October 11 is National Coming Out Day, and what better way to celebrate our society's ongoing evolution toward being an open, safe space for all people, rather than just those traditionally in power, than by hearing from 14 LGBTQIA activists about what it was like to come out, how everyone can be a better ally, and the importance of staying outspoken about the developing state of the LGBTQIA community?
Earlier this year, NYLON spoke with a variety of well-known LGBTQIA advocates about the significance of being outspoken, of being "fearless in what you say and, in turn, what you do." Here then, we revisit their powerful words, feeling confident that their voices will resonate far and wide and inspire us all to be as brave and honest in the ways in which we live our lives as they are in the ways they live theirs.
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What surprised you the most about coming out? “Part of coming out was getting to a point where you don’t really have a choice. You’re just like, 'Well, this is happening. Their actions can be whatever they are, like fuck it.' But to come out and see so many people within the music community, be that bands or other musicians or even the press, be so supportive and be so willing to be understanding and try to get it, like, that I would just have never imagined. I’m not sure if it would have been the same 10 years ago, 20 years ago, or whatever, but it doesn’t matter. Now it is that way, and there was that level of support, and I think that is an incredible statement on how far people have progressed.”
Laura Jane Grace, founder, lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist of Against Me!
What surprised you the most about coming out? “[Coming out] is a process. Some people might think, you come out, and it’s done, fixed. But I realized coming out was just the beginning of a long process. It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride. It took me time to adjust, and it took the people around me a while to fully understand or at least have a better understanding. You also have to come out multiple times. Just like occasionally having to break up with people multiple times before they get it.”
What surprised you the most about coming out? “I’ve made the decision to come out because I’ve had enough of my internalized shame and fear. Coming out in the most public way was a way for me to take ownership of my narrative, personhood, and self-love.”
Geena Rosero, transgender activist, model, and founder of the awareness campaign Gender Proud
What surprised you the most about coming out? “At 35, I think the thing that struck me the most about coming out was how not big of a deal it was. [My sister] Sara did come out first, so I think she took the major blowback that happened from our family. It was short-lived. Our family was really supportive almost right away, but you know, there was the initial like, 'What the fuck is happening?' I kind of just watched from the sidelines, which caused tension between me and Sara for many years, because I think she thought I had it much easier because I came out after her. But, yeah, I think the most shocking thing was, especially considering we came out in 1998, we came from a more conservative city, although we had alternative friends and alternative family, I think we had it really easy compared to… I’ve heard so many stories now, just thousands and thousands of awful coming out stories, and ours was nothing like that.”
Tegan Quin, one-half of Tegan and Sara
What surprised you the most about coming out? “I came out when I was a teenager, so my story really doesn’t necessarily parallel with our band. I had a fairly normal coming out. I was 18 years old. I had a girlfriend. I told my family. We had our ups and downs, but it was in 1998. It’s been a long time, and I’ve definitely seen things dramatically change in the world and the things that I imagined for my life have really changed. The queer community has become more integrated with the rest of the world, and there were certain things that I never would have even considered, like same-sex marriage and certain rights for gay people, and the visibility and positivity for queer people. I don’t think I imagined that when I was a teenager. I really saw my future as being something sort of unknown, and that definitely made coming out really complicated for my family and friends, because I think people ultimately just worry about your safety, and are you going to be happy, and are you going to have access to the same things that you would if you were straight. I’m grateful that those things have changed and improved.”
Sara Quin, the other half of Tegan and Sara
What surprised you the most about coming out? “Coming out wasn’t a weird experience, but I don’t know why it took me so long. I’m really blessed to have an amazing, supportive family. I already have other members in my family that identify as part of the LGBT community, so I knew they would be 100 percent supportive. What surprised me the most was how much support I got from other people outside of the community. I didn’t expect so many people to be supportive; there were definitely people who weren’t, but I quickly forgot about them. Probably the most surprising of all was how supportive my friends were and still are, and how close I got to them. Our friendship went from a 'down there' level to 'up there' right when I came out. It was amazing.”
Brendan Jordan, activist
What surprised you the most about coming out? “I was accepted by my family.”
Big Freedia, author and host of Fuse's reality show Queen of Bounce
What surprised you the most about coming out? "I personally have had a privileged ride in exploring my queer identity, because I am a cisgendered white woman, and to the unassuming eye, I 'pass' as straight. It can honestly be difficult for me to attract 'non-straights' because I don't incorporate many queer signifiers into my physical identity or the way that I dress. I enjoy the subversive act of my presentation being normative on the streets, radical in the sheets, and basically everywhere else besides my physical form. When I started being open about my queerness, it was after I graduated college and it was always said in a bit of a whisper. Even though I was living in NYC, one of the queer capitals of the world, it still felt like something I shouldn't be too loud about, like, 'What if my boss found out? Will it hurt me professionally?' We're taught that it's taboo to be attracted to anyone who isn't the opposite sex, and the pressure of conforming to gender norms is such an integral component of the patriarchal capitalistic structure. Once I started being honest with all people in my life that I'm queer, it became less of a big deal for me and more of a 'deal with it' for anyone else.”
