Today is National Coming Out Day, a day I didn't even know existed when I was living as a straight woman in a mixed-gender marriage.
Back then, I was oblivious to the struggles of LGBTQ+ folx and the history of that community. I "knew of" gay people, but I didn't have a single LGBTQ+ friend. Or at least I didn't think I did.
This isn't an uncommon experience.
Robert Eichberg, one of the founders of NCOD, said in 1993:
"Most people think they don't know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact, everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes."
It wasn't until I made a pilgrimage to Iona, a tiny isle off the southwest coast of Scotland, that I realized I did have an LGBTQ+ friend after all.
The year was 2001, and I was a forty-year-old stay-at-home mom searching for my purpose.
I'd left a toxic work environment as a corporate lawyer years before and had been wandering professionally ever since then.
As part of my searching, I enrolled in a spirituality program and made a pilgrimage to Iona, or more specifically, the Iona Abbey.
It was no Ritz-Carlton experience. Each member of the group was put on a work team. I drew the short straw and cleaned toilets, which I assure you was a spiritual experience. But that's a story for another day.
“Joan,” our retreat leader, sat down next to me on a sofa, during one of our breaks. We were the only people in the room. We chatted about our lives back home and then she pulled out something from her fanny pack.
“Here’s my spouse,” she said, showing me a photo of a middle-aged woman.
I had NO idea that Joan was LGBTQ+ or that she was married to anyone (of any gender).
As a church leader, she had to hide who she was and who she loved. “I only share this with people I trust,” she said. I felt proud that I was one of those chosen people.
When I was coming out to myself—well before I came out to others—Joan was one of the first people I reached out to. I knew I could trust her, like she had trusted me.
I also realized that I had no idea how scary and vulnerable it must have felt when Joan showed me the photo of her spouse.
The same vulnerable feeling I am now very familiar with—that I experience nearly every time I meet someone new and have to decide whether I can trust them with my sexual identity.
Do I refer to my wife as my friend? My partner? Or my wife.
It’s a calculation that LGBTQ+ folx have to make on a daily basis.
I hope that some time in the future that National Coming Out Day will be unnecessary. That the LGBTQ+ experience will simply be seen as PART of the human experience.
But until that day comes, l'm making it my mission to help more LGBTQ+ folx raise their voices, write their stories, and become published authors.
Because writing and sharing our stories is one of the most powerful ways we can take the LGBTQ+ experience out of the closet and into the light.
Because stories help us see others as people and help us feel seen.
Because representation matters. LGBTQ+ stories matter.