I love awkward situations. I usually find them hilarious. When awkward moments occur on television, many people look away and cringe. I tend to look at them straight on and revel in the humor of them. Watching the Golden Globes the other night, when Jodie Foster was giving her acceptance speech for a lifetime achievement award, things got so awkward that even I almost had to turn away.
Her stirring speech was a potpourri of nervous chatter, a confession of loneliness and a plea for privacy. But what gave me pause and made me hold my breath was that she was kind of coming out of the closet. I held my breath because I was experiencing a minor case of post traumatic stress disorder.
What does it even mean to come out exactly? We associate it with living our truth, standing up for what we believe and authenticating our true self. This broad definition has colloquially come to mean revealing that you’re a sexual minority. The term can represent the first time you tell someone this secret you’ve kept hidden for so long or the time when you’re so public that it’s become familiar fact about you. For some, it’s the moment you tell your family. For others, it’s the moment you admit it to yourself.
The truth, that I wish I had known when I was much younger, is that it’s an ongoing process. You never actually stop coming out. It happens every day. People at work are bound to ask you about your relationship. Standard questions come in heteronormative flavors, and every time people ask them, I have to summon up some of the same courage I had to have when I was first coming out. In the past couple months, I’ve been asked by well-meaning strangers if I’m going to use my new job to finally find a wife. Or if my girlfriend and I have weekend plans. Then it’s up to me whether I correct the stranger and say “he” or “boyfriend.” If I don’t correct them, am I just lazy, or am I a liar?
My coming out wasn’t easy, though it rarely is for anyone. There’s not a more vulnerable situation you can put yourself in, bracing for rejection. Telling friends, one by one, became easier (and even kind of fun) the more people I told. My early support system was an embarrassment of riches, and I won’t ever forget how lucky I was. It worked to my advantage that I surprised exactly zero people when I told them the news.
Telling family was a different story. There were tears, strained relationships and a lot of stress. Things are great today, but it’s still not a time of which I’m fond of reminiscing. But I’ll never forget the night I told my parents, sobbing thinking they wouldn’t ever want to see me again and eating a half dozen Krispy Kreme donuts in my car alone.
I also wish I knew back then why it was so important to come out. There are no words to describe just how liberating it is to relieve yourself of the weight of the burden of years of lying and hiding. You’re going to be called the F word, a lot, and it’s going to slowly kill you unless you know your true self and you’re comfortable in your own skin. Studies show that people only truly accept and understand the struggles of the LGBT community when they know someone who is part of it. They can’t know you unless you make yourself available to know. Laws and situations exist that adversely impact you. You can get fired or beaten up (or worse) just for being gay. These laws and situations will never change if people don’t come out.
So when Jodie kind of publicly came out the other night, that’s why I held my breath. I knew that in that moment, she was feeling what so many of us go through on a daily basis on a far smaller scale, with much lower stakes. I don’t condone her years of denial or her making light of others’ public outings, but I do understand why she called herself so lonely.