A quote that I love and keep on a piece of paper on my desk at work, from a Washington Post article a few years ago, is this:
“Life seems to be a continual act of coming out, isn’t it? The boundaries we think are uncrossable, the unnamable corners of our soul that we live in fear of bringing to light . . . are the very regions that allow us to feel complete if we dare to explore them. So thank you for crossing borders, shining a light into those corners — they only make you more lovable, more admirable.”
I love this quote because it reminds me to be who I am, and how coming out makes me more true to who I am and more complete.
I came out at work almost two years ago. I think of myself as out in all parts of my life. But as the quote says, ‘life is a continual act of coming out’. I sit on the board of a company, owned by my employer and five other companies, that provide back-office services and operations to all the owner companies. The board meets four times a year. Up until the past few days, I had not come out to the board or the leadership of the company.
There really was not a good reason that I had not come out to this group, but there were a number of things that I told myself that held me back. We only meet four times a year for a day and a half. It somehow never seemed like the right time to bring up my sexual orientation in these settings. Also, until recently, most of the board members were men. They are the kind of men who I have always felt uncomfortable with. They are successful, driven, bottom line, sports-oriented kind of men. One of the men is a life long scout leader, which gave me some concern. But I just learned that this same man is part of his company’s diversity council. Who knew? Another man’s wife talks about how much fundamentalist religion plays a large part in their lives, which always makes me nervous when it comes to being gay. But in some ways, these are just excuses because in coming out, I can be true to who I am and maybe change some minds about what it means to be gay.
So what changed? Last year one of the Vice Presidents of the company brought her wife to our annual meeting and I came out to her. Recently she has encouraged me to bring the man I’ve been dating for the last year to our annual meeting that just finished. Her words of encouragement have been on my mind. But maybe, more importantly, my partner and I recently completed a year together since our first date in January of 2015. He has become a more permanent part of my life. By not talking about who I am, is in some ways to deny this important part of my life. So I decided that it was time to start coming out to this group.
Last night, as we watched the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico, before dinner, I had two conversations with senior staff of the company about aspects of my life, referring to my partner and I and clearly identifying my partner as him. Over dinner last night, I spoke to the wife of one of the company’s executives, and came out to her, talking about my life over the past few years. She warmly thanked me and told me how I had made her happy by telling her my story. It made her happy, she told me because it gave her hope that people can live their lives honestly and openly. She also shared that one of her best friends and roommate for many years had been a gay man. It warmed my heart to hear this.
So today I made sure, after the meeting had ended, to come out to the president of the company since he would meet my partner at a fundraising dinner we both will attend in May. I also felt it was more respectful for him to hear directly from me rather than through the grapevine. He was also very welcoming and warm. He later texted me, “Thank you for the conversation this afternoon and I’m very happy for you and I’m delighted you have received support at your company and you have the same support from your team at our company!”
What surprises me is how I still get nervous with each new coming out. I have come out so much, but each new coming out is a small act of courage. After each coming out I feel great, but in the moments leading up to coming out, I still get nervous and fearful. I have also seen that when I have an opportunity to come out, and I do not, a little piece of me goes back into hiding. Coming out remains the antidote to all the dark forces in our soul where homophobia lives. Coming out makes us stronger in ways we can not even imagine. So one more act of coming out and I am stronger today than I was yesterday.