Live Through This

The Safety Closet

Coming out is not for everyone.

Illustration by Allegra.

Illustration by Allegra.

It was a Thursday morning a few weeks ago. I started the day the way I always do: by grabbing my phone and, still blinking my eyes open, scrolling through email from six different accounts (work, personal, freelancing job #1, freelancing job #2, blog photos, blog). This is not the most relaxing way to wake up, but it works.

On this particular morning, I got the usual meeting announcements, updates about writing copy at my day job, and LGBTQ press releases (I write a humor blog about lesbian stereotypes and lifestyle issues). But there was also something else: an email addressed to my blog from an unfamiliar address. I clicked on it and started to read, and my stomach dropped.

Dear Krista,

I just finished reading your post about when you told your family you were gay. I absolutely loved it, but I sorta have a similar problem. I recently realized I’m gay, but I live in a very small, very religious, very closed-minded, and very not-gay community. I haven’t told anyone about my Eureka! moment, mainly because my parents are very vocal and, for lack of a better word, a bit violent about their opinions. I’m in high school and can’t exactly give my parents time to “think about it,” plus they are the kind of people who would disown their kid for something like that or send them to a so-called “treatment center.” Should I tell them?

—Danni*

This was the second such letter I’d gotten this month. Last month there were three. Letters like this scare the shit out of me.

Today is National Coming Out Day, a day when LGBTQ folks celebrate the power of going public with their queerness. The idea behind Coming Out Day is that the more gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people come out of the closet, the more our sexualities will seem normal to everyone, the less we’ll all have to hide, and the safer and more accepting our world will be. When queer/trans people come out, the people in their lives are forced to realize that they personally know someone who is queer/trans, and familiarity tends to erode the edifice of their prejudice. Coming out also puts a face to a civil rights issue, one that some straight folks might not have to think about otherwise.

Danni’s email jolted me awake. I stumbled into the bathroom, peed, put in my contacts, and headed over to my computer, where I started tapping out my reply. I’ve adapted that response into this article, because I think you all need to hear this.

~*~*~

When I was 15 I didn’t have a clue that my obsessive feelings about other girls were in fact romantic crushes, but even if I’d known, I would never, EVER have come out in high school. I was too afraid. My school was populated with kids from rural Wisconsin who drove pickup trucks to go “muddin’” (which is where you drive a truck at high speeds through muddy fields for no particular reason) and who seemed obsessed with things like homecoming and football games. And my parents are strictly observant Mormons who weren’t let’s say “cool” with what they called the “gay lifestyle.” Had I known then that I was a lesbian, I’m sure I would have stayed in the closet until I left that town and my parents’ house. I wasn’t brave enough to come out.

Today, of course, I realize that, statistically speaking, a number of those mudders and football players and cheerleaders were gay too, but back then I couldn’t fathom it. As far as I knew, there were no queer people in my school—hell, in my whole town! I had no queer role models in my community, or even on TV. In those days we didn’t have Glee. There weren’t any out gay rappers, out gay country singers, or out gay basketball players. I didn’t have access to queer YA novels, nor anywhere near the number of informative websites there are now for queer youth. And not only couldn’t we get married, it didn’t even seem like a possibility in my lifetime.

Y’all are lucky to be growing up in a time when the message from so many sources is suddenly “IT’S OK TO BE GAY, WE REALLY MEAN IT THIS TIME.” With visibility comes knowledge, which makes you better equipped to recognize romantic feelings for your same-gender friends and to adopt labels for those feelings if you want them: I am gay. I am bi. I am queer. The average coming-out age for queer and trans people has gone from 20-something in the 1980s to somewhere around 16 today. Because of the stuff I write about on my blog, I often get emails from 12- and 13-year-olds identifying themselves as queer or gay. I talk to 15-year-olds who are completely open about being queer—we are talking not-even-a-little-bit-shy—and everyone in their lives already knows. Their friends know, their parents know, their grandparents know, their teachers and coaches and neighbors know. Amazing. This is amazing to me. It’s a wonderful thing, and it deserves to be celebrated.

