Coming out can be as radical in 2017 as it was in 1977.
There is always a lot of cheap, ill-considered talk around this time of year, about whether we need to abandon the idea of "coming out" altogether. This usually comes from people occupying places of significant privilege, people for whom the memory of a harrowing coming out is in the distant past or never occurred at all. People whose sexuality is unquestioningly accepted by their community and by their loved ones, people whose lives as gay adults would be easier if we "didn't talk about it".
This is not the case for every LGBTQ person in this country, and it certainly isn’t the case for LGBTQ people around the globe. Coming out can shatter relationships, it can endanger lives; it can also shine a light into depression, allow a person to reclaim their integrity, and be the first step towards truly living rather than merely existing. It is an event that can alter or set the course of a person's life.
The basic political nature of the act is confirmed by the strong emotions it raises, in all parties—if it meant nothing, if it were truly passé, would it not then pass unnoticed? The fact that we're having this discussion at all tells us it is still a discussion we need to have. The effects of coming out are going to be deeply individual, but it is always an act of courage to set oneself against the majority and tell a truth the world would rather not hear.
It is our obligation as the adults in the LGBTQ community to live as openly as we can, within the bounds of safety, to be that light in the darkness for LGBTQ youth, whether we know they're watching or not. Trust me, they are. Coming out publicly has ripple effects far beyond what we can predict, and it is intrinsically worthwhile to live your life with integrity. The closet is corrosive to the self, even if we don't necessarily see that when we're in it.
I still remember vividly what it is to be a scared 14-year-old, pleading with God to remove what I saw then as a deformity. The irony is, our limited human horizon often leads us to perceive as weaknesses the things in ourselves that are our true strengths. Being gay has been the greatest gift of my life. It has made me a better thinker, it has made me a better friend, it has made me a better human being. Being gay forced me to confront things I could have comfortably ignored for my entire life, and brought me to the most beautiful family of choice I could have asked for. People sometimes ask me if I would change myself if I could, and the answer is no. Not this part of me, anyway.
I came out in a very public fashion in 2012 [one of many coming outs—coming out is a lifelong process, not a discrete action], and I had no idea that anyone had paid close attention, until this year, when I reached out to a friend to offer a condolence and he told me that my public stance back then gave him the courage to start living his life openly. You cannot know what effects your words and deeds will have on others, what lifeline you may have unknowingly offered.
Every LGBTQ person is familiar with the charge that we are "flaunting" our sexuality if we exist in public. Yes, exist. We don't have to talk about it, merely holding hands with someone of the same gender or even looking a little too "that way" is enough. Many years ago, someone close to me asked why I had to be quite so public. Couldn't I just not discuss it? Why must I make a public stand everywhere, what with my stickers and my LGBTQ research and my political activism? My answer was the same then as now: because I can afford to, and others can't. I live my life openly to honor the memory of the teenager I was, who died a little every day when he heard a casual bit of homophobia and lived a little every time he saw a gay person on the street.
If I can affect one life for the better by being publicly LGBTQ, every single instance of opposition I have faced is worth it, because there is no point in having privilege if we cannot leverage it to create a world where we won't need to.