I came out to my parents three times. First, in high school, I told them I was asexual and had no interest in pursuing relationships. Then, in college, I told them I was bisexual after I kissed a girl in a game of truth or dare. Finally, my voice crackling over the phone hundreds of miles away, I came out as a lesbian.
The reviews were mixed. My sister, Melanie, had a boyfriend, while I had a “close friend.” Family members asked Mel about boys constantly, but never brought up relationships with me. My parents outed me to their parents, my mother’s mother declaring that she would pray for my lost soul in a church I didn’t attend to a God I didn’t believe in. My gayness hung thickly in the air, my extended family silently deciding that if they didn’t talk about it, it wasn’t happening. I expected nothing more.
Revealing my Judaism felt similar. Classmates in college claimed they had never met a Jewish person before, casual anti-Semitism falling from their lips. I was mythological, an oddity for dressing up and standing on a platform within a circus tent. When people discovered I was Jewish, they were full of questions: What holidays did I celebrate? What were my in-depth feelings about the state of Israel? Did I have horns?
By the time I realized I was gay, I had cloistered myself in a place where I knew I was safe. But before then, when my latent feelings for other women reared their heads, the questions probed their way in: How did I know I was attracted to girls? How did I have sex? Had I made peace with the fact that I would burn in hell for eternity, along with the rest of my kind?
The term “coming out of the closet” originated with drag-ball culture in which a gay person, usually a man, made his debut into the gay world and joined his peers. Today, coming out exists primarily for the benefit of straight people. Closeted kids come to terms with themselves quietly, eyeballs pressed to the crack in the wardrobe door to make sure nobody was looking. We beg for our parents’ acceptance, for their love, in spite of this thing about us they might find horrific. A gay kid should come out triumphantly into unconditional love, but that isn’t always the case. In an environment where everyone is straight until proven otherwise, the initial terror of peeking from behind the cracked door never goes away.
Gay people never stop coming out. I come out to the cashier at Trader Joe’s when I mention my girlfriend. I come out to friends of friends when I bring her to weddings. I come out to strangers in the way I walk, the way my hair looks, the closeness of my fingers to hers.
Being Jewish and gay is easy. Both are colored in education and questioning and love. It’s everyone else that makes it hard, and revealing such an intimate part of oneself takes guts. Ultimately, coming out is a difficult choice, and the decision on whether or not to leap into the middle of the room comes down to the individual. Hopefully soon we will build an environment where that leap is into the arms of guaranteed love and acceptance, but for now, we can start with a step.