"Come out! Come out! Wherever you are!" – Harvey Milk 1978.
Over the years that NCOD has been celebrated the LG designation has evolved into LGB then LGBT then LGBTQ. Currently there is a movement to use the term QUILTBAG for Questioning-Unidentified- Intersex-Lesbian-Transgender-Bisexual-Asexual-Gay. I like the term QUILTBAG for two reasons: first, it is easier to say, and second, it reinvents terms like “quilting circle”. I don’t think it is a derogatory term, but people tend to soften their usage of derogatory names in conversations with me. If it is generally known as a derogatory term would someone please let me know so I can stop promoting its use?
NCOD is on the 11th of October because that was the first anniversary of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights (see how it started as just an LG thing) . The First National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights (which was just called “National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights” at the time) took place on October 14th and celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Stonewall riots which took place in June of 1969. So the actual date is only made special by the people who choose to celebrate their “coming out” on this day.
Of course today’s NCOD is extra special because it falls on 10/11/12, and that will not happen again for a thousand years. The very idea of an NCOD should become ludicrous long before then, so it is safe to say that this is the first and last time the NCOD will fall on 10/11/12.
In addition to the accretion of identities, which I hope may someday include Atheist, the NCOD has gained geographic presence. In 1988 the NCOD was celebrated in 18 states, but was really a West Hollywood phenomenon. Not until 1990 did it grow into the “National” part of its name by being celebrated in all 50 states. Today it has outgrown the “National” in its name by being celebrated all over the globe.
I hope they do not change the name to iCOD as that sounds like a cold water fish made by Apple, or perhaps an electronic codpiece. Either way it is not a great name to change to.
Today should also be a celebration enjoyed by those who have had people “come out” to them. There is something enormously special about being the initial recipient of such trust. The sharing of one’s sexual identity with another person simply because they are another person, and not because they share that orientation, is a unique gesture of trust. I hope everyone gets a chance to share that bond of trust with someone they respect.
On the other hand…I actually hope that the process of coming out soon becomes folded into the process of simply growing up. We will lose something special when the process of self-definition becomes special only in a uniquely personal way. No longer will it be a sharing of, or discarding of, a secret.
The first close friend who “came out” to me did so shortly before the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Even Liberace was not publicly gay at the time as it would probably have affected his record sales. It was a big deal, and I treated it like it was just something else that was going on. I am kinda conflicted about how my self centeredness allowed me to essentially ignore my friends coming out. We have discussed this a couple times recently, and he assures me that it was the perfect way anyone could have responded. I know we were both more demonstratively concerned with what Disco was doing to American music than "issues", but I also don't think that speaks highly for our mutual maturity at the time.
Each time I have been gifted with the experience of someone coming out to me it has been special...even if I've not noticed. I had one friend “come out” a few weeks before the first NCOD. I think that Ben would have waited if he had known about the upcoming event, but none of us did. He was just taken with the warmth of a September Southern California sun, and the love of people who cared more about how important the announcement was for him than what he was actually saying.
Coming out is a multifaceted process for the person who comes out. For Ben it was also a sexual debut of sorts. The few days spent crammed into my one bedroom apartment after his announcement was an interesting note to a vacation filled with special faces. When Ben returned to DC it became a new element of his life.
At the time the world did not have FaceBook, and most people did not have e-mail. My handwriting was illegible, and so the communications with Ben broke into a series of long conversations over coffee separated by years-long silent spaces between my visits to DC.
Ben’s debut did not go the way he would have hoped. He was a sensitive person who would have liked to cuddle to the murmur of meaningless conversation, but he announced himself as a particular sexual object. Ben was not the most physically attractive of people; though he had lost several hundred pounds leading up to his coming out he still wore the excess skin like a toga. He was hurt by slights and derision for his appearance. His few encounters often resembled rape in his descriptions of them, and he would tear up at the thought that he could not be sexual and kind with the same person.
On the last time I saw him he was recovering from a particularly brutal encounter which left him so severely injured that he had apparently laid for hours after it in a pool of his own blood hoping that death would stop the pain teething in his gut. He described how instead of death taking the pain the cramping caused by blood and fecal material mixing in his abdomen grew till it drove him to call out for help. For several more hours his roommates could not hear the soft whimpering cries that were all Ben could produce.
Ben was part of a group that met in rooms with circled chairs. The physical pain he described paled to the awkward social pain he experienced sitting in a circle with his abuser while people made light of trivial unrelated situations to giggles and nods. He related that he felt like he was back in the closet, but this time as a victim of sexual abuse.
The last I heard of Ben he had cashed out his life insurance in advance of his liver going out after it had lost a battle with non-A-non-B Hepatitis. I picture him boarding a plane to Europe with just a bag of prescriptions and a smile.
Things have changed a lot for people that come out. The last person who came out to me did so from behind a lectern to a room of almost a hundred people. I had not even been invited so his coming out to me in particular may have been a mistake.
Despite the fact that the handful of people who have gifted me with their coming out have never done so in observance of NCOD I like to take this day and remember them.
And say “Thank you”.