Identifying as a member of the LGBTQ community can often be challenging on many different levels; however, many people do not realize the continual and constant battle we face every day. These days everyone is familiar with the term “coming out” and its process. In fact, most people recognize how challenging the ordeal can be; however, what a lot of people fail to recognize is that the coming out process does not happen only once in an LGBTQ-identified individual’s lifetime. It is a daily struggle and each time we meet someone new, each time we find ourselves in a new setting, we have to evaluate how to best proceed with alerting others of our identity and sexual preferences.
For me, in the place I call home, it is often incredibly easy to live my life as an out gay man. My family knows (though we have had our issues in the past), my friends all know, and I declare my relationship with another man openly on Facebook, and let’s face it: that’s where it really counts. As proud as I am about it and as open as I am about it, I find there is often a little voice in the back of my mind that asks if I should tell a new acquaintance I’m gay. I hate it. I hate the voice in the back of my head that asks: “will this person stop talking to me if they find out?” “Does it matter if they stop talking to me because of that?” “What if this person is a homophobe and gets violent?” “Is violence really a possibility?” But as much as I try to quell the voice, it is always there.
Recently I traveled out of the US and found myself in a culture I had never been exposed to before. The language was different, the customs were different, and honestly I was unsure what the laws toward homosexuality were. I had to actively decide whether or not it would be best for me to tell people I was gay or just go ahead and lie. If I lied, where would it end? Would I lie and say I was straight? Would I then proceed to lie and claim my partner was female? Or would I lie and say I was not in a relationship? If I lied and said I was not in a relationship, what would I do if girls started to come onto me? What would I do if people offered to find me a temporary, or not so temporary, girlfriend while I was in the country? And then, furthermore, if I went out with new people I just met would I pretend to be interested in girls for the sake of “fitting in”?
I know these may seem like ridiculous questions, but for many they are questions we often have to struggle with. For most progressive, and accepting individuals, the answer would to just “be yourself” but really sometimes the relationship you can form with other people changes if you come out to them. If I am perceived as “straight” I am able to become “one of the guys” and the relationship is a lot more open across all sorts of issues. Of course, it is questionable exactly how “open” I am being by starting the relationship with a lie; especially being in a new environment, though sometimes it feels easier to take refuge in heteronormativity until it is the “right time” to come out. This is not just an issue that comes up when traveling outside of your “home” territory. This is also an issue that comes up every time you start a new job, go to a new religious institution, join a new club, meet someone new.
Every single time a new element is introduced into your life you have to make a decision as to whether or not you want to come out. Every time I switch jobs I have to start over again from
square one. Coming out is not a single instance in the lives of LGBTQ identified individuals, it is a continual and ongoing process that requires conscious thought along the way every single day.
At home I can be a proud gay man; in Uganda, for example, I cannot be: I would be fearful of my life. Where I work now, my co-workers are my friends; but when I switch to a new endeavor? I have to start all over again. I have to decide if I should come out to someone, I have to decide if maybe keeping it a secret might be the best course of action: after all, if I refrain from telling someone that I am gay, then perhaps after they get to know me better they would understand that being gay does not change who I am nor my personality. But these thoughts, these daily struggles, are often missed by people who are not LGBTQ- identified. Even when society changes and being gay is accepted by everyone, in my life time I will not come out once, I will have to come out every single day of my life.
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