Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are!

Posted: October 12, 2013 in Blog
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National Coming Out Day is always a great day for reflection, given that I run an agency for LGBT kids for my job. This week found me wandering memory lane, taking a moment for my own coming out, which (if you’ve caught my previous comments) is always a big question for people who start to read Urban Tidepool and expect it to be a coming out story.

I was 25 when I came out, long past the ending point that is written for the current draft of Urban Tidepool. I had come out to a few very close friends but coming out to my family felt different, bigger, more ominous. Not that it should have, as I was already an adult, living in another state from my remaining family members, but I can still recall the sense of dread as I contemplated what words I might use to make myself understood. I felt I needed to explain…at the time, even I believed an explanation of my very being was required. Or maybe I hoped if I talked enough, they would not find time to hate me for becoming this person.

I had been considering it for months when the chance appeared in a phone conversation with one of my siblings.

“I wanted to tell you, I’m seeing someone!”

“That’s great! What’s his name?”

I took a deep breath and made the leap. “Well, her name is…”

My heart was pounding so hard and I was so sure the phone was going to squirt right out of my hand, I almost missed what was said next. It ended in, “…but I love you.”

I think about doing that at 25 and the trepidation I had over that conversation, the stress, tears and sleepless nights it caused for months leading up to it. And then I think about what LGBT kids now are facing, when they take the same risk.

LGBT kids represent up to 40% of the kids who are homeless annually. A 2010 report from the Center for American Progress (http://tinyurl.com/lmarxnh and http://tinyurl.com/lbshqa7 noted that the average age of a gay kid becoming homeless in NY City is 14 years, 4 months old. The average age of a transgender kid becoming homeless in NY City is 13 1/2 years old. Those are some very small human beings to face the streets on their own. But this is their reality. There are no phone calls that end in “I love you”, there are no siblings who blush mightily upon the suggestion (as another way of coming out) that after finishing Thanksgiving dinner, you drive over to Blockbuster and scope out some girls together.  Yes, I did that, thank you for asking—that’s how I came out to the Major. It got very quiet at the table for about thirty seconds, and then my sister-in-law got really busy clearing plates. Loudly. The blood started to creep up the Major’s neck into his face as he looked anywhere in the room except at me. My nephew, Ours as I call him in Urban Tidepool, was 15 at the time. He snorted milk through his nose. It was a true bonding moment for our family.

That nephew, sitting there mopping up the milk he just snorted out his nose, was exactly the age of the kids I’m talking about who end up homeless. He was a goofy kid, reaching for dry napkins and looking to find his path through adolescence, who –under NO circumstances should ever have been expected to find a way to survive on the streets of a metropolitan area.

But our kids do, all the time. They go through that stage of fear that I still experienced at 25, for weeks. Or months. Or even years. And then they take the leap, hoping or maybe praying for acceptance, only to be met with the most brutal of reactions—“Get out.”  Get out, when we know you have no skills to support yourself. Get out, when we know it is the middle of winter and you will risk freezing to death. Get out, where panhandling is maybe your best option as opposed to trafficking and/or survival sex to get through this. Get out, until you are …what? Less gay? More like us, the parents? More like the accessory we wanted when we had you?

The point of National Coming Out Day, to make communities safer because LGBT people and their allies are more visible, can get lost in this kind of family brutality. When our kids are no longer considered accessories, when they are seen as people in their own right, with their own goals and expectations and identities, when they can come out to their families and still be the goofy 13 or 14 or 15 year old snorting milk through their nose at the dinner table, will we even need it anymore?

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