Image Credit: JarmolUK
National Coming Out Day, celebrated earlier this month, is a day to be open and proud of who you are. A day to shine a light on the LGBTQ+ community, the milestones we have reached, and the ones yet to come. It is incredibly touching to see charities, businesses, universities, and other organisations celebrate moves towards inclusivity and diversity. However, as those of us in the community know all too well, the hardship that goes with coming out and living life as an LGBTQ individual is constantly present.
The decision to come out can be an agonising one. For me, it was a conflict between wanting to live openly and honestly but at the same time needing to keep my guard up against judgement, shame, and criticism. I quickly lost count of the amount of times the words ‘I’m a lesbian’ were on the tip of my tongue but were never spoken to friends, family, colleagues. When those words were finally spoken aloud, they were accompanied by sweaty palms, a shaky voice and admittedly, few tears.
Of course, coming out doesn’t just happen once. It is a regular occurrence, perhaps daily, and even to this day, saying those words is difficult and often makes me cringe. This is the result of a society which treats our identities and labels like quasi-swear words.
As soon as I came out, I was met with doubt and suspicion. One friend asked, “How can you be a lesbian when your hair is so long?” Regularly I would hear whispers of “Do you think she’ll try and turn you?” and “I bet she watched us change in P.E.”
“…coming out doesn’t just happen once. It is a regular occurrence, perhaps daily”
And coming out can just be the start. Every single day there are reminders that you are different. Those reminders come in the form of stares, tuts, judgemental remarks, and at times, a lot worse. There is something very sad about the layer of apprehension present when innocently holding hands while popping to the shops or giving your partner a quick kiss on the cheek. Those little moments which should be happy, and more importantly, normal, are tainted by the prejudice and judgement of others.
So, although National Coming Out Day is an opportunity to celebrate acceptance, it is important for our allies to bear in mind that the struggle continues all year round, every day. We have come very far, especially in the last few years, but in order to keep pushing through the barriers, the visibility and support present on National Coming Out Day cannot be allowed to exist in a vacuum. The community and its allies cannot afford to become complacent. The struggles continue everyday, and so should the visibility. The stories and experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals need to keep being told in order to normalise our existence and foster a better, safer environment for the future.