabashedly announced my love of women. The weight was lifted; All I needed was a little practice.
Since college, my identity has grown with me. I came to queerness a little later as an intersectional, and theoretical label, better matching my social justice leanings, and thoughts on gender. But the thing that has yet to change is coming out; every day. I’ve gotten pretty good at it by now. I look pretty darn queer with short undercut hair, tattoos, hipster glasses, and a closet full of button downs (I downsized the flannel collection in lieu of dapper prints); all of that helps. I pick and choose my chapstick lesbian stereotypes and talk about my exes and queer culture around new people outside of LGBTQ+ circles. I let my social justice work speak for me on my resume, and I drop hints to new co-workers often so there’s no room to question. I find the conversation itself uncomfortable. I let my visuals tell my story when I don’t want to because, honestly, it can be exhausting.
I make queer content for kids with the goal that young people never have to live in a world where they must come out every time they meet someone, get a new job, or step out their front door. Straight people don’t have to come out, so why do we? We come out only to disrupt a societal assumption we put on each other. I want to know a world where there is no assumption. One day, coming out will be a thing of the past, but until then, I’ll add my story to the frey and urge you to live your truth in the meantime. You’ll be so much happier for it.
Lindsay is a New York-based artist making queer content for kids! You can check out their newest project, Queer Kid Stuff, an LGBTQ+ educational webseries for the kiddos on YouTube. They are also a founder and Co-Artistic Director for Bluelaces Theater Company, creating multi-sensory work for individuals with developmental differences. They hold a BS in Theatre (with a minor in Gender Studies) from Northwestern University and an MA in Theater and Performance from Queen Mary University of London. When they're not completely overwhelmed by adulthood, they're probably plotting ways to overthrow the patriarchy while playing their ukulele. Follow them on Twitter @thelamerest