But here’s what I’m worried about: Because a lot of kids are coming out while they’re young, there’s increased pressure on ALL queer kids to come out ASAP. It’s like, “Look! Everyone’s coming out now! It’s safe to be queer! Be yourself! Everything’s OK!” If you stay in the closet, not only do you have to watch some of your peers celebrate the freedom of being out without getting to experience it (yet) yourself, but you’re also made to feel like some kind of weirdo. On top of that, a lot of well-meaning LGBTQ organizations and publications tell us that we have a responsibility to come out. We owe it to our community to be seen, to be heard, to increase LGBTQ acceptance! And in case guilt doesn’t work, they throw in a curse on your love life: Until you come out, they say, you’ll have a hard time finding a partner.

The problem is that many of you live with people—and depend on people—who remain untouched by all this new queer-positivity. Danni, for example.

Danni is in high school. She’s underage, living with and dependent on her parents for support. They live in a very small, religiously conservative town, and she already knows all too well how her parents feel about queer people. She believes her parents would respond badly if she came out. What would Danni gain by coming out today? Well, she would be claiming her identity in a way that is positive, meaningful, and powerful for her, and she’d increase her chances of finding like-minded friends. These are all big pros. But what would Danni lose by coming out today? She might get verbally or physically abused. She might be sent to some kind of “treatment center” aiming to “cure” her of gayness. She might be ostracized from her community, attacked at school, and/or get kicked out of the house. Uh-oh—that cons list is getting mighty long. Coming out right now is actually dangerous for Danni, and for thousands of teenagers like her.

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42 Comments

  • allydoubleyou October 11th, 2013 3:54 PM

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this article!

  • die_mad October 11th, 2013 4:13 PM

    This is a silly question but what does the Q in LGBTQ stand for?

    • Danielle October 11th, 2013 4:17 PM

      Not at all—it stands for “queer.” The whole thing means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer. Sometimes you might see it as LGBTIQQA, which means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, and Allies.

      • thosehecticstars October 11th, 2013 4:29 PM

        actually, the A in LGBTIQQA stands for asexual, not allies.

        • Danielle October 11th, 2013 4:34 PM

          I’ve seen it as both.

      • die_mad October 11th, 2013 4:30 PM

        Okay thank you! :)

      • AngstyTheBrave October 11th, 2013 4:38 PM

        There’s also QUILTBAG which stands for Queer, Unsure, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender, Bi, Asexual, and Gay. And takes less time to say. But seems more like a crafty people club than something the LGBTQ community can use.

        • Isabella Iodice October 11th, 2013 6:07 PM

          i’ve also seen LGBTQIAP – lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, queer/questioning, pansexual

      • Blythe October 11th, 2013 6:18 PM

        The A does not stand for allies, and when you say it does, you are participating in asexual erasure. Not that I’m terribly surprised you’re doing it–it’s a huge problem in the larger queer community.

        • Danielle October 11th, 2013 7:40 PM

          I’m really sorry. I wasn’t implying that either was more correct, just that I’ve seen it both ways.

        • emergencysalt October 12th, 2013 2:59 PM

          Well, actually– the A was originally added to denote “allies” in situations like GSAs or other organizations that were meant to be collaborations between cishet & LGBTQ* people. Using it to stand for “asexual” certainly isn’t wrong, and it’s important that asexual people, especially non-cishet ace people, feel welcomed and included in the community, but saying it stands for allies isn’t necessarily wrong either! Which meaning of the “A” people are familiar with just depends on the contexts in which they’ve seen, usually; that’s the reason a lot of people include two As in the extended acronym, just for clarity.

        • Renatotherescue November 1st, 2013 3:38 PM

          This is true. Lots of times I wish I was gay, ’cause I would’ve came out to my parents and friends already. But because I know none of my parents/friends know about asexuality I don’t ’cause I’m sure they wouldn’t believe me.

