As a human who sometimes likes to leave the house, I keep finding myself in situations where I could come out, or not. I have to weigh those times very carefully.
It's different from when I was a teenager (so many years ago, right?). Then, coming out was an active thing; I would pull trusted friends aside and tell them. They would hug me and assure me that they still loved me. We would go back to whatever it was we were doing. There would be a little thrill because YAY it had gone well.
These days, I'm not so active. I come out in conversation by dropping a relevant detail, and there's always a little twinge in my gut the first time I say "my girlfriend". I've generally only received positivity, but there's always the little preparation for "I'm sorry, girlfriend?" and having to justify my relationship to someone I barely know.
It's not like people are directly discussing relationships, or drilling me about my life, either (except for when my 14-year-old Catholic cousin suddenly asked me whether I have a boyfriend). It's just moments where I have a relevant comment to make that happens to involve mentioning Hannah. The most recent example is when the lady at the till at a yarn store in Twickenham and I were discussing the riskiness of knitting for others: it made perfect sense for me to say "I got lucky because my girlfriend generally loves what I make for her," but I kept it in, because I couldn't be sure that this woman with whom I was already bonding* would suddenly shut down or subject me to a lecture. Even in the UK, the best country for queer people in Europe, I sometimes choose to closet myself rather than risk dealing with aggression.
And that's a cryin' shame. It's a truth gradually becoming universally acknowledged that the more out people there are, the less hostile society is, even by a little bit. You see it in the messages of some celebrities who have come out in the last few years, such as Anderson Cooper, Zachary Quinto, and Sean Maher; all of those men said their main reason for not being publicly out was because of a desire for privacy, but they realized that they did much more good for the world by being out and present. Kids can look at Anderson Cooper, a brilliant and prominent journalist who happens to be gay**, and think "It's not the end for me."
I think of how discussing the fact that I was questioning my sexuality with a friend of mine allowed him to come out to me, and we grew in our understanding together through the rest of high school.
I think of how alone I felt in church, thinking I was the only queer person there, until after I came out among church folks and two other people from my youth choir eventually told me that hey, they were homos too.
I think of how during my three years at my high school, the number of out queer kids increased exponentially, especially when GSA started and we could all find each other.
I think of how in both high school and college, finding a community of queer people was like finding a family, and just how much I've missed that family while I've been here.
But I also think about all of the times I kept my mouth shut to prevent an awkward or potentially dangerous situation.
Coming out is hard. Coming out is scary. And it really never ends.
There's this tension between coming out being important in fostering community and creating a more accepting society, and coming out being risky and sometimes just not worth it. I don't like that sharing simple things about my life is so fraught, when if I were straight and had a boyfriend there would be no questions asked. I should be able to just casually mention Hannah in conversation with strangers, with no fear. I have a right to not be afraid of sharing an innocent part of my life.
Is there an answer? I don't think it's that easy. For now, this is my reality. And it's tough sometimes. I'm living in a rapidly changing world where I can expect more people my age to accept me than not, but I still have a definite sense that I'm not socially equal.
And I don't know how long that's going to last.
Want to do something good for the world? Sign this petition to prevent an 18-year-old girl from being convicted of "lewd and lascivious battery on a child" for her consensual same-gender relationship with a 15-year-old. The charges are motivated by homophobia, and this young woman doesn't deserve to have her life destroyed because her girlfriend's parents don't like that their child is queer.
*You'd be amazed how quickly knitters bond when they meet
**And happens to have a devilishly adorable giggle