By Matthew Breen
Before contemplating coming out, I had to accept for myself that I was gay. I’m not sure exactly when it happened—it wasn’t a ray of light shining down that suddenly blasted the clouds from my eyes. Maybe I was 17, maybe 16. For years, my life—protected and placid and upheaval-free, to all appearances—was so fraught with daily anxiety that I’d be exposed, that I pulled away from family, from friends. I’d gotten pretty accustomed to denying my own emotions.
Accepting oneself sounds easy enough in a milieu like the one in which I was raised. I don’t compare my own struggle with young transgender people coming to terms with their gender identity (I write this on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to acknowledge the lives cut short of all those transgender people who died violently for being out), or with people so long in the public eye (Liz Cheney and her famous family are tussling over her right to marry in ridiculous, calculated ways at the moment), or with people in fundamentalist religious families, or people in Jamaica or Russia or Uganda, whose coming out literally puts their lives in the balance.
Still, accepting ourselves is a first step, and it’s not an easy one for anybody. I grew up in a Protestant household within a suburban sea of Mormonism. I felt a daily, pervasive contrast between my family and those more conservative households around us. My parents are politically progressive, well traveled, and both were educators. Even so, even in that supportive setting, I wasn’t able to come out until after university when I began working in an environment, the Sundance Film Festival, that included out gays and lesbians. It was the first place I experienced that didn’t make any distinctions between people who were queer and those who weren’t. No one cared, all were accepted. That was my ray of light from the sky. That’s when the clouds parted for me.
Acceptance mattered there, not just for the people who were already out, but for the people who were contemplating it: me. Learning to accept myself didn’t happen in a vacuum. The decision to come out happened because I was able to see how acceptance worked in practice. Building accepting spaces, places where people can be out and visible, is so important to the welfare of our families and colleagues. And it’s vital for those who come after us.
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