  • whiskeytangofoxtrot October 11th, 2013 4:30 PM

    I love this article so very much! I was traumatized and completely ostracized by my entire neighbourhood in grade 8 for being (presumably) gay (presumed because I had a friend who was a lesbian, thus I must be, too, by proximity. Really. Bombastic ignoramuses).

    I wish I was infinitely, independently wealthy with a giant mansion that I could open up as a safe haven to all of the Danni’s out there who don’t currently have a safe space/community to come out to. I would shower all of you with love and acceptance and cupcakes and unicorns and combat boots (in a good way) and rainbows and glitter and skull candies and crossbones made out of chocolate cake.

    • whiskeytangofoxtrot October 11th, 2013 4:50 PM

      This comment wasn’t meant to make light of the situation, I just want good things for people in potentially bad situations. xo

  • peri October 11th, 2013 4:39 PM

    to all the dannis:

    whatever you decide to do, never forget that you are special and awesome! if you’re parents don’t approve, it is because they are too afraid of it. if they react very negatively, forgive them and move on.

  • SomethingGrrreat October 11th, 2013 6:52 PM

    You guys, none of you know me, but I feel super great for having come out today to my Catholic friend who is about to be a nun. (People still do that.) It was a huge deal, and was hanging over my head for a while. I am working on coming out to my whole Catholic community, and it’s tough. But yay for the gay!

    Krista, you are the best–thank you for doing what you do.

    • Maddy October 11th, 2013 8:20 PM

      Hey! Good job! Yay for you!

    • Anaheed October 12th, 2013 12:07 AM

      WOOOOO!! ::wild applause::

  • dojo45 October 11th, 2013 8:20 PM

    What’s the difference between gay/lesbian/bi and queer?

    • Maddy October 11th, 2013 8:31 PM

      gay = likes same-sex
      lesbian = woman who likes exclusively women
      bisexual (bi) = likes both men and women
      queer = umbrella term for gender or sexually non-conforming. also fits sexual identities not mentioned (like pansexual is attracted to all genders, even those that are not specifically female or male [non-binary])

      there are a million more terms you can find definitions for online! :)

      • Kriemhild Gretchen October 11th, 2013 9:35 PM

        Not quite.
        The definition of bisexuality can vary a lot and it mostly depends on how a person thinks of their identity, but it can be “attracted to all genders”. People say pansexual is a better term because it isn’t binary, but just because the Latin root of bisexual implies that it means someone attracted to “both sexes” or “both genders” (which exclude intersex or nonbinary ppl) doesn’t mean that’s how everyone sees it.
        Also, gay is maybe better defined as same-gender attraction, as basing it on the sex of a person can be hella problematic and cissexist.
        Of course these terms are still debated in the community and their definitions have changed because of evolving interpretations/understandings of queer identities; I just wanted to add my ideas.

  • Maddy October 11th, 2013 8:28 PM

    Ahh so I’m kind of like, annoyed that I’m queer because I don’t see myself ever, ever coming out even though I want to have wonderful relationships with girls and women. I’m a really private person with my family and I also don’t want to give them the satisfaction of having their “suspicions confirmed” or whatever. I am sort of out in a vague sense to two people I met online and know in real life, and that’s preferable because it doesn’t define me and it’s how they’ve always known me. Umm, this isn’t really a question but I felt like sharing my feelings.

    • notnobody October 12th, 2013 12:19 PM

      I feel the same way. I do want to have a girlfriend someday, but I don’t want to sit my parents down and tell them like it’s a big deal. At any rate, I’m not allowed to date until college, so I’m not sure it matters anyway.

  • goodgodlemon October 11th, 2013 9:27 PM

    Thank you so much for this article. As a 21-year-old queer girl I find it really important. I have had two friends my age come out as lesbians to their (very religious) families and be completely ostracized. Both have had to leave college because they no longer had their families’ financial support. Although I think both would agree that they wouldn’t have done things differently, they have still had to struggle a lot because of their decisions to come out. For some people, coming out doesn’t just put things like family and financial security at stake, but physical safety as well.

    I think Coming Out Day has great intentions, but it’s also important to recognize that being able to come out safely is a privilege (although obviously I believe it should be a right for everyone!). Thank you for acknowledging that there are LGBTQ* people living courageously without “coming out.”

