It happens without notice. An innocent assumption, a lingering microagression, a boldfaced objection. It happened last year on my fifth anniversary when the complimentary champagne card was addressed to “Mr. and Mrs.” It happened three years ago when a man spat at our feet on the subway. It happened yesterday when an invisible stranger hostilely shouted for us to “cut that out.”
In those particular instances, I felt pushed out of an open space available to all, and forced into a smaller confinement. No one is born in a closet and finally decides to come out. Closets are made in conversations. Verbal and nonverbal. At some point, we're all asked, pressured or forced to hold back a part of ourselves. When there are people in this world who want nothing more than for someone like me to mute parts of herself (her blackness, her womanhood, her sexual orientation), some of us are faced with a choice to unapologetically be our whole self or to tuck ourselves away. There were times I didn’t mind doing just that, silencing parts of myself for the sake of safety or convenience. I avoided forcing myself into someone’s consciousness, the result of which could possibly end in violent backlash. I’d console myself by affirming I wasn’t lying about who I was; I was just omitting unnecessary details.
But those parts of me weren’t tedious or troublesome. They weren’t small, insignificant or shameful. Once I came to this conclusion, I no longer had to come out. I refused to accept the idea that there wasn’t enough space for me—all of me. At this point, I decided to never retreat into a closet. When I decided to fully exist, I finally connected with the people I loved, the people I wanted to love and the people who wanted to love me. This decision is not easy. In fact, it’s an everyday battle that can only last five seconds in my head before it impacts me for a lifetime. If asked about my weekend by a colleague, I could respond with the exciting plans shared with my partner or deflect, saying, “It was nice. How was yours?” If on the phone with my mother, I could include updates on my real life or just the parts that assure her I’m still her little girl. Do I take a chance at a genuine connection? Do I take up space? Do I refuse to hide?
I do. Now. A friend once told me that once you come out, you come out every day of your life. When she said this I thought of the people in my life who refuse to exclude me, directly or indirectly, so much so that I never really felt like I had to come out to them. These people are walking safe spaces for everyone they know and meet. They don't create closets. Closets don't exist around them. They make room in their consciousness for all the ways people can be, live and love. They understand being gay is not a choice; telling someone is. They make my decision to be myself easier every day. They make the decision for me when I can’t make it. Most importantly they make me brave enough to help others do the same.