I Have Been On A Journey To Come Out As The Person I Truly Am
The author in 2020. (Photo: Courtesy Addison Rose Vincent)
Since the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987, October 11th has been celebrated as National Coming Out Day, a day to raise awareness of LGBTQIA + people and “advocate the idea that homophobia is in silence thrives ".
"Getting out of the closet" is the process by which an LGBTQIA + person reveals their gender, gender, or sexuality to another person. And in a world where LGB teens are five times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual teens, where 40% of transgender adults have attempted suicide, and where our federal and state governments continue to deny or reverse hard-won rights, it is clear that this is coming out as LGBTQIA + is still a radical and important action.
When I was 2 or 3 years old, I walked around our house wearing my mom's high heels and my dad's tank top, which I treated like a dress since it was so long to me. I was drawn to feminine things and often helped my mother tie scarves and play with her jewelry. She sold Lady Remington - the '90s jewelry version of Mary Kay or Avon or Pampered Chef (all of which my mom sold too!) - and I was her little helper modeling her latest patterns.
I didn't think there was anything wrong with me, but when I was a few years older my parents stopped me from feminine expressions and activities for reasons of protection. At 5, I realized that others were seeing something in me that I didn't fully understand, and I was often bullied for being too feminine, too soft and too gay.
The author in 1993. (Photo: Courtesy Addison Rose Vincent)
I grew up in the suburbs of Windsor, Ontario and Detroit. My family moved frequently between the United States and Canada when I was young, and it was always difficult to make and keep friends. Fortunately, my family was wealthy and I had many amazing educational and extracurricular opportunities. By the age of 8, I was a member of a baseball team, soccer team, ice hockey team, soccer team, and participated in other extracurricular activities that allowed me to turn my frustration and rejection into physical activity. I became incredibly competitive and saw every win as a way to offset the bullying I was constantly facing.
I became close friends with a boy named Adam on my baseball team. We hung out at each other's house, loved to trade Pokemon cards, and our families got really close. One day we were swimming in my house's pool and playing with nothing else around, a game where we gradually revealed our bodies every time we went underwater. I knew at that moment that I felt that what others had said about me was true. It scared me. I knew what I was - and I didn't want to be anything but that.
As I got older, I struggled with my sexual identity (my gender identity wasn't even a concept in my head at the time - I was just aware that people could be straight, gay, or bisexual). I knew I was attracted to other boys, but I refused to name or label this feeling and I didn't share it with anyone. I ended up in a Michigan boys middle school where I experienced ongoing sexual harassment and assault by other students, sometimes while my apathetic PE teacher watched.
Although my parents and sister were incredibly loving and accepting, I kept my sexual and gender identities and experiences a secret because I wasn't sure how they would react and I feared my home would get as tumultuous as school, instead of remaining the sanctuary I knew it to be. I started experimenting sexually with other men when I was 14, but I was still full of shame and guilt. I kept this part of my life a secret and constantly worried that others would oust me or use against me.
The author in 2007. (Photo: Courtesy Addison Rose Vincent)
In the summer of 2009, I was 16 and 17 years old and tired of hiding. I was entering my senior year knowing I wouldn't be staying in Michigan much longer. That year I enrolled in an English course that focused on Shakespeare's work and was taught by a teacher who was allegedly gay. He and my family already knew each other because we all volunteered in the same church.
As we read Romeo and Juliet I cried and thought about how in love these two characters were but had to hide their feelings from their families and the world. They were ready to run away, fake their deaths and eventually really die just to be with the person they loved, knowing all along that others would not accept them. I saw myself in these characters and worried that one day I might face a similar fate. At this point, my teacher noticed that I was having difficulty in class and asked me to stay after class once a week so we could check my progress.
During one of these meetings, I started crying and told him I was gay. It was so difficult to say these words, but when I did I felt instantly relieved. I had finally told someone I could trust! In a strange twist of fate that same afternoon, I noticed a poster that was partially hidden behind a bookshelf in his classroom that read, “11. October - National Coming Out Day! ”I checked the calendar. It was October 11th, 2009. I looked at him and we both smiled.
The author in 2020. (Photo: Courtesy Addison Rose Vincent)
By next summer I hadn't gotten out to anyone but my teacher, but my two best friends were dying to be next. A month after graduation, we were lying in one of their backyards talking about our college plans when they suddenly asked when I would finally be out. I was shocked by the question and hesitated to answer. I wasn't sure how they would react if I confirmed their suspicions, but they carried on. I remember getting angry and frustrated when they demanded that I come out if I was the one facing the consequences of living in a homophobic world. But I also took it as an indication that it was time to reach out to more people and be more public about who I really was - though I still didn't feel safe in Michigan.
