I am a Black gay man living with HIV who struggles with PTSD and misanthropic tendencies. To me, the concept of coming out is about declaring to the world, “This is who I am; not simply how I choose to live, but the substance of my being.” In my writing, I often focus on my HIV status in order to shut down the pervasive sneers and letters of hate that I receive from people who believe that I am disgusting or less worthy of dignity because of my status, race, and orientation.
It is my privilege and my honor to serve as a possibility model for those who do not yet feel safe enough to live openly; whether that means disclosing one’s sexual orientation, gender fluidity, health status, or political ideology. All of these things are personal and therefore political, as we have seen time and time again, because the systemic machinations that define our culture frequently seek to marginalize anyone who lives outside of “the norm.”
That is why coming out in the middle of a year that continues to disrupt all sense of what matters is more important than ever. Yes, it is the season of COVID-19. There’s a recession. More than 200,000 people have died. The president has COVID, and so does a large chunk of his staff. Science denial is at an all-time high. The election is in four weeks. Parts of our country are about to go into another pandemic shutdown. There is active repression of long-established and newly gained civil rights.
And yet, many of us have taken to the streets and social media highways to declare that Black Lives Matter—all Black lives: HIV positive, transgender, and differently abled—and to demand that the justice system redefine itself. In aligning ourselves with these calls for racial justice, we are demanding that the world do better. For everyone. Because we believe that things can only get better if we actively stand up and make it so.
So if you were born in a woman’s body but know that you are a man with every fiber of your being, I hope that you take this National Coming Out Day to show off the incredible dude that you are. If you are bisexual and sexually open, I hope that you find the ménage à trois that gives you your life. If you are a radical but know that a change in the presidency is necessary, I hope that you vote and still criticize the newly elected vice president for her prosecutorial record and the new president for his contribution to the incarceration epidemic. I hope that you dance in a sea of oddities and fabulosities even as it feels as if the sky is falling—because whether the world ends tomorrow or continues for another million years, we all deserve to be seen and known on our own terms.
When I was in high school, coming out was considered a big deal. My first time witnessing it was in ninth grade, when the captain of the track team did so during a school assembly. The next day, he was beaten up by his best friends who had grown up with him, because they felt that his existence threatened their sense of masculinity.
That was decades ago, and the threats still exist. But even in the face of virulent violence, brave activists have relentlessly demanded that our voices be heard; that our needs receive acknowledgement. And though the progress often feels too slow, I think that we can all admit that if we continue in the footsteps of Kiyoshi Kuromiya, Ron Simmons, Larry Kramer, Tarana Burke, Alicia Garza, Monica Roberts, Emil Wilbekin, Marissa Miller, and our own former senior editor, Kenyon Farrow, then 2040 will look as different from today as the homophobic early aughts that I grew up in now look to me.
We don’t just have gay marriage: We have more open conversations about transgender representation, without hideous jokes or questions around why that matters. We eagerly, and publicly, discuss dismantling abusive power dynamics and instituting change that promotes vigorous consent. Instead of dismissing the importance of gender pronouns as too fringe for the cause, our communities are demanding that we dive into these conversations and topple anyone who questions the relevancy of a person’s identification. And when violence does rear its ugly head, generations of well-educated lawyers and fundraisers spring into action to ensure that those who have been hurt are provided with support.
I am proud to know that the LGBTQI+ communities, as well as the Black, Brown, Asian, and Indigenous peoples and their allies, have carved out a space where breathing as you are can and will be fought for, fearlessly. It is an imperfect system, built upon a flawed social contract. And because we have each other’s backs, it is getting better.
I write all of this from the safety of my apartment in Brooklyn in a Black neighborhood that is lined with Black Lives Matter posters and multicolored flags of solidarity. I do not take my privilege for granted. And yet I still have a request:
This Sunday, in whatever way that you feel comfortable doing so, please go to a mirror and tell yourself who you are. Out loud. Even if it is only in a whisper, say the words, “I am,” and then let your truth speak for itself. And on Monday, Indigenous People’s Day, do the same thing. And keep doing it every single day until you are in the space where you can say it, out loud, to your people, who will roar their approval at your willingness to share and be known.
Happy National Coming Out Day. We’re here for you—and we can’t wait to meet you.