Having pride in the closet

Having+pride+in+the+closet

Graphic illustration by Alara Dasdan

Alara Dasdan

You don’t have to be out to show LGBTQ pride. It was an important lesson that I didn’t take to heart until I was pretty much completely out, for better or for worse. I can’t say whether my experience coming out would have been any easier had I played it safe, but I do know that it would have been a lot less uncomfortable had I followed the advice of countless other members of the community: being safe is more important than being out. Someday you’ll be in a space where you’ll be free to be yourself, but until you’re fortunate enough to be in that place, focus on your health and well-being, and be prideful in private.
I had what many others who identify as lesbian consider a typical coming out story. I went from questioning in eighth grade to finding the label I was comfortable with in sophomore year. I’d struggled for years with homophobia, learned from adults in my life and internalized until I too thought being LGBTQ was “unnatural.” It was a terrifying and humbling experience to realize that I was part of something I really knew nothing about. I recognized that many of the adults around me held prejudiced and untrue views of LGBTQ. After I realized I was part of the community, got to know people like me and became more involved, I realized I was more at home than I had ever been. Growing up, I was told that it was “a choice” and that queer people could be respected “as long as they didn’t flaunt it.” These views weren’t as overtly intolerant as violence or hate speech, but it still planted the same seed of distrust in my young mind. I spent day after day unlearning the prejudice that I’d been taught for so long, and I came out the other side a proud lesbian ready to fight for herself and everyone else in the community. Looking back, I would say that prejudice is the only choice made in life, unlike love.

There is no single way to show pride. I have always been very outspoken and open, so I took the approach of “bigger is better.” I ignored the many reasons why I should have been more careful of what I let other people see, and instead went out waving my rainbow flag loud and clear. I stuck pride stickers on my belongings, posted queer art publicly and put my pronouns and orientation in my Instagram bio, which could be seen by anyone. In an ideal world, I would have been able to do all these things without fear of judgement or discovery or anyone caring, and I wish that could be the case one day soon. It felt so liberating to express myself, but I was not in the perfect situation to do so. In hindsight, I would still do it all over again, but in a way that allows me more control over which people witnessed my freedom and my expression.

Of course, nothing comes without its price. I may now feel more free than I’ve ever been, but there are still drawbacks to being part of the minority. Being out means exposing a part of yourself that others may see as their personal business to address. It shouldn’t matter, but there are still many who hold on to their intolerance and let it warp their perception and interaction with other people. I’ve been treated as a novelty, told by others that they’ve never met a “real live lesbian” before meeting me. I’ve been asked “how it works” and other predatory questions. I was outed to my entire family by a cousin who found my Instagram bio and thought it was something I needed to be punished for. I’ve been talked about behind my back. People say that “it’s not hard to tell that she’s gay.” If you say that it’s obvious a person is gay, you are being homophobic. You’re not only making assumptions on a person based on their appearance and expression, but you’re trying to use it against them, as though being gay has a bad connotation. As for being outed, I learned a harsh lesson to give to others that day. Outing someone is one of the worst things to do as a person. It goes beyond name-calling or bullying. It takes away the little power that we do have over our identities in this prejudiced society, and can put people, often children, in danger.

However, it isn’t all bad. I’ve learned from these mistakes, and I want to use what I’ve learned to help others in the same situation that I was in. So how do you show pride without being completely out? The first thing I would do is find others who you can relate to and create your own support system. For me, I do that by being a member of the Gender-Sexuality Alliance at my school, by going to meetings and trying to help the club grow. Giving advice and sharing personal experiences, for me, is extremely helpful. It helps put struggles into perspective and makes me and other queer kids feel less alone. Most of my close friends also identify as queer, so I’m surrounded by people who have had many of the same experiences that I’ve had.

Another important step is to cut out the toxicity in your life. My mental health skyrocketed after distancing myself from people who made me feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. If possible, set boundaries between you and your parents if they’re part of the problem. Try and make it clear that you’re your own individual who is entitled to privacy just like they are. Withdraw from them over time, so that they won’t know every detail of your personal life. I know many people don’t have the luxury of having parents who understand that, so if that doesn’t work, try to find ways to separate your school and home life. I express myself a lot more freely at school than I do at home, because my family is not one to be clear on boundaries, as I’m sure many others aren’t as well. In the moment, it may seem difficult, as such a large part of our lives are still tied to our parents, but in most cases, its benefits in the future far outweigh the costs. Eventually, you’ll be able to live an independent life away from the expectations, prying and judgement from such pivotal members of your life, and that makes all the difference.

If you’re in a serious situation, call or text a hotline such as the Trevor Project or any other hotline that’s LGBTQ-friendly and gives the option of anonymity. You can’t show pride or celebrate your identity if you don’t take care of yourself first. I know that being queer adds another stressor on top of grades, colleges, SATs, and everything else high school students have to face, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Having hope is the most important thing you can do for yourself during any tough period of your life. Remind yourself that you will get out of whatever situation you’re in that’s hindering you and that you will be able to express yourself freely with people you trust and love one day in the near future. A phrase that’s really helped me is “family is chosen.” You are  in charge of who you keep in your life, and you have every right to live with expression and happiness with people you love.

You aren’t any less queer for needing to stay in the closet. While the community has made a lot of progress, there’s still a long way to go, especially in the little day-to-day interactions between people. Intolerance isn’t usually overt as it was in the past, but people still make little comments and hold misconceptions about the LGBTQ community that have the same impact. I don’t regret the things I did that got me outed, but I had the privilege of having parents who wouldn’t kick me out of the house for being who I am, although the experience was no less uncomfortable. Looking back, I would tell myself and others to prioritize their mental and physical health and to do whatever you choose is the best course of action to maintain it. We have an enormous, supportive community behind us. Be safe and prideful.