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Coming Out Experiences in Tennessee

Commentary by Marla Munro, GLSEN Tennessee Chapter Leader

Stories collected by Garrett Barker, GLSEN Tennessee SHINE Student Leader

Coming out is scary and joy and relief and revealing and beautiful and supportive and devastating.

Being out is being afraid to hold your partner/date's hand in public and being loved by many and feeling hesitant to tell your family about a new relationship and combating assumptions everyday and navigating who you can be fully open/honest with at work/having different masks you need to wear in different spaces and feeling like a walking target for a hate crime and finding a community greater than you ever hoped and being whacked in the face with microaggressions at the doctor's office/stopping receiving care all together and searching for representation in any possible corner of the media/art/entertainment industry you can find it in and drinking it up no matter how flawed and one dimensional it is and carefully leaving out pronouns in conversations and feeling/being love itself and finally being whole.

Today is National Coming Out Day and I am queer. I can't promise that coming out will make your life better. It's a mixed bag. I definitely can't promise you'll be safe or affirmed every step of the way. But I can assure you that 

Let's be clear-- coming out doesn't make you an A+ queer/trans person. I support all of you in whatever you need to do to survive. Out or not, you're all so valid and I wish the world could be a more hospitable place for us. We deserve more.

Unfortunately, those places aren't always afforded to us. To bring awareness to the coming out experience and its importance, gay-straight alliance leaders at one high school in the rural Upper Cumberland region collected a few coming out stories and submitted them to the school's newspaper. The stories were not published... So we decided to share them ourselves:

I came out as pansexual to my mom this summer. I was dating a trans guy and wanted to be completely honest with her, which included being honest about my sexuality. She told me that I wasn’t allowed and that I needed to study the bible and see the error of my ways. Over time she has become more accepting and it has almost become a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ between us. It isn’t the best situation but I am definitely lucky, it could have been much worse.”

My coming out story is somewhat bittersweet. I had to build up self-confidence and belief that I wasn’t something to be ashamed of. After I summoned up the courage to tell my older sibling about my pansexuality, I wasn’t happy with the result. My sibling told me that although they would always love me, my parents would never allow me to express myself. My sibling told me the best way to be happy is to not tell them because of their strict, traditional ways. Although I’ve only come out to my sibling, it has lifted a weight off my chest. I feel free to be myself. I know that I am confident and proud of who I am.”

I came out to my sister when I had a crush on a cute girl in my German class. I remember my sister’s concerned face shifting into loud laughter. “We all know. You’re the least subtle person ever,” she said. It was good to be free to make gay jokes and express myself without fear. After the Orlando shooting, I officially came out to everyone, realizing that I deserved to be myself. Though I’ve lost friends, I’ve gained my own respect and am proud to be an outspoken part of the LGBT community.”

I came out to a couple friends in seventh grade. It did not go well, considering that they were not my friends very soon after. I spent a lot of time dwelling in self-hatred, feeling like anyone I talked to would hate me because of my sexuality. Still to this day, I am scared to think about people categorizing me as ‘gay’ because I hold onto the rejection I felt when I first experienced coming out. Although now I am very out and unapologetic of who I am, there are still nights I stay awake, deep in thought, wondering what I could’ve made of myself if I had never come out.

 Anyone can support a young LGBTQ person who is coming out. Click here for some tips about how you can create spaces and climates where students feel comfortable and empowered to be their true selves.