The ways in which I have awkwardly attempted to tell others about my sexuality are as varied as the colors now prominently displayed on my dorm room’s pride flag.
I’ve tried the standard: You sit someone down, stumble over your first few words, let out a nervous laugh, start over and finally string together so many non sequiturs that by the time you finally slip out the words “I’m gay,” the words merely confirm what was obvious at the beginning of the conversation.
Other times, I’ve opted for the more impersonal: You write up a long message attempting to explain the unexplainable, beg for understanding, throw in clichés that boil love and lust down to bumper sticker language and finally click send — eyes closed and heart aflutter, hoping the recipient won’t use this personal information as a permanent weapon against you.
And I’ve even gone for the creative workarounds: Show up to a pride event and post pictures, write a sentimental Facebook post, slap a Human Rights Campaign sticker on your laptop or just lose a particular round of Never-Have-I-Ever.
I’ve tried each and every one of these, experimenting with how best to explain that my romantic interests differed ever-so-slightly from others. And the process of slowly and painfully expanding the circle of enlightened people dragged out for nearly three years. It was, in a word, absurd.
So when I saw several national organizations celebrate National Coming Out Day over the weekend, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we are going about it all wrong.
In coming out to other people, I too often caught myself apologizing for my own sexuality. By scheduling time in my week for an emotionally charged conversation about the most intimate details of my life, I signaled to others that this was a trait in need of explanation. It was a flaw I hoped they would forgive. Over and over again, I played defense, bracing for their scorn.
But I should not have allowed other people to have so much control over me. I should have mustered the courage to stand firm in my convictions. I was not going through a phase. I was not strange. I was not flawed.
Don’t misunderstand: It is unequivocally wrong for the non-queer majority to foster an unsafe environment in which we feel uncomfortable with our own human experience. They are the ones who most need to change. However, we in the queer community have unintentionally amplified the stigma forced upon us by accepting “coming out” as a mandatory part of every queer person’s life.
Gender and sexuality are fluid, but they are also immutable. They are not chosen traits for which we should feel any guilt or responsibility. And if I could do it over again, I would have refused to buy into the philosophy that I needed to explain my sexuality to every relative, friend and random passerby who raised an eyebrow. I would have simply lived my life unapologetically, waiting for others to notice.
So if we must save this relic of days gone by, perhaps we should retool National Coming Out Day to focus on the person who truly matters — you. Come out to yourself. Be true to who you are. Then let everyone else simply notice how comfortable you are in your own skin. And in the meantime, the rest of us should give you the resources and support you need to make that happen.
Should other people know you’re different? Absolutely. In fact, every gay, bisexual or transgender person who makes their identity known allows more Americans to attach a human face to the political and social struggle for LGBT rights.
But the way we let people know matters.
You want to tell your suitemates you like guys? Great. Grab a guy at the next Co-Op party, bring him back to your suite, march him right past your suitemates and sling a tie over your doorknob. No apologies. No fanfare. No awkward conversations.
Because being queer is not shameful, and it’s not even abnormal. It’s a fundamental part of who you are, and you should never let anyone convince you to apologize for something you can’t change.
Tyler Blackmon is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. His columns run on alternate Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.