Students and faculty across the state of Iowa agree that identifying with the LGBTQIA + community has dramatically affected their lives. From their family relationships to working conditions to daily conversations, coming out has changed their lives.
For Hollie Wilson, the bullying caused her to go out before she was ready. In George Archer’s situation, it was much easier to talk to his family than to know the truth in his community. In Andra Castle’s case, even though they never officially came out, there are a number of ways they have to come out every day. While all of the upcoming stories are unique, according to Wilson, Archer, and Castle, they are all important.
October 11 is a designated day to celebrate the importance of going out and what it means to go out. According to the APA, founded in 1988 by Richard Eichberg, professor of psychology, and Jean O’Leary, activist, the National Coming Out Day aims to educate the LGBT community and its civil rights movement. The APA said Eichberg and O’Leary chose the second major national march in Washington for lesbian and gay rights on Oct. 11, which took place a year before in 1987.
Here are three stories about coming out, its importance, and how coming out is not a one-time event, but how it is an ongoing action that takes place every day.
George Archer, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies:
I went out for the first time in 1994 at the age of 14. I was very lucky compared to most of the other people of my generation. My family was very religious but in a progressive and loving way. There was no drama, no broken relationship, no serious judgment from a parent. Just love and the repeated assertion that everyone has always known about me anyway. I specifically remember my grandma joking after I went out with her, “Oh honey, we have friends outside of this house, you know.” And that was it.
Beyond my family, it was a very different matter. There was always more or less representation of LGBTQ + people in the mainstream media. The same year I went out, IKEA produced the first ad featuring a gay couple; my local Ikea was then closed due to bomb threats. Gay establishments still had bars on their windows, and most were near-secret to guest safety. The first time I held a man’s hand in public, a bottle was thrown at us. I lost almost all of my friends in school when I got out. Rumors about my homosexuality spread and more than once I was called to teachers’ offices to discuss my “problems”. In tenth grade, a teacher told me I was going to hell. In eleventh grade my English teacher called me af * g in public. In 12th grade, my art teacher told me that I was not gay; I was just confused and then asked me to leave the class to think it over. I then had to explain to a counselor that I was not mistreated at home. This model continued in college and graduate school. When I got married to my current husband in my final year of my doctorate, a professor whom I had considered a friend said that my life was “an abomination.” And now, as a teacher myself, I keep a mental list of teachers that I can’t work with (or won’t work with).
Sadness aside, I’m more grateful for the progress we’ve made towards equity for LGBTQ + people than I could explain. Even though we still have a lot to do, the cultural change between the 1990s and today is palpable. I used to assume (correctly) that most people were homophobic; now I’m assuming (correctly) that most people aren’t. But the great work continues. My professional interests have little to do with sexuality, but when on occasion I speak to students for whatever reason, my office hours inevitably become the scene of stories about trauma and fear. I never ask the question, but I often wonder when LGBTQ + students come to me to talk to me if I’m the first openly queer adult they meet.
Hollie Wilson, senior in psychology:
When I came out to my parents, it was because I was forced into it because of a serious bullying incident at school where someone had punctured my tires because I was lesbian. I was afraid my stepfather would kick me out, and I would have nowhere to go. So, to officially go out, I wrote a note to my mom saying that I love her and that I’m a lesbian. I ended it with, ‘Please don’t tell my stepdad I’m gay.’ I bookmarked it in the book she was reading and headed for school. In the middle of the second period, I got a text saying, “I love you no matter what and I won’t tell my stepdad”. When I got home from school we sat down together and she asked me questions like am I sure I’m gay and it’s not a phase am I in a relationship with my best friend, and other ignorant and stereotypical questions. I was in second year in high school, and I don’t think she took it seriously until I brought a girlfriend home as a date for my prom. It was also at this time that my father-in-law discovered it; I can’t really hide the whole prom photoshoot in our living room from her. Fortunately, he handled it well and I was not kicked out.
For me, that was important because it was something I felt I had to constantly hide at home, and it was killing me to keep that a secret. I struggled with very severe depression and even attempted suicide at one point due to bullying and keeping secrets. I feel like everyone deserves to feel safe at home and to be themselves; no one should have to hide from the world. Another important thing about coming out is being able to find other people in the LGBT community to be friends with and support each other with, to have friends who understand and stand up for others, and to have others come together. feel comfortable being themselves. I love meeting other LGBT people and being part of such a loving community.
Andra Castle, Deputy Director of the Margaret Sloss Center for Women and Gender Equity:
For me, National Coming Out Day is a day to recognize LGBTQIA + people who are in public and to encourage the sharing of stories. I think the underlying assumption is that everyone is straight, that everyone is cisgender or falls perfectly into the gender binary, that there is a way to come out as LGBTQIA +, and that we have all generally the same experience with gender, sexuality. In all fairness, no one has had the same experience of life. No one knows what identity you have unless you tell them, and coming out is a way to share it with others.
In my mind, I never really “got out”. I am not an unusual person. I think it’s a common misconception that there is a great coming out event in life. Being outside or inside is a very binary concept and doesn’t reflect anyone’s life well, especially mine. My coming out was made up of thousands of little statements and millions of little things that all affected my experience in different ways. It’s every time I share my pronouns in a meeting and several times a day at work. This is what the toilet I use. It’s asking people to refer to me in a certain way at restaurants, at telemarketers, at the dentist, at the doctor. It is access to care and basic care. I go out to every family reception and every time I go out with friends. I go out with every social media post. Going out is a lot. Getting out of myself, recognizing the extent of my gender and my sexuality has been the most rewarding and important outing, and I prefer to keep that with me and always take it with me. Dating others is a bit more calculated, in my experience, because it’s so continuous and yet so gradual. It is asking to be seen, to be recognized, to be loved, and that is constantly changing. I recognize my privilege to live publicly and openly as a member of the LGBTQIA + community. Yet sometimes I don’t go out when I don’t feel safe, when I don’t want to be seen, when I’m too tired to educate others, and that’s a privilege too.
More information on National Coming Out Day and how to celebrate on campus can be found here.