  • Taffy October 11th, 2013 10:19 PM

    Ah I got all choked up reading this, I have good friend who came out to her mom and step father in high school and was kicked out of the house. Fortunately she has supportive grandparents who took her in but she has obviously been affected by this. I mean losing the support of someone who is supposed to love you unconditionally is a horrible thing to go through.

  • emmmmmmmmmaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa October 11th, 2013 10:31 PM

    I think this is a good article, however, I think it relies too heavily on the idea that people come out/want to come out for the community etc or because of pressure to do so. In reality I believe this is often not the case as people just want to come out for themselves? (I’m not saying this is everyone, just that in my experience I’ve found many people have these reasons). For example I’m a 17 year old closeted gay girl and while I agree with the whole ‘it’s better for the community’ thing I don’t feel the pressure from that? I really want to come out but for reasons like being able to be myself and to meet people etc. I feel like this article had good intentions but I find for alot of young queers like my age like my friends and other people I have met the different pressures for coming out suggested in this article are not the actual issues we face.

    Just a suggestion: an article about coming out where instead there is advice on how to come out to like family, friends people at school etc and just advice like that would be awesome!!!!!

    I really enjoyed this article and this was not meant to be negative or offensive in any way (I am very sorry if this came across that way) I just wanted to share my opinion/experiences as a gay teen. Thanks!

  • spudzine October 11th, 2013 11:39 PM

    This article was real. It wasn’t superficial. It wasn’t saying that your parents accepting who you are will be a definite YES, and that’s what I loved the most about this. In my house, it’s just plain abusive. Mentally, verbally, and emotionally. It’s exhausting, and I can no longer take it. I admit that I am at a low point, but that’s not what I’m here to say. I’m here to say that you’re not weak for not getting what you need right now. I need a safe place to stay, and I don’t have that. I live in a house where I feel horrible, and it doesn’t help that child services already came but left me here. I can’t realistically provide for myself, as I am a young teenager, but I hope that eventually, when I am of adult age, I’ll be able to finally live life as a healthy human being. You are not weak for staying safe.

    • Anaheed October 11th, 2013 11:44 PM

      Spudzine, let me tell you from experience that you can totally live life as a healthy and happy adult, and judging from your comments on this site you will.

      • spudzine October 11th, 2013 11:47 PM

        I just want an article telling girls how to live under such circumstances. I always try really hard, but lately it’s been really, REALLY hard to live under such circumstances, and I just hope that one day things will truly get better for me and for others in my situation. Anaheed, thank you so much for your comment, you have no idea how much your response means to me.

        • Anaheed October 12th, 2013 12:05 AM

          The one thing that helped me get through part of it was the brief period when I was allowed to see a therapist. Is there someone you can talk to like that? Lots of therapists do sliding-scale payment systems, or if you’re lucky enough to have a decent counselor at your school, that person might be a godsend. Just having a sane, caring adult tell me that I wasn’t crazy and that I would be OK made a HUGE difference. I mean it still sucked but I didn’t feel so alone with it.

        • mariasnow October 15th, 2013 3:08 PM

          Spudzine, I don’t know if my way of coping was the right or perfect way. I definitely agree with what Anaheed said but in my experience, I wasn’t able to see a therapist until I was an adult and it was then that I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder co-morbid with Major Recurrent Depression which I’d always known something was wrong with me and that life seemed harder for me than it should have been but my mother refused to let me even attempt to get help. She just did not want to believe that there was anything wrong with her daughter and my stepdad said I was a ‘dramatic actress.’ My mom and stepdad were verbally abusive and my real dad was a violent alcoholic. When my dad became dangerous, I hid somewhere with a lock and a phone. Whenever possible I just wasn’t home.

