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    National Coming Out Day

    By Dr. Tim Seelig–

    “I’m coming out.” Regardless of whether you heard this for the first time straight from Diana Ross’ lips in 1980 or in the Trolls movie in 2016, it has proven itself to be one of the favorite earworms of the gays for exactly 40 years! You can hardly say those words without singing them—in rhythm.

    While the tune is as perky as it can be, coming out is seldom described as perky. It is difficult, at some level, for almost every single LGBTQ+ person. For some, the difficulty may exist only in their minds—at least the severity of the reaction, response, repercussions. “If I come out, it might just kill grandpa so I’ll wait.” As far as I know, no one has actually died from hearing such news. When worrying about “what might happen,” it’s good to remember the adage, “Never borrow trouble from the future.”

    In my three decades of conducting LGBTQ choruses, I have heard the entire gamut of experiences. I’ve heard from some who, when they told their families or co-workers that they were gay, the latter responded with a disappointing, “We knew that. Let’s go to brunch.”

    That is not the case with the vast majority. For the rest of us, some of our fears are justified. For those like mine, coming out began a literal avalanche of pain. Many, like me, have considered suicide rather than face and share their truth. The family and friends would be better if I just disappeared.

    For all, coming out changes everything. Even it if is easy, finally telling the truth and living in it brings relief and freedom. It also brings an opportunity of deep integrity at being you. Truth does set you free.

    Go back with me for just a minute … try to remember when you were in the closet. It could have been a tiny closet or enormous. It may have had security tantamount to Fort Knox. The door may also be as thin as tissue paper. There may have been windows! You may have just imagined what was outside or taken a peek or stuck a foot out from time to time. Regardless, it was a room full of secrets you didn’t want anyone to know.

    Can you remember what or who you feared most? Can you remember all of the machinations you went through to avoid the closet door being ever so gently blown wide open? Hold those thoughts.

    Growing up is hard in and of itself. But for many of us, we knew, way down deep inside, we were different. We spent more time looking at same-gendered people in television shows. Middle school and high school were difficult. For a gay person, it was extra hard when it came to selecting extracurricular activities. SFGMC (San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus) has just released a hilarious, yet poignant, song titled “Extracurricular.” It chronicles the decision for a young gay man determining which of the following and more was the least gay: Diving? No. Theater? No. Wrestling? God no. Choir? Uh, no! You can find the song at our website
    (www.sfgmc.org ) to hear the rest of the dangerous options!

    I came out at 35 years old.  That act resulted in me first losing everything and then gaining everything. These last almost 35 years, I have had the privilege of being an activist through music. In those years, I have come in contact with thousands of LGBTQ+ people through the choruses I have conducted around the world.

    I’ve never had one single person say they wished that they had waited longer to come out. Every single person I know wishes they had come out sooner. The fears, while real, only got worse with every day delayed. The lies got more complicated; the efforts to cover it up more ludicrous. “Walk like a man. Talk like a man.”

    I’ve been asked why I talk about coming out all the time. The answer is to ask the questioner what the most important day in their own life is. Often it is a religious answer; sometimes marriage or the birth of a child. Why is that the most important day? Because after that day, everything changed. Everything was different.

    For me, the most important day in my life came in October, 1986. I came out. OK, I was outed. That’s a minor part of the story. After that day, everything was different. And though difficult beyond words, I was free. The truth had done that. As adults, my children sat at my side, holding me and sharing that, as hard as it was to lose their Dad, they now knew that what I did was also for them. They grew to be truth tellers and great people.

    Why should there be a National Coming Out Day? Three reasons.

    1. For those folks still in the closet, it gives them an impetus to come on out! The more publicity around it encourages them and gives them a point in time to act. They know it’s coming. They know it’s coming for them—sooner or later.
    2. The second reason is for the rest of us who are out. Just like all other holidays, it gives us a day to celebrate our own coming out. Count the years. Or the days. Celebrate our uniqueness. Take joy in our logical family and show our gratitude to our biological family members who love us.
    3. Finally, it is because our Patron Saint Harvey Milk used this as one of the tenets of his campaigns. If someone could say, “I don’t know any gay people,” they are less likely to support our entire movement. The same dynamic existed during the AIDS pandemic. Tens of thousands of incredibly talented young men died of AIDS and their causes of death were reported as “natural causes” or “pneumonia.” Because of denial, people believed they didn’t know anyone who had AIDS when they most certainly did.

    I will celebrate this National Coming Out Day with all my heart. And, I’ll count every one of the 34 years with great joy. Who knows? I may even get a cake with 34 candles to celebrate each one of them. I will absolutely dress up in some amazing outfit. I may even Zoom with other gays! This article was pretty serious for me. It is a serious thing. I resisted the temptation to list all the accessories that come with being out! You may even find that your family, armed with their new knowledge, will start sending you every possible rainbow tchotchke on the planet! Bless their hearts. They are trying!

    I know what my wish will be when blowing the candles out. It will be that our world takes a look at its LGBTQ+ citizens and realizes we are equal in every way. Wait, I have two wishes. I also wish for all of my LGBTQ+ “siblings” to find the courage to be completely who they are without fear.

    Happy Coming Out Day!

    Sing along with me: “I’m coming out. I want the world to know!”

    Dr. Tim Seelig is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

    Published on October 8, 2020