3 min

The courage to come out

Claiming space one person at a time

It’s the morning after National Coming Out Day and I’m sitting at my kitchen table chatting with the plumber —and not coming out.

He seems like a perfectly nice guy. Not much older than me, polite, in a gruff, non-talkative kind of way, he’s sprawled across the floor, competently installing my new dishwasher.

We’re sharing the space amiably enough. He even tells me, somewhat apologetically, that his son just got in trouble at school, after excusing himself to take a call.

And yet I don’t come out to him.

I could have. He asks me where I work and I reply, with deliberate vagueness, that I’m the editor of a community newspaper downtown.

I’m not lying, but I’m not telling my full truth either.

My full truth is that I’m a big dyke (okay, not so big). But I work at a gay paper, I live with my lesbian partner and our two queer cats, and I tell queer stories for a living.

I’m out to all my friends, all my family, all my neighbours, and everyone who picks up the paper.

And yet, sometimes I hesitate. Sometimes, I still falter when chatting with strangers.

It’s fear, really. Fear that they won’t respond well, that they’ll suddenly turn on me, that I’ll suddenly feel alone and vulnerable.

I’m not out to my barbers, either. They’re perfectly nice guys, too. They speak Arabic to each other, I think, and one of the guys tells me stories about his life in Iraqi Kurdistan. He even knows I’m a journalist; he just doesn’t know which stories I tell. And I’ve shied away from telling him.

Then there was the sales rep at Home Depot who sold me the dishwasher that Paul is busy installing. Older guy, friendly, helpful. It’s not like I lied to him or tried to act straight or anything. In fact, I even called Ramona several times to discuss such crucial details as the relative water and energy consumption of our possible purchase.

Martin laughed when I told him my sweetie is our family’s chief financial officer. He got it. He smiled. No problem.

And yet. When he asked me where I worked, I hedged. Again.

A community newspaper, I told him. Look for the purple boxes.

You mean look for the gay boxes, yelled a voice inside my head. The voice that hates it when I shy away, when I do anything less than stand proudly and openly as the queer that I am.

“Coming out is a process that I’m always in,” Fatima Jaffer tells a roomful of queers at The Centre’s first annual night of storytelling to celebrate National Coming Out Day, Oct 11.

Jaffer is very publicly out, especially in her own South Asian community. And yet, she too says she picks and chooses where to come out. She’s not out, for example, to the storekeepers on Main St where she buys her Punjabi suits.

Still, she says, she is part of a long line of South Asian people who are “out and making room.”

“The history of the gay rights movement is the courage of the individual to come out,” says longtime gay activist Harry Grunsky.

I ask Josh Kumar, a 23-year-old refugee from the Fiji Islands, what National Coming Out Day means to him. “It’s awesome,” he smiles, then takes my notebook and pen and carefully writes down his story.

It’s a story of courage —the courage to be himself, to reach for a better life even as the police in his home country arrested and harassed him. The courage to leave his family and search for his own truth and the freedom to live it.

“I’m a free bird,” he writes in Hindi on The Centre’s makeshift National Coming Out Day mural.

He gives me a hug as he leaves.

I read over the story he wrote for me. “Coming out, especially having the fear of consequences, means a lot and I feel I have faced my identity and my recognition.”

He’s an inspiration to me. I understand why I still occasionally hedge. We all get scared sometimes. And yet it’s the courage to come out to the potentially less receptive audiences that advances our claim to space, and strengthens our presence in society.

And gives us all a chance to keep growing.