          When I was grown up I cut all ties with my dad but because of the therapy for BPD and depression, it resolved most of the issues with my mom and stepdad and I was able to be respected instead of helpless for the first time. My stepdad is now one of my dearest friends and my mom is you know, my mom. She has more trouble than my stepdad. I had to ban her years ago from saying anything negative about my appearance and I think she does her best but sometimes she can’t help it. She was a beauty queen and I’m disappointing for her. It’s disappointing for me that something like that should be so important for her but now I’m old enough to know that their issues don’t reflect my worth.

          When you do make it through, you can be happy. It seems like forever but then it’s over like a bad dream.

  • elliecp October 12th, 2013 1:54 AM

    This post is really cool. It must be hard to come out into a world that for some reason thinks you’re different because of who you’re attracted to

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • julalondon October 12th, 2013 3:13 AM

    In high School i had a friend (male) who was always very Close with his opinions about literally EVERYTHING. He and his Family are all very religious (Christian), but we still got along very well. We are both in our third year of College now and a rarely speak (i live somewhere else now), but a couple of weeks ago he contacted me and said that there was something he wanted to tell me. So we met up, went to get ice cream together and i ask; so what do you want to tell me? Do you have a girlfriend or are you getting married or what? And he said: I’m gay. OMG i was so shocked at first because i would have never thought that, even if he was gay, he could admit it to himself (because of his Religion). He told me that he realized is a couple of months ago and that he felt SO GOOD, that his parents who were at first a bit like Oh it’s just a Phase, then told him that they loved him no matter what. When he spoke about that he looked so unbelievably happy and grateful. Yesterday on the Coming Out Day he posted a very Long letter on Facebook, speaking mainly to his Christian friends, but actually to all the People he know. I wish i could somehow include this letter on here because he used parts of the bible making it clear that god loves everyone; especially the People who are good People and share their love with others, no matter whether they are male/female/whatever. I started crying reading this letter, because i know it meant to much to him. Even in 2013 there are still too many People who don’t get that being LGBTQ/hetero; that you are normal no matter what. Loads of LOVE!! <3<3

  • tove October 12th, 2013 9:09 AM

    This is super important. Thanks, Krista.

  • ghostgrrl October 12th, 2013 6:41 PM

    I like this article a lot and it really resonates with me. I am slowly recognizing that I could possibly be queer because I am very attracted to girls (I used to think it was just curiosity, but now I’m not so sure) and I am less and less attracted to guys. My family has a hatred of ‘ the gays’ (their words, not mine) my dad has expressed his hatred for lesbians in the past and my mom has two lesbian sisters and whenever she mentions them she has to bring up that she doesn’t accept what they choose to be. I’ve tried coming out before in a casual way but my mom started laughing and literally thought it was a joke. There is such a stigma in my town and family and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to tell them. I’m working on telling my best friend of 8 years about it but she’s expressed how she doesn’t understand how someone could be attracted to the same gender and she is very into Christianity. Lately she’s opening up with me more and we’re getting very close but I don’t want her to be weirded out by me because she had another friend of hers who kept coming on to her and it was just a very strange situation. Do you guys know how I could break it to her? She seems to think I’m asexual or odd because I’ve never had sex or anything and barely kissed a guy (I was sexually abused when I was younger and I’m just coming to terms with that) and I don’t want her to question my motives of being her friend, either. (also there’s nothing wrong with being asexual btw) I’m just a mess and I’d like your opinions/help. Thank you!

    ghostgrrlfriend.tumblr.com

  • Rowena October 13th, 2013 12:32 PM

    I think this article is really great for people in Danni’s situation, I think it’s really important, but also I think it’s kind of black and white – like you either have to come out because that’s the only way to be yourself or you’re allowed to stay put in your closet until you’re IN ANOTHER STATE AND READY TO CUT OFF ALL CONTACT WITH YOUR FAMILY?
    But I mean personally I’m on the straighter side of bi, I know I’m sexually attracted to men and women, but thus far I’ve only ever had actual romantic emotion-y love-y feelings towards guys, although that doesn’t mean I can’t imagine ever having them for women. I know what I feel, I know that the label I feel I identify with is Bi, but also I don’t feel that at this point it’s something I need to shout about. If someone I knew asked me today I would tell them, but I’ve not purposefully TOLD my friends or family i’m bi. Because – why do I need to? None of them will think any less of me for it, but I don’t feel like I’m not being true to myself by not telling them all d’you know what I mean?

