Thursday, October 11, 2018

National Coming Out Day

I was 21, sitting in a parked car with a friend who was several years older than me. I looked up to her greatly. She was an important friend--one that I trusted.

It was 2005. The friend was asking me about dating at BYU, where I had just started school. I told her about some of my experiences, including that I didn't really like dating all that much and found it sort of stressful. I told her there was a young woman who was a close friend of mine and whom my friends couldn't believe I didn't want to date. She was impressive in all of the ways that 21-year-olds at BYU find young women impressive.

But I didn't want to date her. I told the friend this, sitting in the parked car.

She said it sort of in jest. The statement wasn't a joke, but her delivery was in the spirit of teasing to some degree.

"Well I just hope you're not gay. I don't have the energy to try to talk you out of that right now."

My heart sunk so low that the nearly permanent sunken state it was already in seemed healthy in comparison.

I responded in the same tone in which she had spoken, denying "of course" the suggestion. I brushed it off as casually as I could, fiddling with a cupholder, suddenly very aware that I was doing it and wondering if it was normal to fiddle with a cupholder. It was raining now, and getting sort of late.

"Good," she told me, as she started up the car and drove me home. I worried that the seemingly-deafening sound of my swallowing would seem suspicious during the entirety of the drive.

This was hardly the first time someone had audibly hoped that I wasn't what I, and only I, knew I was. It wasn't the last, either. And it was far from the most heartbreaking.

On other occasions I heard people I cared about refer to homosexuality as a mental disorder. I had college roommates brag that they didn't know any gay people. As recently as yesterday, a Facebook friend wrote that not telling gay people that they have a problem they need to fix is like saying to someone who has cancer that they shouldn't go see a doctor. I had heard variations of this analogy dozens of times before I ever came out to anyone.

Today was/is apparently National Coming Out Day. I suppose it's a holiday that's supposed to bring awareness to how intimidating and terrifying this process can be, and it's meant as a means of encouragement. There will be people who will think this holiday is stupid. Those same people probably complain about not having a straight pride parade.

I have some expertise on this issue; and in case anyone out there wonders whether it is important to talk about these things, let me weigh in.

It is hard to describe the isolation and terror of hearing people you love complain about the prospect of potentially having to talk you out of an innate and uncontrollable part of who you are. Of knowing that if your closest friends found out that you had a crush on a boy when you were in kindergarten, they wouldn't be your friends anymore. Of constantly wondering if the crippling pain of keeping all of this buried inside is better than what might happen if you don't.

To that last line, I can now say that it is better to come out. 100 million percent. But I know that if I could travel back in time and sit in that parked car with my 21-year-old self, I could never convince my horrified younger version that this is true.

There are people you know who are sitting in proverbial parked cars right now, suffocating under the same pressures. They are hearing words and sermons that cause a type of pain that one can probably only truly know if LGBTQ.

My soap-boxy plea is first and foremost that you not be the people delivering the messages that cause pain in the first place. That you try, really hard, impossibly hard, before you ever voice an opinion on the topic to someone else, to imagine what it might be like to grow up gay. That you think about the kind of support you would be desperate to have if in that situation.

But beyond that, I beg of you on behalf of everyone in your life who needs it, to please be louder than the voices that cause pain. Speak up and speak often. Positively preach inclusivity and understanding. Pressure the people who are delivering harmful messages to stop.

It's not enough for us to simply avoid adding to the hurt of the world. Real decency comes in actively removing pain caused by others. Even the unintentional kind.

Love to you all. Especially the homos.


~It Just Gets Stranger

20 comments:

  1. So much love for you and your honest bravery. Reading your blog, even before you shared that you were gay, helped me see the world differently and open my eyes up to things I’d never considered. I appreciate your compassion, your honesty, your silliness and your passion for all that you do and believe in. ๐Ÿ’œ

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  2. I am so proud of you, Eli. I love you and love your eloquence. I'm glad it has gotten better.

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  3. ❤๐Ÿงก๐Ÿ’›๐Ÿ’š๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿ’œ
    Thank you for sharing your life with us.

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  4. I am sorry for everything you went through. Things are better now. And getting better. That is the good news.

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  5. You are a wonderful human being, your blog is amazing and you are a force for good in this world. I'm so sorry for the judgement and heart break you've experienced. Your story is important and I really appreciate that you sharing it.

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  6. Thank you for this beautiful and life-affirming post, Eli. I have a smart, sensitive, funny and kind son who is 16, and gay. He has tried to kill himself. Twice. Because he is gay, and because would rather be dead than gay.

    My son has grown up in a household where gay people have always just been a part of our large, rambunctious extended "family". My oldest friend, who I have loved for 40 years, is gay, and has been a part of my son's life since the day he was born. All of which means that my son had the good fortune of growing up in a household where love was given infinitely more importance than sexual identity. And yet, being gay at 16 is still so incredibly painful, even in the liberal San Francisco Bay Area, that a teenage boy would choose death over that frightening reality.

    Through this process our son has been in number of emergency and longer-term programs, where he is trying to learn the tools to deal with the depression caused by his sexual identity, and to find a way to love himself as much as so many other people love him. It is a long a painful process, with many ups and downs, but we are fighting every day to help him accept and love his true self.

    I am so happy that you and Skyler have found each other Eli, and that your voice shows people all over the country that ultimately this is all very simply about love. 2 people loving each other in a world which is sometimes cold and cruel. But also many times achingly, magnificently beautiful. So my prayer for all of us, especially in this particularly ugly period of our history, is that we all accept and encourage love, wherever it may be, and in all its magnificent variations.

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  7. This is one of the best things I’ve ever read on this topic. Thank you.

