This past week I was reminded how important it is to be gay.
A monumental revalation, I know, but there was a lot behind it.
First and foremost, National Coming Out Day was Sunday, October 11. With the assistance and positive egging that can only come from the gay community, thousands of people were compelled to come out and reveal a little something about themselves maybe others suspected but never confirmed. Though most of use our 364 other choices for a time to come out, it's important to have a day of awareness for our cause.
It can be scary, nervewrecking, and stressful. To our good fortune, there is a day dedicated to owning ourselves. Hanging around New York City on National Coming Out Day, it seemed like any other time. Just a few hours away in Washington, the Equality March was taking place, mobilizing gays to stand out and fight for their equal rights. It must have been reassuring to so many to see people from all walks of life standing up and saying "it's fine to be gay". Not only that, but taking possession of our sexualities individually equates to a heavy hand of satisfaction.
At the root of coming out, there is often this fear. A fear of what people will think, how people will react, how much support will be shown all seem to creep up. I remember knowing I was gay when I was a 16 years old and hearing about a guy just a few years older than me in Wyoming who died because he was just like me. I thought "I can't come out, because this is what is done to people who are openly gay". Call me naive, but hey, I was. I was not alone.
Compelled by the story of Matthew Shepard, writer Moises Kaufman worked with a theatre troupe and penned the popular "Laramie Project" just a month after Shepard's brutal death. The story chronicles the emotional reactions of locals in the rural Wyoming town where Shepard was beaten and left for dead. Ten years later, the same group traveled back to Laramie to find what changed over time and write a follow-up to the original play.
So what does this epilogue have to do with relationships, you ask? Well someone important to me was one of the many actors worldwide who got together to perform the Laramie epilogue on Monday, October 12. I was proud of him for engaging in such a project. Then, I started to think.
I was slightly ashamed a decade ago, and turned my shame into fear when I heard of such a brutal and shocking crime against someone simply for being gay. And sadly, Matthew Shepard wasn't alone. It's a hard pill to swallow, being from Boston and living in a city where mostly anything goes. Of course, growing up in a town with a more rural overtone, I saw the prejudice of man on an ongoing basis. I could hear it in the epithets spit out of ignorance, or see it in the eye-rolling or dirty scowls shot at a same-sex couple holding hands. Parents shielding children from understanding gays didn't breed shelter or protection. Instead, it proved as a milestone for hate out of disrespect and lack of knowledge.
On National Coming Out Day, I posted a facebook status update reflecting the commemoration of the day in conjunction with my own sexuality. I got many comments from colleagues, old friends, some distant family and others who actually didn't know I was gay, purely from the absence of contact. Amazingly, it seemed as though I came out all over again. Constantly meeting new people, it seems the process of coming out is something I do in fact have to repeat over and over. I got the remark that it was slightly courageous to state this on a public forum, but then again it goes with a more encompassing philosophy.
I have never stated, and will never state that being gay is a choice. To me, it is not. I know I have been gay since I knew well enough to tell the difference. I did not choose this path, nor did my many friends who identify as gay. But the difference that lies within us as gay men and women in the modern age is that we own our sexualities in a way never seen before in American culture. People being killed for simply living as themselves is blatantly unacceptable. We won't take that second-class treatment, and our openness and requisite for peace shows our stamina for changing the old school of thought.
On a chilly October weekend, when several people went leaf-peeping and went about their everyday lives, we in the GLBT community took a stand and took a few steps toward equality. Some performed, some spoke, some marched, some sang of equal rights, and some took out their own soapbox. Regardless of format, the message was relatively the same. We deserve a fair chance at an equal life. It's a chance Shepard never had. It's a chance we deserve. It's a chance worth fighting for. There is still a lot of work to be done, but we engage in this battle daily, and win a little more each time we refuse to back down and pretend to be something we are not.
Though I may not choose my sexuality, I do choose who I get to date. Luckily, I was able to look at that person recently and think "I am so glad he is gay".
And, you know what? For many reasons, I too am so glad to be gay.