    This is a bit ranty cause it’s hard to put into words, but I sort of felt like this article was saying it’s a bad thing to not come out just because it didn’t feel right to do so right now, rather than because coming out would be a dangerous move. And I think it’s fine. Do what makes you comfortable surely?

    • barbroxursox November 1st, 2013 10:27 PM

      Wow, I feel the same way!! I’m sexually attracted to both women and men, but I have had romantic-y feelings toward both, except a little more toward guys. But yeah, since I’m not like the complete opposite of what my parents think I am, I don’t feel the grave need to come out. Also, I just feel like even though they’re understanding, they might be shocked and it’ll affect our relationship or the way they see me. But if someone would ask, I’d probably say I’m bi.

  • accuracyandprecision October 13th, 2013 2:49 PM

    thank you so much for writing this article. it is so called for and people do need to realise that it is definitely not the best for some young people to come out due to their home situation.

  • Kayla Tester October 13th, 2013 6:51 PM

    Krista you rock my socks. You inspire me to help others like Danni*. That is what I want to do, to start an LGBTQ group where people can feel safe, be who they are and celebrate that wheather they’re in or out of the closet.

    peace

  • TessaTheTeenageWitch October 15th, 2013 1:32 AM

    I’m out on the internet (my tumblrs, here I guess!) but I don’t think I’ll come out to my friends/family. Perhaps not ever.

    As a member of the asexual community, the pressure to come out is far less… except when it comes to visibility. Being one of the lesser-known orientations, I get a lot of “come out so that people know about asexuality!!”, so I really loved that you mentioned people guilting you into coming out.

    To me, the fact that I want asexuality to be more visible would be the only reason for me coming out to anyone at the moment. There is a girl in my grade who is very openly asexual, and for some reason that makes me feel even more silly for not just coming out. I have to remind myself that she has a very different group of friends to me and and that I shouldn’t let myself get pressured into it before I want to.

    Anyway, I’m rambling stupidly, but it makes me feel so lucky when I compare myself to people stuck in situations like that. This article is really important, thank you Krista.

  • sophia-sophia October 15th, 2013 9:08 PM

    Hi!
    Great article, and this really hit close to home. I don’t identify as bi or queer, but i did just come out of the, shall we say…”Atheist/Humanist/Nonbeliever Closet”, and my dad, a devout Mormon, hasn’t taken it too well. I’m 15 sooooo that pretty much means I am stuck going to church every Sunday and my relationship with my dad isn’t too good (ha UNDERSTATEMENT) Anyway, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind writing an article of your life and Mormonism and how you learned to let go of it bc it would help me to stay strong. It makes me really sad to go to church every sunday bc i am an atheist first of all, but second of all i HATE having to “eat up” such intolerant and in some cases anti-feminist beliefs. The church is condemning some of my closest friends bc they express love to another human being and is teaching us that if a young woman loses her virginity she is no better than chewed up piece of gum.
    Note: Having read this over, this sounds really hostile towards the LDS church and I apologize if I have offended anyone who happens to read this comment. I don’t want to start a comment-war on religion. :)
    PEACE, LOVE, AND BELIEVE IN WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY, ROOKIE READERS

  • barbroxursox November 1st, 2013 10:21 PM

    Most of my family is actually moderately liberal, but I’m still uncomfortable with coming out to them. As a concept, they’re comfortable (well, my parents, not all of my extended family) with the LGBTQ community, and they support gay marriage and other gay rights, but they still often say “that’s gay” or “she looks like a tranny.” Idk, it just feels like they see LGBTQ people as lesser, even though through their voting and politics they don’t seem to.
    Also, I almost came out to my very understanding best friends, but we were all moving and going to college at the time I was ready, so I didn’t want to tell them then. Perhaps I will next summer. But I just can’t picture a normal future with my family knowing that I’m bisexual.