As with all journeys this one starts with a step, more precisely, an internal step that involved me coming out to myself. Each of us has innate attractions and understanding of who we are as people; that core knowledge that this is who was are. Sometimes we do not have the words to even talk to ourselves, are we actually what the world assumes us to be. For me, the journey was gradual, because the world had not yet equipped me with the language to comprehend to my eight-year-old self what I understood myself to be. Even now, some thirty years on, it can be hard to articulate in English or any other language the breadth of who I am, yet I put it in simple enough terms that out me whenever I get to know someone well enough.
This endless coming out is a fact of life for me, one which I understand is necessary for the world. Yet, as I get older, one I am increasingly unlikely to give much thought about. Oh, yes, this is my part, she… Oh yes, I transitioned when I was 18… Mere passing turns of phrase that signal to my audience that Rachel-land is not quite straight or narrow. There are plenty of other narrow alleys that I can divert down to out myself in other less conventional ways, but those are a best left for when I know people on a more trustworthy level. This ever onwards grind, the fact that anything other than cis-heteronormitivity should thrust upon you, the queer, a duty to disclose, is one very much wrapped up in the privilege of ‘normal’ society.
For me the duty is not onerous, a mere formality that just happens during a conversation. However, many other non-cic, non-straight people wear it as a cross that could endanger them or even cost them their lives. By our very existence we tempt fate every time we out ourselves, hoping that the scourge will not flail our backs or fists do something worst. Into their hands we place our wellbeing and happiness, every single time. Coming out is an endless process, refined, shortened, made easy on the ear.
I am highly fortunate that my coming out experiences have overwhelmingly been positive. Maybe it is just the company I keep, or that any negativity has been gossiped behind my back, but I am blessed with people who treat me as an equal in every respect. My comings out have added texture to my relationships, shored up with trust and jokes. As I evolve and grow, so does the depth of these friendships. They have taught me to never assume anything about new acquaintances, to simply be myself and then judge their reaction, rather than judging myself and letting them set the high ground. It takes confidence and faith, things many LGBTQ+ folk lack due to the negativity surrounding their identities. Even the most supportive environments cannot protect from every hostility.
If straight and cis folk had to come out, state clearly they were cis or straight before their 18th birthday, would this change things? Would having to walk a mile or more in our shoes help them see the scope of the trek each LGBTQI+ person undertakes? I am not so sure. Empathy is easy for those most like us, for the hundred or so close enough to mentally care about. It is a lot harder in the abstract, as the queer lived experience can be so very different from the straight and cis. That is not to say allies should not be encouraged to empathise, rather, the practical reality for queer folk is complex and murky compared to the cis and straight world. The very fact that people come out at all already puts a hard line between the two lived experiences. Ideally, who you love and how you express your gender should just be, without the need to vocally express that you are different than your peers.
In Eden that is how it is; in 21st Century cultures Eden is first star on the right and we have to carry on this morning. In the Neverland of idealism coming out is a none thing, a place where love is love and the rainbow comes after the rain. Halcion as this may be, this is not a utopian idea. It is a base necessity for personal security and happiness. If every child was taught that their attractions and relationships were valid, that their gender identity and expression was a-okay, then just maybe we could find Eden without passing through our personal shadows of the valley.
For some of you this is blindingly obvious, having been on similar paths to me. You know the rituals, you have the pat phrases, you may have the knots in your stomachs. You get that feeling of stripping back a piece of yourself that others simply take for granted. You know that you leave a tiny piece of yourself, not quite sure of their reaction, relieved when it goes well. You get this process, and write your never ending saga simply by existing. No two stories are the same, and our own maps of the world could right epic sagas worthy of Valhalla given the struggles you go through. Thor himself would slap you on the back and present you to Odin, a warrior’s heart bearing the rainbow shield. That we must be warriors says everything about coming out.
There is contentment in knowing yourself, in being true to your core, which is why the first step to coming out is to yourself. Your first battle is often with yourself, and, truth be told, that can often be a life-long process as your sense of identity shifts and moulds to fresher understandings of you as a person. In that sense your own story is never ending, your own coming out a renewal of spirit and self. Whatever the world throws are you, oft it is you that can be your own worst enemy, as all the burdens laid down at your feet by society anchor you in personal chains. Your very notion of self rips at your core, identity stretched and shredded, having to come to terms with things you never expected to face. Your egg breaks, and you end up all scrambled. This is why society’s messages matter, as you are a manifestation of everything society sells you, tells you, and expects you to consume. If Eden existed, your tumult would instead be glassy sea. Your never-ending story would simply be a full stop before the next chapter.
Coming out is necessary because neverland is still a dream. Care and empathy are fairy dust that sooth and lift us, allowing sanctuary from the hooks and crocodiles of life. If we are to soar on till morning our never-ending coming outs need that empathic understanding, and then we can concentrate on the other things than make life worth living.