I had applied to several colleges in California because I saw the progressive state as a place where it would be safe (or at least safer) to be openly gay. I finally decided to go to Chapman University in Orange County. During my first orientation day, when all the newbies were gathered near the football stadium for a “field day”, some girls I met as I moved into the dormitories asked me: “Are you gay?” For the first time in my life, I answered this question - which had always frightened me - with a clear "Yes!" Suddenly the stadium gates opened and we all stormed in. The school year had officially started and a new chapter in my life had begun!
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The author at her wedding to her husband Ethan, her mother (right), and Ethan's mother (left) in 2019. (Photo: Courtesy Addison Rose Vincent)
After coming out on these girls during orientation, I often came out on anyone and everyone I met as soon as I met them. I was so excited to finally be able to be open about who I was, but I still hadn't gotten around to my mom and dad or my friends in Michigan. I decided to come and see my parents for the homecoming weekend. In the weeks leading up to her arrival, I was so nervous about what was going to happen that I began desperately to create a "safety net" of resources and friendships to fall back on if my family denied me. No matter what, I knew one thing was true: I would never go back to Michigan.
My parents arrived in October and I showed them around campus, took them to local restaurants I had become familiar with, and even introduced them to my new friends - some of whom were reluctant to get involved to avoid me upset. It wasn't until Sunday evening, the last night when my parents were in town, that I took the courage to finally tell them my secret.
I called my father and said I had something urgent to tell them, then drove to their hotel and sat on their bed. They looked so worried and when I started talking I started crying uncontrollably. I couldn't even get the words, "I'm gay," but they understood what I was trying to say. My dad looked at me and said, "We already knew and we love you so much." They hugged me and comforted me, and they made me promise to tell them anything that moves forward. Sharing my sexual identity with them has made us feel comfortable, more vulnerable and transparent with one another, and they have supported me every step of my journey ever since.
A year later when I was studying abroad, I started to be more concerned with gender identities, e.g. B. Transgender (identification with a gender different from the one assigned to you at birth) and non-binary (identification between or outside of the strict gender binary representation of men or women). I called my sister and parents to tell them what I had learned and how I felt about it, and they were there for me for every step of my gender journey too. By the time I finally came out as transfeminine nonbinary in 2013, my family and friends were already well aware of what I was feeling because we had established such honest, open and vulnerable communication. So for them it was less of a formal or official announcement than a confirmation of what I had already discussed.
The author and husband Ethan in 2020. (Photo: Courtesy Addison Rose Vincent)
Although some extended family members and childhood friends rejected me because of my identity, I have so many more family members and friends who have accepted and celebrated me for who I am - who I have always been for but who haven't always uttered the words ! And those were really the relationships that were worth nurturing.
Today I am happily married to my best friend Ethan, who is supported by my family and surrounded by an empowering community - all things that I could never have imagined as a closed child. It was also amazing how many friends have come out since I came out and how many people I met because they were inspired to come out after seeing one of my social media posts or a video that featured me.
Even so, my journey didn't end when I first shared my sexual orientation with my English teacher or when I first shared my gender pronouns with my parents. After learning that we have to come out to many different people many times, I was on an endless journey to return to my true self: the person I always was but spent so much time hiding - and hide from her. I am still working to unlearn the shame I have accumulated in my entire life due to the ingrained homophobia and transphobia in our culture, and I am slowly returning to the path my inner child always meant and still likes want to go. My path - and the healing I made along the way - wasn't exactly nice, but it has been incredibly rewarding and has enabled me to relate to myself, my husband, family and friends in more meaningful, nuanced and authentic ways connect .
I hope my story, journey, and existence will enable others to come out too. If you still live in a closet, come out when you're ready - not when someone else thinks you should, no matter how well they know you or how much they love you. And know that you are not alone, that you are supported more than you know, that you are perfect as you are and that your life is important. Today I celebrate you no matter where you are in your journey along Yellow Brick Road.
Addison Rose Vincent (she / she) is a 28 year old educator, LGBTQ + lawyer and community organizer in Los Angeles. Addison is currently the founder and senior advisor of LGBTQ + consulting firm Break The Binary LLC. the founder of the Non-Binary Union of Los Angeles; a Reimagine Lab Fellow in Domestic Violence Prevention with the Blue Shield of California Foundation; the Executive Director of the Nonbinary & Intersex Recognition Project; and the first MX Pride LA for the Imperial Court of Los Angeles & Hollywood. They live with their husband Ethan and their dog Stevie and love to spend endless hours in their local ceramic studio.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
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