Queer people learn all the lessons our heterosexual counterparts learn and then some; not because we want to be burdened with extra work, but simply as a consequence of our identities. We learn to be a little more “manly” or “womanly” than we’re comfortable with. We learn to hide what we may never realize are the best parts of ourselves. We learn to be prepared for the worst, because we’ve been led to believe the worst is more than any of us deserve.
Preparedness is something queer people never take for granted. It’s something our survival is predicated on. We’ve long found comfort in our preparedness, even in the most uncomfortable situations.
Coming out is all about preparedness. It’s a process so many of us spend years getting ready for. And even when we’ve spent a lifetime in preparation, some of us never actually go through with it.
As we look at our representation in media and the stories we see most often about being queer, one of the most valuable themes you realize is that you must prepare yourself for anything. Especially when it comes to coming out. We only get one shot at this; the stakes are so high and so many queer people have lost their lives before, during and after the process.
No matter how many times you play out reaction scenarios in your head. No matter how many speeches you write down on note cards that you hide under your bed. No matter how many times you’ve seen the other queer kid in your school smiling and happy, you never truly feel prepared enough to come out.
Then it happens. You’ve done it. You come out. Not long after you do, you realize there’s something no TV show, book or movie ever prepared you for: the loneliness.
Coming out is one of the loneliest processes many of us experience. Because, well, no one knows you’re going to do it and you’ve never done it before. There is no rulebook for the process, but somehow many of us manage to make it through. However, very few of us do so unscathed.
The loneliness you feel before coming out is something many of us can reconcile with because it’s a state of loneliness we expect. The more crippling and surprising loneliness is the kind that occurs after we’ve come out and have to ask ourselves “So, what now?” There are so many new questions that you need answers to after you’ve come out, but there are few people to ask and what feels like even fewer people who care.
Even when you start to make gay friends — actually, especially when you start to make gay friends who are going through the same thing, you find yourself figuring out how to be gay on your own. After all, how can anyone teach you something that they’re still experimenting with themselves? They may teach you terminology, choreography, and how to use Grindr, but those things don’t define you. The presence of other queer people in your life doesn’t alleviate the feeling that your coming out has become a burden on every person around you. It can be so isolating, depressing and frankly terrifying to navigate the idea that your coming out has impacted the lives of everyone around you in a way you sometimes believe is not for the better.
There’s a level of guilt that comes with knowing your parents, other family and friends now will likely tell everyone else who are regular fixtures in your life that you are queer. It’s even more isolating to consider that they might do so apologetically as if it’s some new unfortunate circumstance everyone now has to live with. It can be lonely to feel like your mere existence is taking up so much space in the lives of those around you, yet you still feel completely ignored.
It’s a hard pill to swallow when you feel guilty that because you’ve come out, people around you now have been burdened with choosing their words carefully so as not to offend you. It’s even more bitter when you realize people will seldom ask you how you feel, but instead feel they know more about what offends you, what you should be interested in and how you should feel than you do. It stings when you can’t tell them for sure that they are right or wrong about that. It hurts when they don’t even recognize that you wish you were as sure of yourself as they are sure of you.
The fact of the matter is, most of us don’t know don’t know what kind of person we are in our newly accepted sexuality. It’s hard to admit how lonely you are because people also believe that queers are extremely confident. That loneliness can be crippling, till one day it isn’t. For some of us, that day never comes.
There is hope, however. Not that one day you’ll wake up and feel completely surrounded by love and acceptance, but in the realization that, as queer people, some of the best magic we have is that we don’t need that constant love and acceptance to survive. To thrive, even. Loving ourselves can be fuel enough. Our resilience and utility need not be rooted in acceptance from others, because we have everything we need inside of us.
After all, we’ve made it this far feeling alone and that’s OK, because, throughout the course of your life, others will help you shoulder that burden. Sometimes for years, others for just a day and several times during a dance on a crowded dance floor. Acknowledge it when it happens. Prepare yourself for the times it doesn’t. Recognize and act when you can do it for others. We’ve all got so far to go. We need each other to get there.
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