Signe Pierce, artist
What surprised you the most about coming out? "What’s been surprising to me is how often I have comeout to people about being non-binary trans; and this includes folks who have talked about these identities in my presence as if they were abstract or foreign, at which point, I have to come out.”
Rae Tutera, clothier at Bindle & Keep, star of Suited
What is one way to be a strong LGBTQI ally? I think that an ally is not just someone in the community who is okay with LGBTQ people, is not homophobic, but someone who actively takes steps to try and help LGBTQ people. An ally is someone who can give blood and went and did after the Orlando shooting when a lot of gay and bi men couldn’t. That’s a real LGBT ally. You come in and use your privilege to help.
Troye Sivan, musician
In your opinion, how does one be a strong and helpful LGBTQI ally? "The number one thing, especially coming out of the massacre in Orlando, is that we have to realize that just because we’re part of this acronym, we’re not a monolith. There are so many various experiences, and we exist in multiplicities. That night in that particular club, it was Latino night, it was a night where largely Puerto Rican and Hispanic people were congregating. If you look at the coverage of all of the people who were targeted and who died, you have to realize it’s a particular vulnerability to be someone that is not only an LGBTQI person but on top of that has multiplicities of race, of class. I think in being an ally, you have to see LGBT people not just as our sexual orientations and/or gender identities, but as people that come with a multiplicity of experiences. You realize then that there’s probably an experience or intersection that resonates with your own fight or the struggle you prioritize. In that way, it’s easier to not “other” us as something that’s outside of self, but as partners in this greater initiative toward liberation for all people. So that we can all express ourselves as we see fit so that we can love the people that we want to love—so that we can live without the fear of policing, violence, misogyny, borders, and documents. If we can deeply integrate our experiences beyond just those letters, it definitely helps wholly to get the allies to see how we’re more ingrained in the greater fight for liberation for all of us."
Janet Mock, writer, activist, and multihyphenate extraordinaire
What surprised you the most about coming out? "I think I was most surprised that everyone knew. It’s so ridiculous looking back. I wasn’t hiding it very well at all. What surprised me most was my brother; I told him and it didn’t change the rest of the day. I just told my brother, 'Did you know that I’m gay?' and he was like, 'No, I didn’t.' That was it. The easiest and least complicated was with my brother.
Perfume Genius aka Mike Hadreas, musician
What surprised you the most about coming out? "Deep down, I was convinced that when I came out, I would lose my momma’s love. Once, when I was 15, we were watching Oprah, and Cher and Chaz Bono were on, but, like, this was when Chaz still identified as Chastity and was coming out as a lesbian. And my mom was like, 'If you ever come out to me as a lesbian, I won’t be having that in my house.' And so I was shaken to death coming out. I had a friend, who worked in the financial aid department of my college, ready to help me fill out grants and financial aid forms if my folks cut me off after coming out. I had friends at the ready with lodging, food, and even a getaway car should my folks end their relationship with me. I just didn’t know what to expect.
Then, outta nowhere, my beautiful, Christian, Puerto Rican momma told me that her love was something I could never lose because my existence was a gift from God and that love came from a place beyond her and within her. She loved me before I was even born. But, don’t think for a second that my mom was cool with the gay thing, because she wasn’t at all. It took her mad time to get used to it, to learn with me, and to evolve politically alongside me. But her love for me was the thing that kept her going and I pulled my mom into my community. I made her meet my queer friends and my radical friends and my lovers, and she just started loving on everyone. Now her biggest concern is when I’m gonna find me a down-ass, queer, brown wife and hatch her some grandbabies. I guess I was just surprised that moms can evolve too and that not all hope is lost when they don’t understand everything the instant you come out. Like, shit, at least, my mom deserved some space to deal, grow, and bloom.
Gabby Rivera, writer, youth mentor, and editor of QTPOC content for Autostraddle.com
What surprised you the most about your coming out experience? "What surprised me most, and continues to surprise me to this day, is just how dissonant my coming out experiences have been with the coming out experiences that I see portrayed in the media, in film, and on television. According to mainstream depictions, coming out is a dramatic, cathartic process that is supposed to have years of buildup, happen once, and then be done forever. As I’ve come to embrace more and more facets of myself, I’m realizing that the metaphor of the closet doesn’t work for me. My coming out experience has been more like an onion than anything else. I’m constantly peeling away old layers and discovering new parts of myself. I’m peeling away the ways that patriarchy and cissexism have made me think about myself, only to find that there’s more work to be done. My gender will never be complete—it’s always a work in progress, an evolution, and I’m learning to really cherish that."
Jacob Tobia, writer, speaker, artist, and activist