Sunday, October 14, 2012

Facebook and the art of coming out

“I’m not sure I’m ready for this.”
“It’s OK if you’re not.”
“I think I am.  Are you?”
“OK.  Here goes.”

At which point I pressed “Post”.  And up on my Facebook page appeared a smiling photo of Paula and me, along with the caption, “It’s National Coming Out Day, so… out I come.”

That was one year ago.  70+ “likes” and public affirmations later – mostly from straight people around the periphery of my life – I was euphoric.  I hadn’t expected it.  The chorus of support came from classmates I hadn’t seen in years, former coworkers, parents and teachers from my kids’ school, my old yoga instructor.  I sat and reflected on the fear and dread that had lead up to that moment.  What had scared me so much?

Coming out in your 40s is a strange thing.  It’s often described as a rite of passage.  But by the time I came out, I had been through many such rites.  I was a parent and a professional.  I understood myself pretty well.  I could list many things I liked about myself, but I had a well-reasoned list of dislikes too.  Neither list had anything to do with my sexuality.  I hesitated to come out to the world because I didn’t want to be told I was brave.  I didn’t want to be proud of my sexuality any more than I wanted to be proud of my skin color or my height.  And most of all, I didn’t want the world to start defining me through a filter that is rife with stereotypes.  (For the record: I am terrible at softball, and I don’t really like going to Ikea.)

But these were just rationalizations.  The truth was that I like to be liked, and I was afraid of making people feel uncomfortable.  With that context, taking the leap felt like the only way to act with integrity. 

Although I was already “out” to all of my close friends and family, I’d retained an online identity where I presented myself as a parent, a businesswoman, a cyclist, a wanna-be comedienne – but not as gay.  In the sanitized slice of life known as Facebook, where the skies are always sunny, all of our meals are photogenic, and we’re never awful to our kids, I was in the closet.

Like almost everyone, I make fun of Facebook.  And I’ve unabashedly loved it anyway: targeted ads, navel-gazing, invaded privacy and all.   But I have never appreciated Facebook more than I did on National Coming Out Day 2011.  In one swoop, without having to broker uncomfortable conversations that would have been more about supporting the listener than about supporting me, I came clean.  And I realized that there were a lot of people out there who were just fine with that.

I dream of a day when people scratch their heads and wonder why we used to have Pride celebrations, confused by what could possibly have been shameful about being gay.  Sadly, that day isn’t here yet.  The world is changing, and we’ll get there – but in the meantime, to all who got up the nerve to break the silence on National Coming Out Day last week, yasher koach.  Strength to you.