The first time I came out I was 16 years old. It was the summer before my Junior year of High School and I was in my bedroom with my friend, Kim. We were writing in a notebook, passing it back and forth (because that’s how we did things in 1997.) There was tension in the air. We both had something important to tell the other one and, as it turns out, we had the SAME thing to tell each other. After countless back and forth statements of uncertainty, I’m not sure which one of us took the leap and wrote it first but one of us finally declared “I’m bisexual” in writing for the other to see. The other immediately replied “me too.” This double revelation blew open our friendship and we were soon each other’s girlfriend. Not knowing how our families or general community would react, we kept this between us and a couple of our closest friends. It was summer so it was easy.
A few months later, I realized that I wasn’t bi but, a lesbian. Coming out this second time was, strangely, not any easier than that first time. It weighed heavily on me for the days and weeks leading up to the actual coming out. I was afraid of rejection. Does the fact that I’m not interested in boys at all make me a freak? Would I be the only one? Who would accept me? When the time came for me to tell Kim, I was relieved and comforted when she replied with “me too.” Also, it turns out, we were far from the only lesbians in our home town. In the second half of our Junior year, we found the gay clique at our high school. Yes, we had a gay clique at our high school. In New Hampshire. In the 90s. I realize how lucky we were. By the time we graduated, in the spring of 1999, there were at least 10 – 15 people in our school who were out in one way or another and a slew of straight allies who had our backs. I can now look back at that scared 16 year old and smile because I know what great friends and support were headed her way. The thing is, without writing out those first words in that notebook, without declaring who I was to someone else, my teen years could have turned out very differently.
In November of 2008, after many years of living as an out gay lady, I had to come out about something new. I decided to be vegan. I had been mostly vegetarian for the few months leading up to the decision and, in that time, had done a lot of reading on the subject. I didn’t see it as such a big deal, I figured that since I didn’t really care what other people ate, why would they care what I ate!? I told people as it came up and was not particularly prepared for the onslaught of questions and defensiveness that was directed my way from just about everyone. It was almost as if my choice to eliminate animal products from my diet was seen by other people as a judgement of their eating habits. They made jokes about it and often felt the need to question me about my veganism when we were at barbeques or parties or anywhere, really. The thing is, I’m more than what food I choose to eat or not eat. It got to the point where I had to start telling people that I didn’t want to discuss it anymore. I know, the stereotype of vegans is that they want to talk about it ALL OF THE TIME. That’s not always true, sometimes I just wanted to talk about sports or art or TV or where I was going camping next. I rarely wanted to talk about being vegan with non-vegans because I didn’t feel the need to explain or defend my decisions to them and, that’s what it felt like they wanted me to do.
On May 28th, 2016, I came out as sober on Facebook. It was my half birthday and my four month soberversary. I had said something on Instagram a couple of weeks prior but, because my Facebook account was full of more people I knew personally, that is what I consider my big, sober coming out. I was prepared for resistance from others. I was prepared for people to tell me that I didn’t need to quit drinking. I was prepared for the worst case scenario because I’ve heard from so many people about how hard it was for them. All I got was love and support and if anyone thought differently, they kept it to themselves. It felt so good to have that after being so worried and nervous prior to clicking on the “post” button. (Disclaimer: I’m pretty sure that part of why I didn’t experience the rejection or loss of friendships that others have described in this situation is because I got sober 3000 miles away from my home town, all of my drinking buddies and, party friends. I don’t think I did anything particularly special to cultivate this experience, it just makes things easier when you’re able to create a bubble of support from the beginning and the bulk of your long term relationships are maintained through social media from a distance – not in bars.)
In June of 2016, I begrudgingly began eating meat again. I had been suffering with digestion and stomach problems for a few years at this point and had done everything I could think of to try and get better: elimination diets, taking supplements, not drinking alcohol, eating mostly raw, eating mostly bland, going to the doctor, getting acupuncture and, finally, tracking what I ate to see how it made me feel. I was able to eliminate some foods that triggered symptoms but, it turns out, beans and soy and processed vegan proteins made up a big chunk of that list. Now, I know that I could have modified a vegan diet to exclude these foods but, that would have been a lot of work and I was newly sober so, was that a priority for me? No. I become vegan to be healthier and the exact opposite was happening so I started eating meat again. Not every day and not a ton of it but, I eat it. And you know what?! I feel much better. Like how a normal human should feel. Anyway – I guess this was me officially coming out as an omnivore. I’ve been keeping it a partial secret and not bringing it up officially because, well, I had to take my original decision back and that doesn’t feel good.
You would think, having come out so many times before, it would be a cakewalk for me by now. I mean, unapologetically declaring who I am to the world is something I do on a daily basis and have been doing since I first came out as bisexual in 1997 but, it doesn’t get easier. Every time you have something inside you, scratching like a dog that wants to be let out, the fear about revealing that part of you resurfaces. The process of figuring out how, when and, where to tell people is difficult, highly personal and, highly situational. Disclosing something personal about yourself to a someone or a group of other people, whether it’s something you’re born with (like your sexual orientation) or, a decision to change your life based on personal reflection and serious thought (like your diet or giving up a substance) is never easy. The need to be accepted by your friends, family and, peers is intense. What if you’re rejected? What if you’re attacked (emotionally, verbally or, physically?) What if you lose the people closest to you? What if you’re wrong and you have to take it back? These are all chances I’m willing to take in order to live my life as the exact human I am. The feeling of fear for possible personal repercussions pales in comparison to the feeling I get knowing that my visibility can help even one other person.
Coming out, in any form, is not a one and done thing. After you come out that first time, you will be coming out over and over again about the same thing. Society in general will always assume you are like the majority so, if you’re part of the minority and don’t want to hide who you are, you have to keep declaring it. Keep declaring your queerness. Keep declaring your recovery and sobriety. Keep declaring that you make choices about your food and your body based on what is right for YOU, not based on what makes everyone else comfortable. The reasons you have for coming out will be different from the reasons I have but, the end result is the same: people living their lives in the open make it easier for other people to see themselves in society and, seeing yourself in society helps you to see that you are not alone and there is nothing wrong with you.