This is a blog about giving up my car for one month and seeing what it takes to get around. But just for today, I'd like to switch gears (no pun intended) for a second, to reflect on National Coming Out Day.
If you're a reader of One Month. One Guy. No Car., you've probably endured my occasional gushing over my awesome boyfriend, Jon. In other words, the ship has sailed on me "coming out" on this blog.
I first came out when I was 15 years old, to one of my best friends (and author of Sw33t and Savory: My Life Through Taste), Melissa. I didn't tell anyone else for another three years, but having even one person know the truth about me made me feel a million pounds lighter. Back then, I still thought that something was wrong with me. That I was a mistake that nature made - I was supposed to like girls, but somewhere a signal got crossed or a switch went unflipped, and I turned out liking guys instead. Having Melissa in my life was so important, and it was a friendship that I can't imagine surviving high school without. In her, I had someone that I could confide, that I could share my fears with, that I could talk about guys with, and most importantly: that I could trust. At that point, I was still afraid of what my parents would think of me and of what my friends would think of me. (This is a common fear among all teenagers, generally; but it is infinitely worse when you are secretly gay as well.) When I made the decision to "really come out" following my freshman year of college, I was very fortunate that virtually everyone I told was completely supportive. I still remember almost every person and every situation: Jeff and Leah on a road trip, Hailey at a Taco Bell, Bryant and Liz at the Colonial Park Diner, Rachel on the phone on the way to a party at her brother's house, etc etc etc... My only regret is that my best friend Gabe did not find out straight from me, and I really wish that had gone down differently.
But like I said, I was incredibly fortunate to have a huge network of supportive friends that I could turn to. But what if I had not? What if my experience had been a much more common one, where the young man or woman has no one to rely on or turn to for support? What if I had been bullied to a much more terrifying extent that is possible today through texting and the internet that was not possible ten years ago? What if religion had played a role in my life? These are the circumstances that so many young people across the country have to grapple with everyday, as part of their everyday lives. And with a growing frequency and a growing intensity, we are seeing it play out over and over again across the news, most recently with the suicide of Tyler Clementi, who jumped off of a bridge after having been outed by his college roommate, who spied on him with a webcam and then posted to Twitter about it. Truly, truly tragic.
Something has got to change. I cannot believe that TWELVE YEARS after Matthew Shepard's death, we're now talking about Billy, Asher, Seth, and Tyler. We need greater protections against cyber bullying. We need marriage equality in this country. But we need young people who think that they might be gay to know that it gets better. The bullying stops, the isolation ends, the insecurity and the self-doubt eventually subside. But until then, you have to hang in there. And until then, the families of those young people, the friends of those young people, the congregations of those young people, the teachers of those young people - or anyone else trusted by a young man or woman who is scared - have to be supportive, have to be open-minded, and have to be accepting. Is that too much to ask? Until then, history will only continue to repeat itself.