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  8. Thank you for sharing your story. I heard a sermon this weekend regarding LGBT that did not align with my heart. We all need to become LGBT allies regardless of what religion teaches. We need to make a space for our LGBT friends and family and we all need to shut down any hurtful rhetoric when we hear it. It does damage and it definitely doesn't feel like Jesus to me.

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    1. This! I understand where they are coming from but at the same time it doesn’t sound very “love thy neighbor.” It doesn’t feel right to me. Also, thank you Eli for being so open and honest with us. Reading your post about what to say or not say really opened my eyes to how I might have actually caused harmed when I didn’t mean to.

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  9. Many thanks for this post and your honesty. I am so glad you are now able to be who you truly are.

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  10. I remember reading one of your posts years back, and there were people angry about your stance on an issue within the Mormon Church, or politics, or something, and they basically called you out, typed up horrible slurs, and then tried to shame you for your position. I don't know if those people finally stopped responding with their hate, or if you ended up not approving their comments and then they left. Regardless, it fills my heart with joy to see a comments section as loving and supportive as the one we have here. Strangers are genuinely so kind, to you and to each other, and it gives me hope that not every interaction online has to be negative. Thank you for creating a space where real discussion is ok, and being supportive is also ok.

    I know we have our days, and sometimes there are disagreements, but still.

    Thank you for sharing your story today, and every day. It is so important and necessary, and I hope you know how much I (and I'm sure other people as well) appreciate having this space and these stories.

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  11. Thanks so much for the compelling message and story. You're brave to tell it, to speak up for inclusivity, and to encourage all of us to do the same.

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  12. Eli, you are a fabulous homo and your hair looks amazing today. Skylar, ditto.

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  13. Oh, Eli. I have still been reading all your posts and comments but not able to respond because technology hates me soooooo much, and now I have all these things stored up that I want to comment!
    First, in relation to your last post about being a bad person I have to emphatically say: my kids LOVED hanging out with you, and yes Duncan was part of that, but Skylar was not there and you chatted with my girls like a pro. I actually thought, "I guess he's so good at talking to kids because of his nieces (and nephews? have you mentioned? i've been studying spanish linguistics all morning, my brain is out...) Anyway, so my kids love you AND Duncan and I love Skylar, so it all works out. AND YOU, TOO, stop grasping for compliments.
    That said, Eli you really are a fantastic person. We had a lesson at church on fifth sunday for everyone but the Primary children on this topic, and it was taught very sensitively by a homosexual in our stake (I feel bad using these "mormon" terms, but forgive me I don't know what else to call it. Geographical region at large?) It was one of the sweetest lessons I have been in, and I was so glad they included the youth. When I taught on marriage a few weeks ago, I made sure to mention that no one is a failure, that it is so vital to me that these young women know that joy and happiness is possible in all sorts of paths of life, which is something everyone has to kind of figure out - what their path will be. But I in no way wanted any of those girls to leave that room feeling broken or "made wrong".
    My daughter left her homework at school last night and homework has been a tough thing for her lately, with forgetting to do it or bring it home or take back to school and I found out that she was "afraid to tell me" and this terrified me - if she is scared to tell me about something as trivial as homework, what am I going to do when the real stuff comes along in life? So we had a chat this morning about how I am always willing to listen, and we will figure out a solution together but that she never has to be afraid to tell me anything. I hope she remembers that.
    I wish everyone had a "safe" person to tell the troubles of their heart to.

    I hope this comment posts. Otherwise, please know that I will be emailing you Eli. Are you so tired of me in your life?!

    Also, Nicole, I did appreciate that you tried to get to H on your listed comment a while back. A valiant effort.
    And Kylle, I don't know for sure but I DO know he always posts my comments even when sometimes I ASK HIM NOT TO, so I don't know about this censorship thing, I think it's all bluster. Which means, I think, that everyone really is this nice? Am I too hopeful?
    (copy, paste just in case!)

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  14. Published as Devin because technology in this house ONLY HATES AMY.

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  15. Ughh that’s genuinely horrible that you received these messages from people who you love and respect. I hope many of those people have re-evaluated their opinions and learned to be more loving.

    On a lighter note, when I commented that yesterday was Coming Out Day my pansexual coworker tapped my shoulder and told me she gave me the gays. So I guess it actually is contagious and now I’m probably gay.

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  16. I wish I could have been your friend way back then. I had a few friends come out to me while I was in high school. It was incredibly painful for me (one of them had been my boyfriend until the moment when he shared his reality) (I'm sure it was much harder for them to say than it was for me to hear), but I stayed friends with all of them and would like to think I was a safe haven. That said, I was a teenager in the Midwest in the early 2000s—even though my actions were generally kind, I'm sure I said things that were thoughtless and possibly cruel sometimes, like saying something was gay without realizing what it would truly mean to use the term that way. Oh, if we could go back in time.

    Thank you for the poignant reminder to be careful what we say and how we act. We truly never know what hidden secrets others are carrying.

    On a different note, Amy, I just realized that if you keep commenting as Deevs, then he might have a gmail account. Does he?? I only have his work address. Also, let Hallie know that Jill has forgotten her homework probably five times this school year so far. I have a group chat I created with parents in the classroom, and we all message each other when our kids forget to bring the homework home or when our children forgot to write down the assignment. We send pictures of the homework to each other. I've handwritten out quite a few worksheets this school year, so Jill can still work out all the answers. So let Hallie know that she's in good company when she forgets to bring her homework home.

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  17. Others opinions of you have nothing to do with YOU and everything to do with THEM. You can't demonize someone for having a different opinion than you, regardless of what the opinion is.

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