From Out to Proud: What It Really Means to be “Openly LGBTQ+”

When I came out as bi on National Coming Out Day in 2018, I thought I was openly gay. I had the talk with my mom, told all my friends on social media, and put a pride flag in my Twitter bio. It was such a relief to share my story with the world, and I was proud of myself. My friends sent such supportive messages, and there was nothing more satisfying than knowing my mom was (for the most part) cool with it. Now I was like one of those amazing openly gay people I had looked up to. Heck, maybe I’d end up with my own TV show, like Ellen.

It’s been almost three years since that fateful October day, and I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be an openly LGBTQ+ person. I want to share the most surprising discovery I made because I think it could be very helpful for young LGBTQ+ people trying to embrace their identity in various areas of their lives.

Last June, I celebrated my first Pride Month. For me, that was the most exciting thing I had ever been included in. It was like the gay equivalent of a senior prom. I didn’t even get to attend any parades and I had no girlfriend to celebrate with, but I didn’t care. For the next month, I could post all my “gay tweets”, dress like a stereotypical queer woman in flannel, and have a good excuse to cry while reading dozens of coming out stories every night.

But when July 1 came around and Target took down its rainbow-themed displays, I felt an overwhelming sense of emptiness. For the past 30 days, I had lived so freely and expressed myself without inhibitions. I had basked in the rich culture of Pride Month and screamed my truth at the top of my lungs. Yet as soon as the celebrations were over, I found myself ducking back into the comfortable shelter of the closet. I stuffed my flannels in the bottom drawer of my dresser, wiped off my bi pride eyeshadow, and stopped tweeting about my experiences as a queer woman. It felt like January had come and it was time to take down the Christmas decorations and put away the Santa hats. Pride Month was my one-month parole from heteronormativity, but now I needed to go back to pretending I was “normal”. Because even though I was confident enough to scream about my gayness all June long, I still didn’t feel like being gay was normal for the rest of the year. I needed an excuse to be myself.

I’ve talked about the end of my friendship with a rather homophobic girl in a previous post, but I want to share a conversation we had because it was a huge part of my journey to self-awareness. Shortly before our friendship started to deteriorate, she’d told me that a girl on Tumblr had shut her out of a fangirl group that consisted mostly of gays. My friend called it a “lesbian clique” and complained that LGBTQ+ people on social media “don’t talk about anything except their sexuality”. I was already out by then, and after trying to explain to her that social media is often a safe place for LGBTQ+ people who face discrimination in real life, I asked her a question that had been nagging me for a while.

“Well, you know that I’m bi,” I said. “Do you think I’m annoying?”

“Oh, you’re fine!” she said. “You don’t bother me because you aren’t loud about it. You’re not one of those annoying gays who feel like they need to scream about it all the time. I would never even know you were gay if you hadn’t told me.”

She said it like it was a compliment. In her mind, my underlying embarrassment surrounding my identity was a good thing. And she truly believed she was not homophobic. In her mind, it was fine to be gay, as long as she didn’t have to know about it. But I got tired of hiding part of myself just so I could keep her as a friend. My true friends wouldn’t mind if I talked about gay rights every day. My true friends wouldn’t mind that I was being myself.

After that conversation, I started scrolling through my tweets and wincing at how apprehensive I sounded every time my gayness came up. First of all, I had always called myself “half gay, half straight” because I thought it made me more socially acceptable. I would retweet pictures of gorgeous female celebrities on social media and caption it “not trying to be gay or anything, but she’s so pretty!”. And if I posted anything that sounded remotely queer, I’d follow it up with an explanatory tweet: “Sorry for the gay spam on main. I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled programming in a few hours!”.

Reading those tweets, I realized how much I was still hiding. Metaphorically, I had taken my identity out of the closet, but now it was stashed under a rainbow flag and stuffed in the corner of the room where no one would see it. I only felt safe to be out when I could blend in with the thousands of people celebrating Pride Month who would be louder than me. And that was not pride at all.

After my little epiphany, I made an effort to come out in every area of my life. I had always thought of myself as an open person, but now that I was paying attention to my own behavior, I saw that I was fibbing several times each week just to keep my gayness a secret or simply shying away from situations that would bring it to light. But no matter how much I tried to run from it, it came up everywhere. It came up when people asked who was the hottest superhero and my brain was screaming “Wonder Woman!”. It came up when pretty girls walked past and I forgot what I had been saying. It came up when some homophobe on Twitter would make bigoted comments about gays and I couldn’t stop myself from speaking out.

To me, the scariest part of being openly bi was dealing with the “promiscuous bisexual” stereotype. I was only 15 when I came out, and I (like many other teens) was embarrassed to admit that I felt attracted to people at all. I had seen how society judged young women for dating a lot of people, and I knew the judgment would be doubled if some of those people were female. I didn’t want my parents to tease me about boys and girls, and I didn’t want to be labeled as a “floozy”. Saying “I’m bi!” felt like an abstract, harmless concept, but saying “I want to kiss a girl” was terrifying. A huge part of accepting my gayness came from accepting the side effects of adolescence as a whole and allowing myself to feel attracted to people without judging myself. I surrounded myself with supportive friends who didn’t squirm when I gushed over my female crushes, and I’ve slowly grown more comfortable with being a normal teenage girl who checks out cute people.

This Pride Month, I am striving to become more of an active member of the LGBTQ+ community rather than sitting on the sidelines. I want to share the stories of queer people who have done remarkable things to earn us the freedoms we enjoy today. I want to call attention to the problems this community faces so we can fight injustice. I want to rally my allies to rise up against discrimination and effect change. A few days ago, I wrote a blog post addressing the hidden homophobia in figure skating, and it felt good to shed light on the struggles LGBTQ+ people face in a sport I love. I’m not going to sugarcoat things to appease people who don’t approve of me or my community. I love people of all genders. I might marry a man, I might marry a woman, and neither one is less valid. Pride Month lasts 30 days, but being LGBTQ+ lasts forever. And I will not be silent until love truly wins.

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